In The Praise Of Shadows

While researching on people and their emotional value on objects, I have came over with this essay “In Praise of Shadows” (陰翳礼讃 , Inei Raisan) by Junichiro Tanizaki (谷崎 潤一郎).

He adores the tradition of Japanese architecture and interior design. He compares the cultural difference of the east and the west, the thus their difference on aesthetics and enjoyment they seek from everyday lives.

  • “…The Westerener uses silver and steel and nickel tableware, and polishes it to a fine brilliance, but we object to the practice. While we do sometimes indeed use silver for teakettles, decanters, or sake cups, we prefer not to polish it. On the country, we begin to enjoy it only when the luster has worn off, when it begun to take on a dark, smoky patina.”
  • “This ‘Sheen of antiquity’ is in fact the glow of grime…Westerners attempt to expose every speck of grime and eradicate it, while we Orientals carefully preserve and even idealize it.”

Tanizaki also explains how the environment and scenario of where an object will be placed will make a difference in how people view and perceive an object. This will then varies the experience of using the object.

  • “…we, however, use ceramics for practically everything but trays and soup bowls; lacquerware, except in the tea ceremony an on formal occasions, is considered vulgar and inelegant. This, I suspect, is in part the fault of the much-vaunted ‘brilliance’ of modern electric lighting. Darkness is an indispensible element of the beauty of lacquerware.”
  • “Sometimes a superb piece of black lacquerware, decorated perhaps with flecks of silver and gold- a box or a desk or a set of shelves- will seem to me unsettlingly garish and altogether vulgar. But render pitch black the void in which they stand, and light them not with the rays or the sun or electricity but rather a single lantern or candle: suddenly those garish objects turn somber, refined, dignified.”
  • “There are good reasons why lacquer soup bowls are still used, qualities which ceramic bowls simply do not posses. …With lacquerware there is a beauty in that momment between removing the lid and lifting the bowl to the mouth when one gazes at the still, slient liquid in the dark depths of the bowl, its colour hardly differing from that of the bowl itself. What lies within the darkness one cannot distinguish, but the palm senses the gentle movements of the liquid, vapor rises from within forming droplets on the rim, and the fragrance carried upon the capor vrings a delicate anticipation. What a difference there is between this moment and the moment when soup is served Western style, in a pale, shallow bowl. A moment of mystery, it may almost be called, a moment of trance.”