to the small poem and the quiet voice within

juńichirō tanizaki | in praise of shadows


But we Orientals…create a kind of beauty of the shadows we have made in out-of-the-way places. There is an old song that says

“the brushwood we gather—
stack it together,
it makes a hut,
pull it apart,
a field once more.”

Such is our way of thinking—we find beauty not in the thing itself but in the pattern of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.


The quality that we call beauty, however, must always grow from the realities of life, and our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms, presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty’s ends.


And so it has come to be that the beauty of a Japanese room depends on a variation of shadows, heavy shadows against light shadows—it has nothing else. Westerners are amazed at the simplicity of Japanese rooms, perceiving them no more than ashen walls bereft of ornament. Their reaction is understandable, but it betrays a failure to comprehend the mystery of shadows.

[from IN PRAISE OF SHADOWS by Juńichirō Tanizaki, Leete’s Island Books, $9.95]


  1. Jean Casey

    Simplicity is one thing; however, where will I hang my hat and put down my pen in such a room? Yet, the old song I won’t forget…

  2. Barbara Vroman

    And so it becomes the ancient wisdom, it is not the way things are that matter…but what we think about them. One wonders too how much the outer reflects the inner. There are those who say that the Islamic culture is so ornate and intricate and beautiful, because outside everything was so sere and flat and desert, while jungle-like countries vines and flowers and animals everywhere seemed to favor simplicity in their living chambers. Whatever, the poetry is lovely.

  3. Robert M. Zoschke

    Peeking at the moon
    in January, Bodhisattva
    Takes a secret piss

    –Jack Kerouac, 1956–

  4. Leonard Cirino

    These are beautiful Norb. Thanks for t he insight into the Asian shadow wrld, best, Leo

  5. suz

    As I read this post, a tear rolled down my cheek
    Yes, that is what I feel about light and shadow
    and have tried to express

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