In praise of shadows

20 January 2017
In praise of shadows

If you want to get to know Japan, I recommend, as well as “The Empire of Signs” by Roland Barthes, “In Praise of Shadows” by Junichiro Tanizaki. I brought it with me to read here, in Japan. It talks about the relationship we have with light in the West and East: diffuse light versus direct light; a love of shiny things compared with a preference for matt. In the West, we want total light; elsewhere, like in Japan, more of a half-light. Tanizaki also talks about lacquerware, darkness, and Japanese cuisine, which go with shade. He says, about this cuisine, both the food itself and the dishes in which it’s served: “In the glare of harsh light, its aesthetic virtues would disappear in a flash.” He also says something I really like: “We Orientals make things beautiful by creating shadows in places that in themselves are insignificant.”

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