Category Archives: JanuaryinJapan

Read 11 of 2022. Longing and Other Stories by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki . Translated from the Japanese by Anthony Chambers and Paul McCarthy

Longing and Other Stories by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki

Title: Longing and Other Stories
Author: Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
Translated from the Japanese by Anthony Chambers and Paul McCarthy
Publisher: Columbia University Press ISBN: 978-0231202152
Genre: Translation, World Literature, Short Stories
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

This is a collection of three stories by Tanizaki, which were published relatively earlier in his career between 1917 and 1921. Maybe that’s why you can as a reader sense the jagged edges, and perhaps that’s one of the reasons this collection is highly satisfying as well. The stories are set in early 20th century, and all focus on the mother-son bond – its complexities and also exploring the subtlety of relationships using different styles, which were also used in his later works.

The book starts with the title story “Longing” – a story that is extremely poetic and possesses a dream-like quality. It seems to read quite simply – that of a young boy walking alone along a dark coastal road, recalling events, in search of something, constantly being played by the light and the darkness, along with eerie shadows and the atmosphere of dread, till it becomes clear what it really is.

Tanizaki’s style is out there for all to see – the playfulness, the sudden revelations, the vague memories of childhood he brings to fore – and in all of this the element of some unreliability which works in a most out of the blue manner, fitting in rather perfectly.

The second story “Sorrows of a Heretic” is about the protagonist Shōzaburo almost wasting away his life – living the life of depravity. In this story, I saw Tokyo being brought to life and seeing it in a point of time that was so different and unique. We don’t feel much for Shōzaburo but there is some feeling of sentimentality. Tanizaki gives his characters that from the readers.

In the final story “The Story of an Unhappy Mother”, the narrator Hiroshi is one of the five children in a family that talks about his family, more so his mother. Tanizaki paints a picture so vivid about the mother – her flaws, her mistakes, and her misgivings. Again, the relationship of the mother and child is told with great nuance and care.

The translations by Anthony Chambers and Paul McCarthy are on-point at almost every single page. Once again, the translators when it comes to a Tanizaki work have managed to communicate the sparseness of prose, the details when required, the elegance of Tanizaki’s descriptions, and in turn highlighting different aspects of Tanizaki’s writing.

“Longing and other stories” is a collection that is wholesome, intriguing, and speaks of lives that are lived on the border of imagination and reality. A must-read collection in my opinion.

Read 3 of 2022. In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. Translated from the Japanese by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker

In Praise of Shadows by Jun'Ichirō Tanizaki

Title: In Praise of Shadows Author: Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
Translated from the Japanese by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker Publisher: Vintage Classics
ISBN: 9781784875572
Genre: Nonfiction, Design
Pages: 128
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I have always wanted to read this book, and #JanuaryinJapan made me get to it sooner than later. I must say though that I loved it through and through, no matter how outdated some of the ideas may seem in today’s time and age.

Tanizaki’s book is about shadows and light when it comes to Japanese architecture or the layout of a home, but it is so much more than that as well. It is about how we approach darkness and the significance we give to light. Tanizaki appreciates shadows and the role they play not only in aesthetically but also in our lives and what they say about us as people.

It is about how shadows are all-pervasive in our ordinary lives and thereby then extending to the ordinariness of living and what encompasses it. When Tanizaki speaks of woodwork, sliding doors, walls and the projection of shadows on them, Japanese houses, the traditional restaurants, candle lights, and Japanese toilets, it all fits beautifully and merges with the reality of living, where harshness of light is preferred to the understated beauty of darkness.

Japanese aesthetic got me then thinking of how we also live our lives – more tuned to Western aesthetics than the Oriental and perhaps that leads to more restlessness and anxiety. Like I said, the book does seem outdated when it comes to some concepts of space and light and shadow but overall, it is a wonderful primer on not just design but also on how to live in the modern age.

Books and Authors mentioned in In Praise of Shadows: 

  • Natsume Sōseki
  • Saito Ryoku
  • Kôtei
  • Takebayashi Musôan
  • Pillow of Grass by Nastume Sōseki
  • Some Prefer Nettles
  • The Makioka Sisters
  • The Key
  • Diary of a Mad Old Man
  • The Mother of Captain Shigemoto
  • Seven Japanese Tales by Howard and Hibbett
  • The Tale of Genji
  • Susan Sontag