Tanizaki, Jun'ichirō 1886-1965
Japanese novelist, novella and short story writer, dramatist, essayist, and memoirist.
Tanizaki wrote memorably on beauty, eroticism, and obsession, but his treatment of these potentially sensational themes was never gratuitous. Rather, he used the emotional intensity of passion, cruelty, and degradation as a means of expressing the humanity of his characters in a dramatic way. Though early in his career he was influenced by writers and cultures of the West, Tanizaki eventually came to reject Westernization and turned to Japanese history, culture, and literature for inspiration and subject matter.
Born in the cosmopolitan city of Tokyo in 1886, Tanizaki grew up during the Meiji era (1867-1912), when many centuries-old institutions of Japanese society—notably the shogun (military governor), the samurai (warrior aristocracy), and the feudal system—suffered elimination or significant reform. Furthermore, Western ideas, arts, laws, customs, schooling, and business methods were welcomed into the country at an unprecedented rate. In 1908 Tanizaki entered Tokyo University but quit his studies in 1910, having written "Shisei" ("The Tattooer"), the best known of his early short stories. In the decade that followed, he devoted himself to writing, particularly dramas. At this early stage in his career, Tanizaki revelled in Western thought and practices and advocated them in his writings. However, in 1923 he moved from Tokyo to a region near Osaka where the older culture and conservative values of Japan predominated, and his writings reflect a corresponding change in his outlook. For example, Tanizaki not only produced a highly-regarded version of Lady Murasaki's eleventh-century masterpiece Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji), translating the novel from classical to modern Japanese, he also used earlier periods in Japanese history as the backdrop for such works as Bushūkō hiwa (The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi) and Shōshō Shigemoto no haha The Mother of Captain Shigemoto). In the essay In ' ei raison (In Praise of Shadows) he pines for the purity and the subtle, suggestive beauty of traditional Japan, attributing the loss of these national characteristics to modernization and the influence of the West. Tanizaki died in 1965.
Major Works of Short Fiction
The most significant of the Western writers by whom Tanizaki was influenced were Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde. Like these authors, Tanizaki displayed an interest in the relation of the grotesque to the beautiful. He also shared their emphasis on plot and the creation of a fictional world based on fantasy and subconscious obsessions. Tanizaki's works differed from the Japanese literature of his time, which was dominated by naturalism and the confessional "I-novels." Nearly all of his fiction explores the sexual obsessions and perversions of the protagonist. The typical male hero is obsessed by the beauty of an unattainable woman and he suffers acutely because of this obsession. For Tanizaki, beauty is never far from pain; humiliation, rejection, and masochism commonly form the base of the protagonist's erotic pleasure. The story "The Tattooer" reveals many of Tanizaki's standard themes. Here, a tattooer derives dual gratification from his art: he takes pride in the images he creates on canvases of flesh but also gains sadistic pleasure from inflicting pain with his needle. The tattooer becomes obsessed with an extraordinarily beautiful young woman of whom he has only once had a partial glimpse. Upon encountering her several years later, he convinces her that he should be allowed to create his greatest design upon her skin. Completion of the tattoo signals her symbolic conversion to femme fatale, and the artist submissively becomes her first victim. In the novellas Yoshino kuzu (Arrowroot) and The Mother of Captain Shigemoto, as with many of Tanizaki's works, the theme of yearning for unattainable beauty is often developed through the protagonist's quest for the ideal mother-figure. Similarly, "Shunkinshō" ("A Portrait of Shunkin") demonstrates the elevated position given to women by men in Tanizaki's fiction. In this story, a former servant devotes his life to the care of a blind and disfigured woman who refuses to return his love because of his lower social standing. Furthermore, he voluntarily blinds himself both to share her handicap and to honor her request that he not look upon her scarred face. Some of the more perverse subjects evident in Tanizaki's fiction are incorporated into The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi. This novella, set in sixteenth-century Japan, depicts the sexual deviation and treachery of the warlord Terukatsu. Aroused by the practices of warriors who take decapitated heads and severed noses from enemies slain in battle, he surreptitiously disfigures his lover's husband by cutting off his nose during the night. Terukatsu then encourages his lover to believe that her now-noseless husband was earlier responsible for her father's murder—an act performed by Terukatsu himself! According to Edmund White, "The cause of Terukatsu's double-dealing is his own bizarre obsession; what he most longs to see is a sadistic woman make love to a noseless man."
While critics have occasionally labeled Tanizaki's works indecent, most commentators acknowledge the highly literary quality of his fiction, which features carefully wrought language and images, classical and modern influences, and penetrating portrayals of emotion and human nature. Donald Keene has stated: "No one would turn to Tanizaki for wisdom as to how a man should live his life, but anyone seeking the special pleasure of literature and an echo in even his most bizarre works of eternal human concerns could hardly find a superior writer."
Bushūkō hiwa [The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi] (novella) 1931
Yoshino kuzu [Arrowroot] (novella) 1931
Ashikari (novella) 1932
Neko to Shōzō to futari no onna [A Cat, a Man, and Two Women: Stories] 1936
Shōshō Shigemoto no haha [The Mother of Captain Shigemoto] (novella) 1950
Seven Japanese Tales 1963
The Reed Cutter and Captain Shigemoto 's Mother (novellas) 1994
Other Major Works
Chijin no ai [Naomi; also translated as A Fool's Love] (novel) 1924
Tade kuu mushi [Some Prefer Nettles] (novel) 1929
Manji [Quicksand] (novel) 1930
Bunshō tokuhon [A Style Reader] (criticism) 1934
In'ei raison [In Praise of Shadows] (essay) 1934
*Genji monogatari [The Tale of Genji] (modernized version) 1939-41
Sasameyuki [The Makioka Sisters] (novel) 1943-48
Kagi [The Key] (novel) 1956
Yōshō jidai [Childhood Years] (memoir) 1957
Fūten rōjin nikki [The Diary of a Mad Old Man] (novel) 1962
*The original, composed in classical Japanese by Murasaki Shikibu, dates to the...
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SOURCE: "A Japanese Master," in Standards: A Chronicle of Books for Our Time, Horizon Press, 1966, pp. 179-83.
[A longtime literary critic for the New Yorker, Hyman rose to a prominent position in American letters during the middle decades of the twentieth century. He is noted for his belief that much of modern literary criticism should depend on knowledge received from disciplines outside the field of literature; consequently, many of his best reviews and critical essays rely on his application of theories gleaned from such disciplines as cultural anthropology, psychology, and comparative religion. In the following essay, Hyman praises the wide appeal of the short fiction comprising Seven Japanese Tales, maintaining that "however native Tanizaki's fiction might be, it is also securely with the tradition of European literature. "]
My favorite painting in all the world is one that I have never seen. It is "Portrait of Taira Shigemori" by the medieval Japanese painter Takanobu, and it is in a private collection in Tokyo. I know it from a color reproduction in André Malraux's The Voices of Silence, and every time I look at it again I am left breathless with wonder and delight. I feel (as Malraux meant me to feel) that this painting communicates perfectly to me across great barriers of time and culture.
Some Japanese prints, less powerfully, give me the same...
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SOURCE: "Three Modern Novelists: Tanizaki Junichirō," in Landscapes and Portraits: Appreciations of Japanese Culture, Kodansha International Ltd., 1971, pp. 171-85.
[Keene is an American educator, translator, and critic with a special interest in Japanese literature. In the following excerpt, he examines recurring motifs in Tanizakïs short fiction.]
The writings of Tanizaki Junichirō are apt to surprise equally by their exceptional diversity of subject and manner, and by their equally exceptional consistency of themes. The diversity is likely to attract our attention first. Tanizaki derived materials for his novels from the distant past of the Heian and Muromachi periods, from the war chronicles of the sixteenth century and the popular fiction of the early nineteenth century. Still other works were closely based on personal experience. His inspiration was usually Japanese, but at the outset of his career he was influenced especially by Baudelaire and Poe, as he later recalled with some shame: "It is not my intention to debate here whether having been influenced by the West was beneficial or harmful to my writings, but no one knows as well as I—to my great embarrassment—in what extremely superficial, indeed mindless ways this influence revealed itself." Apart from European influence, two journeys to China, his only travels abroad, added an exotic touch to some of his writings and provided the basis...
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SOURCE: 'Tanizaki Junichirō's Historical Fiction," in Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese, Vol. 8, No. 1, November, 1972, pp. 34-44.
[An American educator and critic, Chambers is considered an expert on the work of Tanizaki. In the following excerpt, he determines the influence of Japanese history and culture on Tanizaki's short fiction.]
It is clear that in his early years Tanizaki Junichirō was strongly attracted to the West, that he adopted Western dress, lived in Western-style buildings and associated with foreigners in Yokohama. He was also intrigued by China: following a trip to China in 1919 he surrounded himself with Chinese bric-a-brac and posed for photographs in Chinese costume. He was also taken by the exoticism of Kyoto and Osaka; for Tanizaki, born and reared in Tokyo, a trip to Kansai was almost like a trip to a foreign land. Always drawn to the exotic, he seems not to have been much interested in the modern Japan of his youth; but from his childhood he was fascinated by Japan's past, and following the 1923 earthquake, when he was forced by conditions in Tokyo to live for a time near Osaka, he indulged his interests and seems to have found new meaning in Japanese tradition. He did not return to live in Tokyo as he originally planned, but stayed on in the Osaka area, where he studied the Japanese past and wrote a number of historical novels and novellas.
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SOURCE: "Tanizaki Jun'ichirō," in Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature, Stanford University Press, 1976, pp. 54-84.
[Ueda is a Japanese educator and critic. In the following excerpt, he examines Tanizaki's treatment of beauty in his fiction.]
Tanizaki Jun'ichirō (1886-1965) was never known as a literary theorist or critic. Always confident in his mission as a novelist, he had no urge to write a defense of literature or a social justification of the novel. Not a fast writer, he usually wanted to spend as much of his time as possible on writing fiction; he found little time for reading or evaluating the works of his contemporaries. And yet, by the end of his long literary career, he had produced a sizable number of writings that reveal his ideas on the nature of literature. There is, for instance, The Composition Reader, in which he said what he considered to be a good prose style and how one could go about attaining it. In Praise of Shadows and several other essays eloquently expound his ideal of beauty in life and art. Though he could seldom be induced to write reviews, his few essays in this genre, especially those on Sōseki's Light and Darkness and Kafū's During the Rains, leave no doubt that he could have become an exceptionally perceptive critic. His quarrel with Akutagawa on whether or not a novel should have a plot was one of the liveliest literary...
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SOURCE: "Tanazaki and Poe: The Grotesque and the Quest for Supernal Beauty," in Comparative Literature, Vol. XXIX, No. 3, Summer, 1977, pp. 221-40.
[In the following excerpt, Mizuta Lippit analyzes the thematic and stylistic influence of Edgar Allan Poe on Tanizaki 's short fiction.]
Students of Tanizaki usually agree that, like other Taisho writers, he began his career under the spell of the West: the influence of Poe, Baudelaire, and Oscar Wilde, among others, is reflected in many of his early works. It is agreed, however, that the influence of the Japanese literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially the erotic and sadistic stories in Kusazoshi and Kabuki plays, was also strong. According to the orthodox view, the influence of the western writers became superficial by the end of the Taisho period. Drawn to both East and West, Tanizaki, after a period of severe internal conflict between the two attractions, turned completely to the world of classical Japanese literature, and made a conscious artistic endeavor to link his later works with his Japanese heritage. My purpose here is to consider whether the western influences were indeed superficial and to examine Poe's influence on Tanizaki's later development, when he attempted to create his Japanese Byzantium.
Tanizaki Junichiro, one of the major modern Japanese writers, was born in 1886 in the old section of Tokyo...
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SOURCE: "Tanizaki Junichirō: The Past as Homage. 'A Portrait of Shunkin' and 'The Bridge of Dreams'," in Modern Japanese Fiction and Its Traditions: An Introduction, Princeton University Press, 1978, pp. 22-37.
[An American-born educator and critic, Rimer specializes in Japanese literature. In the following excerpt, he offers the stories "Shunkinshō" ("A Portrait of Shunkin") and "Yume no ukihashi" ("The Bridge of Dreams") as evidence that Tanizaki's fiction is modern yet heavily influenced by traditional Japanese themes and literature.]
For many readers, the work of Tanizaki Junichirō remains the most absorbing in modern Japanese literature, and in many ways, for its period, the most contemporary in spirit. Tanizaki examined the foibles and obsessions of his time with an elegant and ironic spirit that continues to give his work a surprising freshness. Yet an analysis of his writing indicates a powerful interest on his part in the themes and techniques of older Japanese literature. His perception of these older traditions, and his use of them, help provide the richness of texture that gives his narratives their grace and their weight. . . .
Tanizaki's life spanned the entire modern period. He began writing early in the century, often, it is said, under the "Satanic" influences of Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde. Fascinated by Western culture, he enjoyed visiting the foreign shops,...
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SOURCE: "Tanizaki Jun'ichirō," in Dawn to the West, Japanese Literature of the Modern Era: Fiction, Vol. I, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984, pp. 720-85.
[In the following excerpt, Keene provides an overview of Tanizaki's short stories.]
Tanizaki's earliest writings, mainly poems in Chinese on historical subjects, appeared in the literary magazine circulated among students at his middle school. An essay published in 1902 startled his classmates by the assurance and vocabulary with which he criticized "oriental" pessimism. His insistence on joy as an essential element in human life was the first evidence of the hedonist disposition for which he would be famed. A few months later he went beyond oriental philosophy to write an essay in which he invoked the names of Dante, Carlyle, and Shakespeare in his discussion of "Moral Concepts and Aesthetic Concepts."
Tanizaki's first story appeared in the same magazine. "Shumpū Shūu Roku" ("Account of Spring Breezes and Autumn Rain"), published in 1903, suggests the Ken'yūsha in its title [the Ken'yūsha was a group of young writers who gathered around Ozaki Kōyō and produced much popular literature], and the language recalls not only Ozaki Kōyō but Kōda Rohan and Higuchi Ichiyō, predictable influences on a precociously gifted boy writing at this time. Despite the ornate language, unimaginable in a seventeen-year-old of a half-century...
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SOURCE: "Tanazaki's The Bridge of Dreams' from the Perspective of Amae Psychology," in Literature and Psychology, Vol. XXXV, Nos. 1 & 2, 1989, pp. 46-64.
[In the following excerpt, DeZure perceives evidence of amae, a psychological syndrome particular to the Japanese, in the characters of the story "Yume no ukihashi" ("The Bridge of Dreams").]
"The Bridge of Dreams" by Jun'ichiro Tanizaki is the confessional memoir of a young man, Tadasu, and his relationships with his mother and stepmother. The tale traces the development of his obsessional dependency needs in relation to them and culminates in his social and economic deterioration and his demoralization. For western readers, it calls to mind Marcel's involvement with his mother in Proust's Remembrance of Things Past and generally suggests a Freudian Oedipal Complex. But the tale is not occidental, and to characterize it quite so neatly in western terms is to misread and oversimplify the psychological dynamics Tanizaki portrays. The tale does exemplify personality syndromes particular to Japan, referred to collectively as the psychology of amae; and its unique application clarifies ambiguities of characterization, form, and imagery.
Takeo Doi, a Japanese psychiatrist, characterizes various dimensions of personality indigenous to the Japanese as the psychology of amae. Amae has no specific...
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SOURCE: A review of A Cat, a Man, and Two Women, in The New Yorker, Vol. LXVII, No. 10, April 29, 1991, pp. 101-02.
[A perceptive observer of the human condition and an extraordinary stylist, Updike is considered one of America 's most distinguished men of letters. Best known for such novels as Rabbit Run (1960), Rabbit Redux (1971), Rabbit Is Rich (1981), and Rabbit at Rest (1990), he is a chronicler of life in Protestant, middle-class America. In the following review, Updike comments on the bizarre events depicted in A Cat, a Man, and Two Women (Neko to Shōzō to futari no onna).]
In the long title story [of A Cat, a Man, and Two Women], we are not surprised that the hero, the plump and ineffectual Shozo, loves his pet cat, Lily, more than he loves either his wife, Fukuko, or his exwife, Shinako, but we are surprised to have the love detailed with such unabashed physicality. Shozo feeds Lily by making her tug at a little marinated mackerel held in his mouth; his watching wife reflects, "It might be all very well to like cats, but it was going too far to transfer a fish from master's mouth to cat's." At the other extreme of intimacy, the odor of cat excrement mixes with his fondness, and he remembers with a curious relish the moment when, during a tussle, the "breath from her bowels" blew straight into his face. He brags to his wife, "Lily and I are so...
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SOURCE: A review of The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi and Arrowroot, in Southern Humanities Review, Vol. 27, No. 1, Winter, 1993, pp. 86-91.
[In the following review, Miyama Ochner explores the mother fixation portrayed in Arrowroot (Yoshino kuzu) and the perversion of the title character in The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi (Bushūkō Hiwaj.]
Tanizaki is often regarded as having remarkably consistent themes despite the wide range of his subject matter, settings, and style. As a writer who is profoundly interested in the workings of the subconscious, he treated such recurrent themes as the femme fatale, foot fetishism, sado-masochism, longing for mother, coprophilia, and predilection for crepuscular beauty. Except foot fetishism, these themes appear in the two short novels [The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi and Arrowroot]. . . .
Another of Tanizaki's recurrent themes .. . is the child's longing for its mother. Tanizaki's own mother was a well-known beauty. In 1919, after his mother's death, he published "Longing for Mother," a poetic fantasy in which the narrator dreams of searching for his lost mother and encountering her as an unrecognizably young and attractive woman. This theme of longing for mother underlies the novel Arrowroot, in which the narrator's friend named Tsumura searches for the relatives of his...
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SOURCE: "Arrowroot" and "Captain Shigemoto's Mother" in The Secret Window: Ideal Worlds in Tanizaki's Fiction, Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard, 1994, pp. 7-15, 93-105.
[In the following excerpt, Chambers maintains that the protagonists in Arrowroot and The Mother of Captain Shigemoto Mother create imaginary, idealized worlds that are revealed to the reader by means of narrative devices.]
In one of the most moving plays of the Bunraku and kabuki repertory, a white fox assumes the form of a beautiful woman (a power that foxes were believed to have), marries a gentleman named Abe no Yasuna, and gives birth to a son. They are happy together until the fox's true identity comes to light, making it impossible for her to go on living with her husband and son. She slips away late at night to return to her lair; but before she goes, she lovingly tucks in her son and writes a farewell poem on the shōji near his bed:
Kotshikuba tazunete miyo Izumi naru Shinoda no mori no urami kuzunoha
If you miss me come and search Shinoda Forest in Izumi among the wistful arrowroot leaves.
The play, known as Kuzu no ha (Arrowroot Leaves), is one of the most famous expressions in Japanese culture of a child's longing for his mother.
Kuzu no ha was also the working title of a story Tanizaki struggled over for some...
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Hibbett, Howard. Introduction to Seven Japanese Tales, translated by Howard Hibbett, pp. v-ix. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963.
Highlights story elements in the collection Seven Japanese Tales that recur elsewhere in Tanizaki's fiction.
Mayer, David R. "Outer Marks, Inner Grace: Flannery O'Connor's Tattooed Christ." Asian Folklore Studies 42, No. 1 (1983): 117-27.
Compares Tanizaki's story "The Tattooer" with Flannery O'Connor's "Parker's Back," which is about the effect that a distinctive tattoo has upon its owner.
Miyama Ochner, Nobuko. "History and Fiction: Portrayals of Confucius by Tanizaki Jun'ichirō and Nakajima Atsushi." In Literary Relations: East and West, edited by Jean Toyama and Nobuko Ochner, pp. 68-79. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990.
Contrasts the depiction of Confucius in the short story "Kirin" by Tanizaki and the novella Deshi by Nakajima Atsushi.
Peterson, Gwen Boardman. "Tanizaki Jun'ichir." In The Moon in the Water: Understanding Tanizaki, Kawabata, and Mishima, pp. 44-120. Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii, 1979.
Survey of Tanizaki's career. During the course of her study, Boardman discusses "The Tattooer," "Portrait of Shunkin," Ashikari, and "Bridge of Dreams" as exemplars of Tanizaki's literary themes...
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