Jun’ichir Tanizaki was born in the heart of downtown Tokyo. For generations, his ancestors had lived there as members of the merchant class engaged in rice-brokering and printing and had little of the traditional samurai-class interest in affairs of state. Despite the traditional male-dominated culture of Japan, Tanizaki’s grandfather and father were considered feminists, his father nearly worshiping Tanizaki’s mother. The boy, as a result, was drawn to his mother very strongly, thus establishing the reverential attitude toward women seen in so many of his works. Tanizaki was also a handsome boy, but not a strong one, and, consequently, was often bullied by older classmates, perhaps encouraging a masochistic streak.
During Tanizaki’s primary education, a young teacher noticed the boy’s talents and gave him special instruction in Japanese and Chinese classics. It is often reported that Tanizaki became known as the brightest student ever to graduate from the First Municipal Secondary School of Tokyo. He entered Tokyo Imperial University in 1908, where he studied Japanese classical literature. He helped found the literary magazine of the university, Shinshicho, in which he published several short stories that received praise from older writers such as Mori Ogai and Nagai Kafu. After only a year, however, because he did not pay his fees, he left the university without finishing his degree.
Tanizaki’s unfinished education did not hinder him unduly, because he was becoming known as a writer. A notorious frequenter of the “Bluff,” or foreign sections of Yokohama, he wore checked suits and gaudy ties and was strongly under the influence of Decadent Western writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, and...
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