Jun'ichirō Tanizaki

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Stanley Edgar Hyman (essay date 1966)

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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 experience, but Japanese literature does not. The poetry seems to me entirely untranslatable, reading in English as faint rubbings of vanished poems. The few Japanese novels that I have read tended to leave me with a vague feeling of having missed the point. When she dyes a syllable of his name on her kimono, or he gives her the smaller segments of the tangerine, it is enormously significant, is it not? But significant of what, exactly?

In 1963 I picked up Junichiro Tanizaki's Seven Japanese Tales, translated by Howard Hibbett. Before I had finished the first tale, "A Portrait of Shunkin," I knew that I was in the presence of a master, and that, however native Tanizaki's fiction might be, it is also securely within the tradition of European literature. I had the sense of immediate communication that the Takanobu portrait gives me.

I was a little late coming to him. Tanizaki (now dead) was then 77; he had been publishing for more than 50 years; he was said to be Japan's greatest living writer; and he was a strong candidate for the Nobel Prize. Three of his novels have been published in this country: Some Prefer Nettles in 1955, The Makioka Sisters in 1957, and The Key in 1961. After reading all except the first, I am lost in admiration for Tanizaki's talents and variety.

Two of the novellas in Seven Japanese Tales are master pieces. My favorite, "A Portrait of Shunkin" (1933), is like nothing else I have ever read. It is the story of a female monster and her devoted slave. Shunkin is a blind samisen virtuoso and Sasuke is a former servant of her family and pupil of hers, who himself becomes a samisen master. He cares for her, runs her school, and they live together and have children. She will not marry him because of his social inferiority, however, and the children are sent out for adoption.

The novella rises to two related horrors. In the first, Shunkin, probably in revenge for her sadistic and rapacious treatment of pupils, is disfigured by an unknown attacker, who throws a kettleful of boiling water on her face as she sleeps. Shunkin makes Sasuke promise never to look at her ravaged face, and...

(This entire section contains 1875 words.)

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he keeps his promise by blinding himself with a sewing needle. These awful deeds, which arouse the sort of pity and terror that the self-discovery and self-blinding of King Oedipus do, result in a love of serene beauty. When Sasuke tells Shunkin of his act, she for the first time feels respect and love for him, and they embrace, weeping. "I am inclined to think," the narrator comments, "that the destruction of her beauty had its compensations for Shunkin in various ways. Both in love and in art she must have discovered undreamed-of ecstasies."

There are a number of exotic Japanese customs in the novella, but Tanizaki's craft makes the details of nightingale singing or lark soaring, Shunkin's hobbies, seem as reasonable and familiar as my own pursuits. They are not put in for local color; they function symbolically in the story. The nightingales, which must be taken from the nest in infancy and carefully trained to sing artificial calls, perfectly symbolize the exactions of art; and Shunkin's prized lark, which soars up and never returns, bears with it her sight, her beauty, and her life.

The horror and ecstasy of the novella are kept in perfect tension by a narrator, a masterly creation, who endlessly questions, speculates, and doubts. Thus we see Sasuke's fanatic joy in sacrifice through the eyes of a man who cannot comprehend it (Melville uses the same device in "Bartleby the Scrivener" and "Benito Cereno"). The narrator's skepticism at the end of the story is perfect: "It seems that when the priest Gazan of the Tenryu Temple heard the story of Sasuke's self-immolation, he praised him for the Zen spirit with which he changed his whole life in an instant, turning the ugly into the beautiful, and said that it was very nearly the act of a saint. I wonder how many of us would agree with him."

The other superb novella in the book is "The Bridge of Dreams" (1959). It is another disturbing and perverse study of devotion, now in a recurring chain. The narrator's father is so devoted to his first wife that he gives his second wife her name and turns the second into a facsimile of the first; the second wife loves her husband so devotedly that when she has a child by him she sends it out for adoption, so that her predecessor's son may retain all her maternal love. The narrator, Tadasu, loves his stepmother (who has entirely merged with his mother in his mind) to the point of marrying, after his father's death, in order to have someone to take care of his stepmother; after she dies he divorces his wife and takes his half-brother, who "looks exactly like Mother," to live with him.

The story is thus a succession of ingrown triangles. These relationships are perverse and symbolically incestuous: Tadasu suckled at his mother's breasts until he was four; his stepmother encourages him to continue the habit, and he suckles at her dry breasts until he is 13; when her baby is sent away, Tadasu, then 19, sucks the milk from her breasts. He suffers "an agony of shame" until he realizes that his father must have arranged it all. In this perversity, again, there is great beauty. The various trios sit by the garden pond to enjoy the cool of the evening, with one mother or another dangling her feet in the water while father or son drinks beer, happy and at peace in their web of ties.

The symbolic resonance that birdsong brings to "A Portrait of Shunkin" is obtained here by poetry and one odd symbol. The novella begins on a poem, "On reading the last chapter of The Tale of Genji," written by one or the other of Tadasu's mothers. Other poems are quoted about the stream, or are inscribed on the gates of Heron's Nest (their house), or are mounted on the transom, or come to the narrator's mind in connection with some feature of the house. The effect is to cover Heron's Nest with a patina of order and beauty, so that the perverse attachments of the members of the family can be recognized as the corruption of traditional virtues.

The odd symbol is a "water mortar," a hollow bamboo tube under the pond's inlet, designed to clack regularly as it fills and empties. As an infant sleeping at his mother's breast, Tadasu heard the clack of the water mortar in his dreams; it is disconnected when his father is dying, and is started up again after the funeral. It seems to symbolize the security and reassurance that are the goals of the characters' neurotic attachments.

Ultimately, though, the water mortar remains mysterious, a voice not quite explainable by either hydraulics or psychoanalysis. All the mysteries of this uncanny novella remain: we never learn what the real reason is for anything, or which mother wrote the poem, or even whether Tadasu's wife killed his stepmother, as he suspects that she did. The title symbol, the bridge of dreams, is at once the title of the last chapter of Genji (where it represents Life), the footbridge over the pond at Heron's Nest, and Father's dying words (which well represent his Faustian ambition, handed on to the others, to bridge love across death).

The best of the other stories, "A Blind Man's Tale" (1931) is a historical novella about the warlord civil wars of the sixteenth century; its theme is likewise devotion, the lifelong loyalty of the narrator, a blind minstrel and masseur, to his noble lady. The other four are short, and much less impressive. They are: "The Tattooer" (1910), "Terror" (1913), "The Thief (1921), and "Aguri" (1922). I think that, as was the case with Chekhov, Tanizaki needs the roominess of the larger form for his highest artistry.

The two novels that I have read further display Tanizaki's range. The Makioka Sisters is an excellent novel of a sort that does not very much interest me, the long realistic family chronicle. Its action is the struggle to get the third sister, Yukiko, properly married; when that is achieved the novel ends. Meanwhile Tanizaki has taken us through "the most disastrous flood in the history of the Kobe-Osaka district," "the worst typhoon" to hit Tokyo "in over ten years," and the China Incident. The book communicates the very texture of Japanese life, and that is the trouble. When, on their honeymoon, Teinosuke asks his wife Sachiko to name her favorite fish, and she names sea bream, this is not some powerful symbol of her aspirations, as are Shunkin's nightingale or Tadasu's water mortar; it is just her taste in fish.

The Key is something else again. Hardly longer than a novella, it is a sensual and melodramatic story, told in His and Hers diaries, of a professor's debauching of his innocent wife, so successfully that she kills him to live with her lover, who will be married for convenience to her daughter. Ikuko is another monster, another Shunkin, but here we watch the process of manufacture.

Tanizaki's theme is not really devotion, but devotion curdled into neurotic fixation. In the fashion of Japanese culture, he is very matter-of-fact about the body. What is quite remarkable is the way Tanizaki combines this with a sense of the body's mystery. There is no matter-offactness, but a burning sensuality, in the professor's photographing his wife naked in The Key, published when the author was 70, or in Tadasu at his stepmother's breasts in "The Bridge of Dreams," published when the author was 73.

In this respect, as in many others, Tanizaki reminds me of the Leskov of "Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District." If one cannot be Tolstoi or Dostoevsky, it is not too bad to be Leskov.


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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.

Biographical Information

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."

Critical Reception

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."

Donald Keene (essay date 1971)

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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 for harshly objective comments on Japan. Tanizaki used his materials freely, whether Japanese or foreign, sometimes producing carefully documented historical tales, sometimes works that, despite their factual appearance, are almost entirely of his invention.

Tanizaki's methods of narration embrace almost every variety of technique, including the normal third-person account; the first-person confession; the mixed contemporary and historical style in which the narrator (often Tanizaki himself) intrudes at times into the telling of a story from the distant past; and the novel composed of letters or diaries. The diversity of Tanizaki's work is suggested moreover by the remarkably contrasting shapes and appearances of the first editions of his books, each intended to produce a distinct impression by its format, type, binding and even paper as well as the content.

So great is the variety of works Tanizaki wrote in the half-century between 1910 (the year of his début with "The Tattooer") and 1962 (the year of Diary of a Mad Old Man) that it is only on reflection that we perceive the striking consistency of themes throughout the works composed over this long period. Most conspicuous was his utter preoccupation with women. His novels are filled with superbly evoked portraits of women, but with rare exceptions he seemed uninterested in depicting male characters. This is true, of course, of much modern literature in Japan; the men, in fiction at least, tend to be weak-willed and negative, no match for the women. Tanizaki created some characters that might be described as alter egos of himself—Sadanosuke in The Makioka Sisters comes most quickly to mind—but he failed to impart to them his own immense masculine energy and purpose. It seems improbable that Tanizaki was incapable of drawing such a character; rather, his absorption with women was so great as to make him see in men only the mirrors or slaves of his female characters.

The characteristic male in a Tanizaki novel is an abject figure whose greatest pleasure is to be tortured by the woman he adores. This is true whether the hero is a figure of the distant past or a contemporary. This masochistic worship of women, this glorification of demonical women who reduce men to grovelling slaves, is certainly not a heritage of the traditional Japanese literature. We cannot imagine Prince Genji craving to be trodden on by Murasaki or finding his greatest pleasure in waiting on her like a servant, but this is precisely true of Seribashi in Ashikari or Sasuke in "A Portrait of Shunkin." Of course, women are frequently depicted in the old literature as monsters of jealousy or deceit, and Saikaku's heroines (like Tanizaki's) sometimes exhaust their partners by excessive sexual demands; but although the worship of cruel women may have in fact existed in traditional Japan, Tanizaki was undoubtedly indebted to Western influence for literary expression of this phenomenon.

Tanizaki's first important story, "The Tattooer" (1910), concludes with the tattooer Seikichi becoming the victim of the work of art he has created. The girl into whose back he has etched a monstrous spider flashes a smile of triumph as she realizes she now is capable of trapping men within her terrible web. One theme, first given expression in the same story, was to persist through all of Tanizaki's later writings: Seikichi is first attracted to the girl by catching a glimpse of her naked foot. We are told: "To his sharp eyes a human foot was as expressive as a face. . . . This, indeed, was a foot to be nourished by men's blood, a foot to trample on their bodies."

An extreme expression of Tanizaki's foot-fetishism, as he himself called it, was "Fumiko's Feet" (1919). In this story an old man, infatuated with the beautiful feet of his young mistress, asks a young painter to draw her portrait in a pose that best reveals her feet. When he himself is bed-ridden and too feeble to play with the girl's feet in his accustomed manner, he asks the willing painter to roll like a dog at Fumiko's feet and allow himself to be trampled by her. The old man dies blissfully happy because during his last moments Fumiko's foot has been pressed against his forehead.

Almost every work of Tanizaki's has passages revealing his fascination with women's feet. In the play The Man with the Mandoline the hero, a blind man, drugs his wife so that he can fondle her feet while she sleeps. Sometimes, as in "A Portrait of Shunkin," it is the woman who insists on warming her feet against a man's face or chest, sometimes it is the man who longs desperately to feel the weight of a cruel woman's feet. In Tanizaki's last major work Diary of a Mad Old Man (1962), the tottering old man gets down on his hands and knees in the showerroom for the privilege of cramming his daughter-in-law's toes into his mouth. In the same work the foot-fetishism that runs through Tanizaki's entire career is given its grand finale in the description of the tombstone that the old man erects almost at the cost of his life: it is a reproduction of his daughter-in-law's footprint, enlarged to heroic size, and meant to stand in triumph forever over the abject old man.

A related aspect of foot-fetishism and the craven masculine surrender to the female, the desire to abase himself before her, is the man's fascination with her excreta. I can hardly recall a Western novel that even mentions the heroine's going to stool, but this is a frequent, almost obsessive theme in Tanizaki's works. The Makioka Sisters (1942-47) alone contains more detailed and graphic references to bowel movements than one would find in a whole library of Western novels, and the last sentence of the work is the unforgettable: "Her diarrhoea never did stop that day, and even after she boarded the train it still continued." In "A Portrait of Shunkin" the attentions of Sasuke to his mistress Shunkin in the lavatory are lovingly described. In Secret Stories of the Lord of Musashi (1935) the hero manages to find his way to the beautiful princess by creeping up through the hole in her toilet. In The Mother of Captain Shigemoto (1950) the ninth-century courtier and lover Heijū falls madly in love with a palace lady who refuses him. Determined to cure himself of his passion, he decides to obtain possession of her chamber pot, supposing that when he sees that the contents are exactly like those of a quite ordinary person's chamber pot he will be disillusioned. He snatches away the pot from a lady-inwaiting and carries it home. But he cannot bring himself to open the covered leather box, not because he is afraid of being disgusted, but because he wants to savor the pleasure. "He took it in his hands again, lifted it up and looked at it, put it down and looked at it, turned it around, tried calculating the weight of the contents. At last, with great hesitation, he removed the lid, only for a balmy fragrance like that of cloves to strike his nostrils." He probes the contents, more and more astonished by the exquisite fragrance. Instead of being disillusioned he is now frantically determined to become intimate with so extraordinary a woman. Carried away by his delight, "he drew the box to him and sipped a little of the liquid in the contents."

Tanizaki's absorption with the excretory processes was not confined to his fiction. In his essay "In Praise of Shadows," for example, he devotes pages to describing the traditional Japanese toilets, which he finds infinitely more agreeable than the gleaming Western vessels. He declares, "It may well be said that the most elegantly constructed works of Japanese architecture are the toilets." In another essay, "All About Toilets" (1935), he writes, "A certain nostalgic sweet remembrance accompanies the smell of a toilet. For example, when someone who has been away from home for a long time returns after an absence of years, when he goes into the toilet and smells the odor he knew long ago, it brings back better than anything else memories of his younger days, and he really feels the warmth of 'I'm home!'" But in excreta as in feet Tanizaki insists that they belong to a beautiful woman. The steam from another man's urine on a cold day definitely does not please him.

Even a superficial acquaintance with the literature of psychoanalysis reveals how intimately connected fetishism is with the reiterated mentions of the excretory processes. Here is Freud on the subject: "Psychoanalysis has cleared up one of the remaining gaps in our understanding of fetishism. It has shown the importance, as regards the choice of a fetish, of a coprophilic pleasure in smelling which has disappeared owing to repression. Both the feet and the hair are objects with a strong smell which have been exalted into fetishes after the olfactory sensation has become unpleasurable and been abandoned." Various of the followers of Freud have pointed out that fetishism is associated with a clinging to the mother and the strong desire to identify with her, and with a castration anxiety. Case after case is reported of foot-fetishists whose memories of their mothers are lovingly entwined with fecal smells. But it is not within my powers to psychoanalyze Tanizaki; suffice it to say that Tanizaki's fetishism and coprophilia both seem to be associated with the longing for the mother, which is a powerful though intermittent theme in his works.

The heroines of Tanizaki's novels generally suggest in appearance what he wrote of his mother, who was small (less than five feet tall), delicate of features, well-proportioned rather than frail. On the whole Tanizaki had less to say about the faces of his women than their feet. The features are classical, we are told, but they are deliberately blurred, as in the description of Oyu-san in Ashikari: "There was something hazy about Oyu-sama's face, as if one saw it through smoke. The lines of her features—the eyes, the nose, the mouth—were blurred as if a thin veil lay over them. There was not one sharp, clear line." The narrator in "A Portrait of Shunkin" tells us, "There is a photograph of her at thirty-six which shows a face of classic oval outline and features so delicately modeled they seem almost ethereal. However, since it dates from the eighteen-sixties, the picture is speckled with age and as faded as an old memory. . . . In that misty photograph I can detect nothing more than the usual refinement of a lady from a well-to-do Osaka merchant family—beautiful, to be sure, but without any real individuality." In a late work "The Bridge of Dreams" (1959), again, we are told, "I cannot recall my first mother's features distinctly .. . all I can summon to my mind's eye is the vague image of a full, round face. . . . All I could tell from the picture was that she wore her hair in an old-fashioned style." The clearest identification of this dimly perceived beauty with his own mother was given by Tanizaki in the story "Yearning for My Mother," written in 1918, the year after his mother's death. When he finds her in his dream she is insubstantial, hardly more than a beautiful shadow.

The function of the male in Tanizaki's stories is to worship this unearthly creature. In Ashikari Seribashi's slavish devotion to Oyu-san not only keeps him from presuming to have physical relations with her, though sometimes they share the same bed, but even from having relations with his own wife. In "The Bridge of Dreams" the narrator's attachment to his stepmother, who has blended completely in his mind with the mother he lost when a small child, is so great that even after he is married he "was always careful to take precautions against having a child—that was the one thing I never neglected." The young man in this story still suckles at his stepmother's breast at the age of eighteen, and there is more than one hint that he has sexual relations with her. He marries only to provide the stepmother—whom he always refers to as Mother—with a devoted servant, and when the stepmother dies he immediately gets rid of his wife, preferring to live in his memories.

But if this mother figure is gentle and dimly perceived even when in her presence, she is often cruel. The fear that the mother may refuse the child her love apparently belongs to the same complex of phenomena associated with foot-fetishism I have already mentioned, but in Tanizaki's stories the cruelty of the beloved woman becomes a source of allure. For his male characters it is not enough to grovel before a beautiful woman, to kiss her feet and even to crave her excreta; he must feel she is cruel. The old man in Diary of a Mad Old Man describes his ideal of a beautiful woman: "Above all, it's essential for her to have white, slender legs and delicate feet. Assuming that these and all the other points of beauty are equal, I would be more susceptible to the woman with bad character. Occasionally there are women whose faces reveal a streak of cruelty—they are the ones I like best. When I see a woman with a face like that, I feel her innermost nature may be cruel, indeed I hope it is." The fascination Naomi, the heroine of A Fool's Love, exerts over the hapless hero lies as much in her cruelty as in her exotic beauty. Shunkin is conspicuously cruel to Sasuke, referring to him contemptuously as a servant. Even a seemingly compliant and inarticulate Kyoto lady, Ikuko in The Key (1956), will betray and destroy her husband. Indeed, the cruelty of a woman, her delight in observing pain, is often what first attracts a man to her. The hero of Secret Stories of the Lord of Musashi is captivated as a boy when he sees a beautiful young woman smile as she carefully cleans and dresses a severed head. He is in particular driven to an ecstasy of delight when he sees her tending a head from which the nose has been cut, a mekubi, or "female head," an obvious reference to castration. The whole life of the future Lord of Musashi is determined by that sight, and he desires nothing more than to recreate the scene, if possible becoming the severed head over which the smiling young woman bends. Oyu-san in Ashikari is certainly not a monster, but she demands not only obedience but utter sacrifice from her slaves. At the end of Manji (1930) Mitsuko destroys the health of her two worshippers by insisting that they drink heavy sedatives each night before going to bed, to insure that they will not be unfaithful to her. Such examples of cruelty only serve to inflame the men who wait on these beautiful women. Even if cruelty destroys a man's body it can only foster his passion.

Men sometimes figure in the novels in the role of consort to the queen bee, destined to be discarded once they have fertilized the women they worship. But in Manji the males are contemptible and even unnecessary. Sonoko is satisfied with her homosexual love for Mitsuko and has no use for her husband; Mitsuko, for her part, though tied to the feckless young man Watanuki, derives her greatest pleasure from the adoration of Sonoko, another woman. In other stories, however, the male is necessary, if only to provide the woman with a suitable object for her sadistic impulses. Kikkyō in Secret Stories of the Lord of Musashi is drawn to Terukatsu because he alone can enable her to wreak vengeance on her husband, Norishige. Terukatsu supposes that once he has performed the service demanded of him—cutting off Norishige' s nose and destroying his castle—Kikkyō will surrender herself to him, but he discovers that the queen bee, her object attained, has no further interest in her abettor.

The woman usually express no particular preference in men, as if their features made no difference. It is true that Itsuko in The Key is attracted by Kimura's young body, but there is never any suggestion that she loves him or values him as anything more than the instrument of her lust. For that matter, though Itsuko is repelled by her husband's body, she is not averse to intercourse with him, providing he is sufficiently active. Tanizaki, reflecting the sentiments of his female characters, seldom describes the faces of the males. One of his rare descriptions of a man's face, Watanuki's in Manji, is not so much a portrait as a forewarning of his treacherous character. Sonoko, though at first she finds Watanuki attractive, is quickly disenchanted.

But if handsome male features do not seem to interest women, ugliness is no obstacle. Kikkyō is more devoted to Norishige after his nose is cut off (his mouth has already been made into a hare-lip, and one ear has been shot off) than when he was whole. In Diary of a Mad Old Man the old man does not wish his daughter-in-law to see him when he removes his false teeth and looks, in his own words, exactly like a monkey, but she insists that it does not make any difference. Indeed, the indifference of Tanizaki's women to men suggests the indifference of a cat to human beings. Perhaps it was no accident that Tanizaki throughout his life was fascinated by cats.

I have so far described themes that remained astonishingly constant in Tanizaki's writings for over fifty years. My examples have been chosen from every period of his career, and many others might be adduced. I think that these are the basic themes of his books, but the last impression I would like to give is that his writings are monotonous or that he failed to respond in any way to the enormous changes that occurred in Japanese society. At one level at least Tanizaki's writings present an evolving set of ideas about traditional Japan and the West. This is expressed even in the preferences in women of his different heroes. For example, Jōji, the hero of A Fool's Love (1925), seems to embody Tanizaki's own feelings of about 1915. Jōji is enslaved by the European-looking beauty of Naomi (whose very name sounds foreign), so much so that he feels ashamed of his own typically Japanese features. At the end of the novel they are living in the foreign section of Yokohama, and he has accepted her demand that she have the right to entertain foreign male friends without interference from him. The implied condemnation of this surrender to the cult of Western beauty suggests that Tanizaki himself was no longer so susceptible. This is developed in Some Prefer Nettles (1929) into a rediscovery of traditional Japanese beauty. Kaname, the hero, is attracted by the West, particularly by the worship of women as goddesses, but in the end he finds himself succumbing to the quiet charms of an old-fashioned Kyoto woman. Tanizaki's former adulation of Western things is replaced by a new appreciation of traditional Japanese culture. In the decade after Some Prefer Nettles he gives us a collection of portraits of typically Japanese women, each composed and classical of face but harboring the ferocity of a tigress. The period was brought to an appropriate close with Tanizaki's translation into modern Japanese of The Tale of Genji, bringing new life to its great gallery of beautiful women.

It may have been the anxieties of war, perhaps even a fear that as the result of the war that began in 1941 Japan would be changed beyond all recognition, that drew Tanizaki back from the past to modern Japan, the Japan of the 1930's. With something of the elegiac spirit of a chronicler recording (lest people forget) the last days of Rome before the barbarian invasions, he recreated in The Makioka Sisters the city of Osaka in days of peace and luxury. The military authorities were right when they decided in 1943 that The Makioka Sisters was subversive, for in this novel Tanizaki indicates that Western elements had become precious parts of the lives of cultivated Japanese and were no longer merely affectations or passing crazes as in the days of Tanizaki's youth. The youngest sister, Taeko, is condemned for her waywardness, an excess of Western freedom, it is true, but the inarticulate Yukiko, a typically old-fashioned Japanese beauty, shows to best advantage in Western clothes.

The conflict between East and West in the minds and lives of the Japanese has now become the most hackneyed of all themes, the first one that leaps in pristine freshness into the mind of every maker of documentary films or television producer. But for Tanizaki this subject, which had absorbed him in the 1920's, lost all appeal and interest after the war. In the last novels the so-called conflict completely melts away. Tanizaki is no longer obsessed by his preference for the past. Utsugi, the old man of Diary of a Mad Old Man, has nostalgic remembrances of his mother, but he delights in the up-to-the-minute costumes of his daughter-in-law, Satsuko. Quite unlike the Tanizaki of In Praise of Shadows, Utsugi is eager to tear down the old, Edo-style house he grew up in and to erect instead a bright new Western-style house where he can live more independently of his wife. In the end he builds a swimming pool in the garden big enough for Satsuko to practice synchronized swimming. Old man Utsugi has accepted Western things as inevitable and even attractive elements in Japanese life. Like all the heroines of Tanizaki novels, Satsuko has a dazzlingly white complexion—in In Praise of Shadows Tanizaki had lovingly dwelt on his fascination for white skin, not the matter-of-fact white of a European woman's, but the mysterious, glowing ivory of a Japanese face—but she shows to advantage when sunburned. Satsuko's feet, of course, are important, but their shape is rather unlike that of Tanizaki's earlier heroines, for she has always worn shoes. Satsuko bathes in a tiled shower, rather than in the scented wooden tub Tanizaki lovingly described in Some Prefer Nettles, but this does not make her less desirable to her eager father-inlaw.

Tanizaki's early period as a writer was certainly marked by infatuation with the West. About 1918, he tells us, "I had come to detest Japan, even though I was obviously a Japanese." He dreamed especially of the kind of women he saw in foreign films. "What I sought were lively eyes, a cheerful expression and a clear voice, a body that was healthy and well-proportioned, and above all, long straight legs and adorable feet with pointed toenails cased in snugly fitting high-heeled shoes—in short, a woman with the physique and clothes of a foreign star." Tanizaki was in the mountains at Hakone at the time of the Great Earthquake of 1923. He was deeply worried about his family, but "almost at the same instant joy welled up inside me and the thought, 'How marvellous! Tokyo will become a decent place now.'" He had visions of a new Tokyo: "Orderly thoroughfares, shining, newly-paved streets, a flood of cars, blocks of flats rising floor on floor, level on level in geometrical beauty, and threading through the city elevated lines, subways, street cars. And the excitement at night of a great city, a city with all the amusements of Paris or New York, a city where the night life never ends. Then, and then indeed, the citizens of Tokyo will come to adopt a purely European-American style of life, and the young people, men and women alike, will all wear Western clothes. This is the inevitable trend of the times, and whether one likes it or not, this is what will happen."

Tanizaki could hardly have been a better prophet of what in fact did take place in Tokyo. However, after the earthquake he decided to move to the Kansai, and gradually his attitudes began to change. He discovered that "I loved the old Japan as a form of exoticism, in precisely the sense that a foreigner treasures the prints of Hiroshige." He visited Nara and Kyoto, again just like a foreign tourist. Gradually he shifted to a more positive appreciation of Japanese culture as it survived in the Kansai, and to an increasing distaste for Tokyo, which he considered a shoddy imitation of the West. Yokohama, where Tanizaki had in earlier days enjoyed dancing with foreign women, became in A Fool's Love the symbol of the unhealthy Japanese mania for the West. In contrast, the world described in In Praise of Shadows, is essentially that of Osaka, a city where the merchant class created a solid and substantial culture capable of resisting Westernization better than Tokyo, a city where the descendants of the old inhabitants had been pushed aside by latecomers, peasants attracted to the big city. . . .

Ashikari (1932), also a story of the Kansai, is a narration within a narration. Tanizaki, the antiquarian, visits Minase, the site of the palace of the thirteenth-century Emperor Gotoba. In a manner reminiscent of Merimée describing Roman ruins in Spain as a prelude to his story of Carmen, but more subtly, Tanizaki passes from the presentday loneliness of Minase to the Minase evoked by the poets, and then to the Minase of fifty years ago as Seribashi, the man he accidentally encounters, relates the story of Oyu-san. The use in this story of Kansai dialect would have been a mistake, for it would have called attention to the narrator, and it is essential that he be the transparent medium for the story who vanishes at the end. Tanizaki's intent in this story is quite the opposite of the usual kind of historical fiction. He wrote: "My wish has been to avoid imparting any modern interpretations to the psychology of Japanese women of the feudal period, but instead to describe them in such a way that I will recreate what those long-ago women actually felt, in a manner that appeals to the emotions and understanding of modern people." By preserving a distance between himself and his characters he kept intact the understated reserve that he felt to be an essential element especially in the women of the Kansai region. Some critics at the time evidently objected to this remoteness, but Tanizaki defended himself in a postscript written to "A Portrait of Shunkin" (1934): "In response to those who say that I have failed to describe what Shunkin or Sasuke are really thinking, I would like to counter with the question: 'Why is it necessary to describe what they are thinking? Don't you understand their thoughts anyway from what I have written?'"

Even at the height of Tanizaki's absorption with the Kansai, the last preserve of traditional Japan, he returned at times to more overt descriptions of his abiding, perverse inclinations. Secret Stories of the Lord of Musashi, as the title indicates, belongs to an entirely different world. It deals with a man, rather unusually for Tanizaki, and is set in the Kantōduring the sixteenth century. The theme, suitably announced in a preface written in stiff, formal Chinese, is the distorted sexual passion of the hero. Terukatsu, unlike the passive males of Manji,Ashikari or "A Portrait of Shunkin," is a martial leader, and his exploits are worthy of his heroic age. But, as Tanizaki reminds us in the preface, the sexual lives of heroes are often surprising. Terukatsu, for all his martial prowess, is a masochist who craves the cruelty of a beautiful woman. In this respect he shows his kinship with Seribashi, Sasuke and old man Utsugi.

Tanizaki employed a favorite technique in this work: he describes finding various old accounts of Terukatsu, and attempts to piece them together into a biography, emphasizing the aspects of his life that normally do not appear in typical accounts of the lives of great generals. The novel opens superbly. Terukatsu, a boy of thirteen, is initiated into the world of manhood by being led to a room in a besieged castle where women are washing, arranging and fastening name-tags to the heads of enemy dead. The scene, filled with a morbid, glowing quality, ranks with Tanizaki's finest achievements, and indeed with anything written in this century. Tanizaki may have derived inspiration from Oan Monogatari, an account of her experiences in Ogaki Castle at the time of the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 by a young woman of the warrior class. But all that Oan Monogatari contains that is relevant is this single passage: "I remember that the heads which had been taken by our side were collected in the keep of the castle, each one with a tag attached to it. . . . There is nothing to be afraid of in a head. I sometimes went to sleep among all the heads with their carnal smell." Tanizaki may have been less influenced by the text than by the contemporary illustration that shows women in elaborate kimonos preparing the severed heads.

Terukatsu in later life not only enjoyed witnessing the spontaneous, indefinable cruelty of women, he even sought to provoke it, especially in women of the mildest dispositions. His wife O-etsu, an innocent girl of fifteen, is given to such girlish pleasures as hunting fireflies. In later life she takes orders as a nun and is known for her piety and saintliness. But in an unforgettable scene of the novel Terukatsu compels the priest Dōami (one of his biographers) to go down into a hole in the floor, leaving only his head exposed above the floor level, and to pretend that he is a severed head. Terukatsu, having made O-etsu drunk, tests her courage by asking if she will cut off Dōami's nose. She professes her willingness, though he eventually requires her only to drill a hole in Dōami's ear. She performs this service gladly, laughing all the while. When O-etsu recovers from her inebriation she recalls with mortification her wanton behavior. Terukatsu for his part is satisfied at having thus converted his angelic wife into a monster of cruelty, but this achieved, he loses interest in her.

Tanizaki intended to continue Secret Tales of the Lord of Musashi beyond its present conclusion, and even prepared a rough outline of subsequent developments. Although this project was never realized, he referred to it even in his late years, sometimes promising to return to this novel after he had completed his revised translation of The Tale of Genji. It is a pity he did not; even so, it ranks as one of his masterpieces.

The three complete translations of The Tale of Genji, the first of which appeared in 1938, and the third in 1965, the year of his death, unquestionably brought this great novel within the reach of the Japanese reading public—earlier critics had complained that it was easier to read in English translation than in the original—but we must regret the novels Tanizaki might have composed had he not chosen to devote years of his life to this task. Surely there can be no question of his having run out of things to write. After the first version of The Tale of Genji, in fact, Tanizaki wrote The Makioka Sisters, by far his longest novel and perhaps his best (though atypical because of the peculiar wartime circumstances of composition). Between the first and the second Genji translations Tanizaki also wrote such important works as The Mother of Captain Shigemoto, and between the second and third translations he wrote two of his most popular works, The Key and Diary of a Mad Old Man. . . .

It is fitting that Tanizaki's last novel, Diary of a Mad Old Man, like the last works of many other great artists; should have been comic. This does not mean that his earlier works are unrelievedly serious. Secret Stories of the Lord of Musashi, despite its macabre themes, is humorous in its description of the relentless pursuit of Norishige's nose, and some short works, like The Cat, Shōzō and the Two Women (1936), are amusing throughout. But Diary of a Mad Old Man is in its self-satire a wonderfully comic work, and at the same time true to Tanizaki's deepest feelings as The Key is not. It is as if Tanizaki, still intrigued by the old themes of his writings, is now able also to see them at such a distance that they appear comic. It is a captivating book, marred only by the weak ending. Probably this was because the logical ending, the death of the old man, was the one subject Tanizaki at this stage of his life could not treat with humor.

In 1934 Tanizaki wrote of himself, "I am basically uninterested in politics, so I have concerned myself exclusively with the ways people live, eat and dress, the standards of feminine beauty, and the progress of recreational facilities." No doubt this is how he chose to see himself, sometimes at least. But the more complex side of his writing, expressed in countless variations, surely imparted a distinctive quality, sombre, grotesque or comic, that contributed much to the greatness of the man I consider to have been the finest modern Japanese novelist.

Principal Works

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Short Fiction

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 early eleventh century.

Anthony H. Chambers (essay date 1972)

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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.

All of this is familiar enough to anyone who has read English translations of Tanizaki's works and the biographical sketches provided on their jackets. Less familiar, however, and more difficult to deal with, are the questions of how Tanizaki viewed the Japanese past, what his attitudes toward and tastes in Japanese tradition were, why he chose to write historical fiction, and what he hoped to accomplish by doing so. This [essay] represents an initial attempt to answer these questions.

It might be useful to begin with some brief, general answers. Of all the periods of Japanese history, it was the Heian Period which Tanizaki found most congenial. He was also an enthusiastic connoisseur of the plebeian arts of the Tokugawa Period: kabuki, the puppet theater, music and dance. He was far less fond of that part of Japanese tradition inspired by Confucian and Buddhist morality; in particular, the drab, didactic literature written under Confucian influence was not at all to his taste. It was in large part in reaction to the Confucian tone of much of Japanese literature that Tanizaki wrote historical fiction. He believed that literature should be beautiful, not didactic, and that the beauty most appropriate to modern Japanese readers was the eternal, unchanging beauty of Japanese tradition. Finally, he sought to breathe vitality into Japanese history through the portrayal of women and romance—subjects neglected by Confucian historians—and through what might almost be called exposes of the past.

It is not difficult to imagine why Tanizaki was so drawn to the Heian Period. In Japan, as Tanizaki wrote, "reliance on women is held to be the opposite of manliness; and the concept of 'woman' is relegated to a position diametrically opposed to everything sublime, eternal, solemn and pure." "Why did women come to be despised," he asks, "and looked upon as slaves following the establishment of military government and the emergence of bushidō? Why was kindness to women considered a lapse into effeminacy, unbefitting a warrior?" In contrast to this, one of the most persistent themes in Tanizaki's writings is "woman worship." His male characters, when they emerge as individuals at all, are almost invariably abject and masochistic woman worshippers whose primary object in life is to be dominated, even mistreated, by the women they love. From this fact, from his autobiographical writings and from the testimony of those around him, it is safe to assume that Tanizaki himself was a "woman worshipper." The Heian Period is the only well documented era of Japanese history that shared Tanizaki's attitudes toward women, and hence it was the period with which he could most readily identify. "Women did not rule over men in the aristocratic society of the Heian Period," he wrote, "but they had the same freedom as men, and the attitude of men toward women was not tyrannical as in later ages: women were treated courteously and gently, at times as the most beautiful and precious things in the world."

It was for somewhat different reasons that Tanizaki was fond of kabuki and the puppet theater, and of shamisen music. He developed a liking for kabuki and the shamisen in his childhood, when he was able to catch strains of shamisen music floating from neighboring houses, and when his mother took him regularly to the kabuki theater. A taste for the puppet theater came more slowly. Initially Tanizaki was bored by the puppets and disgusted by the slobbering narrators; the process of his conversion is memorably described in Tade Kuu Mushi (Some Prefer Nettles). One suspects that ultimately it was the color and exuberance of the plebeian Tokugawa arts that appealed to Tanizaki. . . .

Complementing Tanizaki's sympathy for the Heian Period and for the plebeian Tokugawa arts is a strong antipathy for the sterility and didacticism of the Confucian tradition, and for the Japanese naturalist writers whose works paradoxically share some of the same unattractive qualities. [In Kokubungaku: Kaishaku to Kanshō, Volume 34, 1969] Hashimoto Yoshiichirō describes Tanizaki as "the most persistently antimedieval of novelists" and suggests that Tanizaki's veneration for women was a primary reason. As Hashimoto points out, "Buddhism and Confucianism, the religious and moral systems that held sway over medieval and Tokugawa Japan, taught contempt for the female form." A doctrine less compatible with Tanizaki's inclinations can scarcely be imagined. Further, Tanizaki found the stiff lifelessness of Confucian writings insufferable; and he deplored the effect of Confucian influence on Japanese letters. "We will never know," he lamented, "how many geniuses were lost to so-called 'light literature' thanks to the notion, current during the feudal period, that novels and the theater were for the diversion of women and children and were not suitable entertainment for samurai. A man of letters like Rai Sanyō for example, had he not been confined by this thinking, would probably have written political or historical novels with some human warmth rather than the overly stiff Nihon Gaishi." As Albert Craig has pointed out [in Personality in Japanese History, 1970], the Confucian canons of history that guided writers like Sanyō "demanded the recording of those aspects of life that would serve as a moral mirror for posterity, not the details that would make them come alive." Tanizaki found the antitheses of Confucian didacticism in the great Heian romances, of which he wrote that the story unfolds of itself, through the actions and words of the characters; and the author, objectively relating the happiness and misery of the characters, causes the reader to taste these emotions as if they were his own.

If Confucian didacticism was not to Tanizaki's taste, neither was the drabness of the Japanese naturalist writers, who were also in their own way, reacting to the Confucian tradition. He argued that the fascination of the naturalists and their successors with minute details of everyday life was the result of Western influence and that it represented altogether too narrow a view of the role of literature. Tanizaki's taste called for a richer, more imaginative fabric than his contemporaries were willing to produce. At one point his aversion to the droning monotony of the naturalists grew so strong that he rejected all realistic literature out of hand: "I have gotten into a bad habit recently. I cannot bring myself to write or read anything which takes real facts for its material, or which is even realistic. This is one reason that I make no attempt to read the works by contemporary authors that appear in the magazines every month. I'll scan the first five or six lines, say to myself 'Aha! he's writing about himself,' and lose all desire to go on reading." Disinclined to read the work of most of his contemporaries, Tanizaki turned to historical fiction and to the exoticism of foreign literature. "Generally I find myself reading things that have nothing to do with the present. When I read historical novels, nonsense tales, even realistic novels of fifty years ago or contemporary Western novels far removed from Japanese society, I can enjoy them as so many imaginary worlds." In the course of this reading Tanizaki apparently came to the conclusion that there was a serious lack of historical fiction in Japan, and for a time he had ambitions of helping to fill the gap. He was deeply impressed by Quo Vadis, and in the late 1920's dreamed of writing a long historical novel along the same lines, set perhaps in Kamakura or Ashikaga Japan, and full of courtiers, beautiful women and priests, involved in deep and complicated relationships and undergoing vast changes.

Thus Tanizaki's desire to write historical fiction represented on one hand an urge to escape from the drab realism of his contemporaries into a more romantic and aesthetically pleasing world, and on the other hand, an ambition to rectify what he considered a serious lack in modern Japanese literature—a desire to portray the Japanese past as it really was.

For turning his back on the colorless recording of day-today life and for looking to the Japanese past for comfort and inspiration, Tanizaki was denounced as a reactionary and an escapist. Apparently such criticism did not bother him. It was his view that modern Japanese writers, under Western influence, were constantly striving to accomplish something new, to discover beauty in new forms, to contribute to a better society. He saw himself, on the other hand, as a writer who attempted no more—and no less—than to equal the artistry of his predecessors. More than once he pointed out that traditionally an Oriental writer or artist strives not to express his own individuality and to discover new beauties unexpressed by his teachers, but to attain to the same heights reached by those before him. Beauty, he wrote, is single and unchanging in eyes of the Oriental artist, and that single beauty has been sung repeatedly by Eastern poets through the ages. In Tanizaki's mind, one aspect of the unchanging beauty of Japanese tradition was feminine beauty. There is in Japan, he maintained, a tradition of the "eternal woman": "Men in ancient times did not love a woman's personality, nor were they attracted by the particular beauty of individual women. Just as the moon is always the same moon, it must have seemed to them that there is a single, universal, eternal 'woman'." A clearer statement of the concept comes in Some Prefer Nettles, during Kaname's first visit to the puppet theater: "The classical beauty was withdrawn, restrained, careful not to show too much individuality, and the puppet here quite fitted the requirements. A more distinctive, more colorful figure would only have ruined the effect. Perhaps, indeed, to their contemporaries all the tragic heroines . . . had the same face. Perhaps this doll was the 'eternal woman' as Japanese tradition had her." Tanizaki saw himself as part of the great anonymous stream of artists who return "again and again, age after age, to an ultimate, unchanging beauty." "I have come to feel that the work of an artist is not simply to do something uncommon, to display his individuality: it is all right if one differs from the ancients only slightly, if one's self is revealed only in the minutest point. In fact, I see nothing wrong in becoming completely absorbed in the great accomplishments of the past and not showing one's individuality at all."

No one has ever accused Tanizaki of failing to leave his individual imprint on his works; but in such works as Yoshino Kuzu,Ashikari, "Mōmoku Monogatari," "Shunkinshō," and Shōshō Shigemoto no Haha he does seem to have striven for a classical repose, a misty suggestiveness, of the sort that characterizes The Tale of Genji. It was this approach that Tanizaki, during his middle years, felt to be most appropriate for himself as a modern writer. He maintained that the function of Japanese literature always "has been to make the reader forget the pain and harshness of everyday life," and nothing is more soothing than the comfortable familiarity of tradition. As long as people pursue happiness by struggling for ever better worlds, he argued, there can be no end to inordinate desires. One position may be to find meaning in endless progress and development; but an equally valid position is to seek a quiet spot in the midst of all the motion. Tanizaki asks why the warriors of the Ashikaga Period spent their leisure in such serene pastimes as poetry, the tea ceremony and nō. His answer leaves no room for doubt: "Nothing short of these traditional arts could provide sustenance for their hearts." . . .

A number of examples could be given to show how Tanizaki in his own writings sought to recapture the shadowy, suggestive beauty of Japanese tradition. The exquisite firefly hunt of Sasameyuki (The Makioka Sisters) comes immediately to mind. The reader is not allowed to "witness" the hunt itself: the events of the expedition flow dreamily, impressionistically through Sachiko's mind as she lies in bed, waiting for sleep to come. Here indeed the eaves are deep and the walls dark, the useless decoration stripped away. Another example, and one of Tanizaki's greatest accomplishments, is the last chapter of Shōshō Shigemoto no Haha (The Mother of Captain Shigemoto), in which Shigemoto is reunited with his mother after a separation of many years. The meeting takes place on a hazy, moonlit night, on a hillside at the foot of Mt. Hiei, far from the streets and mansions of the city. Shigemoto first becomes aware of his mother's presence when he dimly sees her dressed in white and picking yellow roses under a solitary cherry tree, illuminated by the warm flow of the moon. Nothing is new in this scene: cherry blossoms and hazy moonlight are images used with exasperating frequency in classical Japanese literature, and the theme of the child longing for his mother, while characteristic of Tanizaki's works, is also central to The Tale of Genji. But Tanizaki's combination of these traditional elements is perhaps unique, and he succeeds brilliantly in what he set out to do: "to arouse fresh, strong feelings in the reader while following in the footsteps of the ancients."

Tanizaki's embrace of traditional aesthetics was one aspect of his reaction to the drab writings of his contemporaries and to Confucian didacticism. Another was his desire to breathe life into the past, to give it flesh and color—in short, to restore what Confucian writers had deemed unsuitable. In Tanizaki's view, the honest depiction of sex and romantic love, and of their effects, was lacking in the traditional accounts of Japanese history, and he argued that one of the most beneficial effects of Western influence on Japanese literature was "the liberation of love, or more precisely, the liberation of sexual desire." Armed with the tools provided him by Western example and with his own imagination, Tanizaki could proceed to rewrite Japanese history by investing it with the sex and romance that must have been there but which were systematically omitted by the historians. "It goes without saying," he wrote, "that there is a romance of one kind or another in the life of every historical hero, and that by portraying this aspect without reserve an author could convey a real sense of humanity."

Tanizaki must have felt that part of his task was to provide the past with women. As has been pointed out above, Confucian and Buddhist precepts hold women to be inferior creatures, scarcely worthy of serious attention. This attitude is reflected in the writing of Japanese history, and was a great irritation to Tanizaki. "I frequently think that I would like to write a historical novel based on some person of the past, but I am always frustrated by the difficulty of forming a clear picture of the women who surrounded him. . . . Since ancient times Japanese family genealogies, from that of the Imperial Family down, have given comparatively detailed accounts of the activities of men, but when a woman appears she is simply noted as 'girl' or 'woman,' normally with no indication of the years of her birth or death, or even of her name. In other words, there are individual men in our history, but there is no such thing as an individual woman." The "eternal woman" of whom Tanizaki wrote was eternal and unchanging only on the surface; underneath she must have been in a turmoil of suppressed emotions. Tanizaki describes his intentions this way: "My wish has been to recreate the psychology of Japanese women of the feudal period just as it was, without imposing modern interpretations, and to portray it in a way that will appeal to the emotions and understanding of modern readers. . . . Even a woman who appeared to be chaste and pure no doubt felt an immoral love, unperceived by others; jealousy, hatred, cruelty and other depraved passions must have passed faintly through her heart. But it is extremely difficult to portray convincingly a woman who never gave the slightest outward sign of these feelings, whose entire life was lived inside herself."

Thus Tanizaki knew that the task he set for himself was a difficult one, and it must be said that he did not always succeed in it. His most convincing female characters are without question the four Makioka sisters, but they of course are not ladies of feudal Japan. Three feudal women might be mentioned: Shunkin of "Shunkinshō," Lady Oyū of Ashikari, and Lady Oichi of "Mōmoku Monogatari." All of these women are portrayed with enough depth to set them apart as individuals; and Shunkin in particular, a brilliant and sadistic musician, is far from being the gentle, unselfish, withdrawn "eternal woman" of Japanese tradition. But more than the character of these ladies, it is the style, plot and atmosphere of these three works that linger in the reader's mind. To the Western reader, in any case, the women of Tanizaki's historical function are insubstantial.

The work in which Tanizaki succeeds most brilliantly in bringing the past to life is Bushūkō Hiwa (The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi), and he accomplishes it by following his own prescription—that an author can convey a sense of humanity by portraying the romance in the life of a historical hero. Oddly enough, the central character of the work is a man, and though women play an important part in his life, they are not the vivid creations one might expect from reading "Shunkinshō."

The hero of The Secret History is Terukatsu, a sixteenth-century leader of great ability and courage. But Tanizaki does not tell the story of Terukatsu's heroic exploits; rather, he concentrates on exposing Terukatsu's secret desires and motivations.

The novel opens when Terukatsu is thirteen and he is allowed to watch several ladies grooming enemy heads—taken in battle—for presentation to the lord of the castle. The scene makes a profound impression on the boy, particularly the sight of a beautiful young woman preparing a head from which the nose has been cut. Terukatsu experiences a masochistic desire to be such a head and to enjoy the sensation of being handled by the beautiful lady. This desire develops into a lifelong obsession.

Naturally such a perversion can be acted upon only vicariously. Young Terukatsu slips into the enemy camp determined to take a noseless head and present it to the lady in the castle. He succeeds in taking the nose of the enemy commander himself, but has to flee without the head. Later he has an affair with the same commander's daughter who, haunted by her father's noseless spirit, seeks revenge in kind on her own husband, Norishige, whom she suspects of being responsible. Terukatsu is only too glad to help; the goal and finally the reality of a noseless Norishige are precisely what Terukatsu needs to satisfy his sadomasochistic desires and to give the sharpest edge to his affair with the lady.

This partial summary of the plot of The Secret History is enough to show Tanizaki's intent. History—albeit fictitious history—is put to the limelight, and the secret obsessions of its heroes are revealed for the first time: history is not always what it seems to be. The work closes with these words: "If one peruses the Tsukuma Gunki and other official histories, keeping in mind that there was this secret side to the Lord of Musashi's sex life, many unexpected discoveries will undoubtedly be made. It is in this hope that I have written these pages." Most important is that Terukatsu, Norishige, and the other characters of the novel are very much alive, and through them Tanizaki brings the whole period of civil wars to life.

In works like The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi, then, Tanizaki tried to restore to Japanese history the vitality that had been stifled by Confucian historians. In "Shunkinshō" he provided Japanese history with strong, individual women. And in almost all his writings he sought to embody the traditional Japanese sense of beauty, which he believed was uniquely suited to Japanese temperament and physiology, for he believed that nothing else could soothe and comfort modern Japanese living in the bright lights of the Twentieth Century.

Makoto Ueda (essay date 1976)

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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 controversies of the time. In his fiction, too, aesthetic questions are often directly woven into the texture of the work, as in the well-known "Tattoo," Some Prefer Nettles, and "The Portrait of Shunkin," not to mention such lesser-known stories as "Creation" and "Gold and Silver.". . .

Tanizaki's concept of beauty is eloquently expounded in his celebrated essay In Praise of Shadows. As the title indicates, the essay expresses his admiration for a shadowy and crepuscular style of beauty in both life and art. He prefers a Japanese-style washroom because it is darker than others inside; he is fond of lacquerware because it is most attractive in a dimly lighted room; he likes Japanese houses because of their large, drooping roofs; he is fascinated with the nō actors' gorgeous costumes that perfectly match the dusky stage. Why did he like shadows so much? His answer was that Orientals had always liked them, and that he was an Oriental. As for why Orientals liked them, he gave two reasons: Orientals were by nature passive, and had learned to live with darkness instead of trying to conquer it as Occidentals did; and Orientals, with their darker skins, had automatically cultivated a sense of beauty befitting their complexion. But the essay is much more than a comparative study of Eastern and Western ideals of beauty. It is written with enthusiasm, leaving no doubt that the author is far more fascinated than the average Oriental with this dusky ideal of beauty. In his youth, Tanizaki had in fact been an ardent admirer of the West and of Western female beauty. The main reason why he admired shadows so much was that they breed fantasies.

Support for this interpretation can be found throughout In Praise of Shadows. The author intimates that he likes to "sink into meditation" in the dim light of a Japanese-style washroom. He also observes that Japanese soup, lying silently at the bottom of a lacquered bowl, makes one want to meditate rather than eat. He likes Japanese yō kan jelly because, looking on it, he feels as if it had "absorbed sunlight deep under its translucent jadelike surface and were emitting a dim light as in a dream." He loves to see gold lacquer work by candlelight because its surface glitters in the dark and creates "a strangely luminous dreamworld" with its reflections. He likes to see a Japanese woman under the same circumstances, and imagines that in old Japan a high-ranking noble-woman must have spent many hours of the night sitting in a huge tatami-matted room lighted by a candle, its dim, rainbow-colored light filling the atmosphere like dense fog. He adds that

. . . people of today, long accustomed to the light of electric lamps, have forgotten there once was this type of darkness. Particularly in the house, the "visible darkness" makes one feel as if something imperceptible were wavering in it, and readily invokes fantasies in one's mind, so that it is more likely to induce a sense of mystery than the darkness outdoors. No doubt it was in such darkness that goblins and weird spirits hovered about; and weren't these women, who lived darkly behind so many doors and drapes and screens, also goblins after their fashion? I can imagine how tightly the darkness enfolded them, closing in on them through every opening in their clothes, downward along the neck, upward along the arms and legs. Or perhaps they emitted that darkness from within their bodies, through their blackened teeth or through their dark hair, as a ground spider spins its web.

In Praise of Shadows ends with the author's declaration that he would try to call back, through the art of fiction, the world of shadows that was so rapidly disappearing with the modernization of Japan. He did what he promised. Most of Tanizaki's later works create such a world, a twilight world inhabited by people who thrive on darkness. Many important happenings occur at night in The Secret Tale of the Lord of Musashi, Ashikari, The Mother of Captain Shigemoto, and The Key. All of the events that happen in "A Blind Man's Tale," "A Portrait of Shunkin," and From the Notes of an Old Tale are reported by blind men, living in darkness. The narrator of The Diary of a Mad Old Man is not blind, but he is nearing eighty years of age and his eyesight and other faculties are considerably weaker than an average person's. Among Tanizaki's later works virtually the only major novel not dominated by the world of shadows is The Makioka Sisters. But even here, daylight seldom enters. The four Makioka sisters were born and brought up behind the many doors and screens of a gloomy old house in Osaka. Of the four, Yukiko, the novel's heroine, has a particularly down-cast appearance and an unusually introverted personality. She perfectly complements the traditional Japanese house, with its lack of interior lighting; indeed, at the end of the novel the author marries her to a viscount's son who, after many years of wandering in the West, has rediscovered the beauty of traditional Japan.

As is evident from the above-cited passage, shadows were also a prime factor in Tanizaki's concept of ideal female beauty. He adored women who looked their best by candlelight. He did not like women who passed for beautiful in today's Japan—the type of women who competed in Miss Universe contests—because "their facial features are too clear-cut and too self-sufficient to encourage dreamers." His ideal woman, he explained, had less distinctive features, creating an indefinable impression like a hazy spring moon. Many of the heroines in Tanizaki's later works can be viewed as personifications of this ideal. The heroine of "The Portrait of Shunkin," for example, has a face that, although exquisitely beautiful, is without individuality or any definite appeal. The principal female character in Ashikari has the features of a typical Japanese beauty, except that there is "something misty" about her face. Likewise, Yukiko in The Makioka Sisters has features less clear-cut than those of any of her three sisters, and is all the more attractive because of it. In each case, the heroine's face stimulates the onlooker's imagination by not being expressive of her inner feelings. It is a face capable of refusing the command of the conscious mind: it hardly shows an emotion, unless it is rooted deep in the subconscious. Yukiko, for instance, betrays no sign of happiness even when, at long last, a marriage is successfully arranged for her. Tanizaki liked a face of this type precisely because it so much resembled a mask.

In this respect, the theme of crepuscular beauty becomes a connecting link between Tanizaki's earlier and later heroines. His earlier ones are generally distinguished by their ruthless, possessive qualities, and his later ones by their calm beauty. But all of them have clouded, enigmatic features that mask the secret stirrings of the subconscious. And the subconscious knows neither good nor evil, but only the promptings of desire. Tanizaki's earlier heroines remain beautiful even as they follow their darkest impulses, paying little heed to the daytime world of public morality. Their beauty, as critics pointed out at the time (and as Tanizaki himself agreed), is daemonic. The heroines of "Tattoo," "A Spring Time Case," Because of Love, "An Idiot's Love," and The Whirlpool all have this quality. The only major difference between them and the later heroines is that the former show what is hidden in their minds' secret depths. But the two types of heroine are sisters under the skin, just as the serenely beautiful heroine of The Makioka Sisters, all surface appearances to the contrary, in some ways resembles her more daemonic younger sister.

Among the types of daemonic beauty, Tanizaki seems to have been most attracted to the beauty of cruelty. This is probably because he thought of the human subconscious as basically destructive. Women, whose beauty came to full flower only at the expense of their male admirers, were naturally cruel; men, for their part, were never happier than when they were physically abused by the women they adored. One of Tanizaki's favorite film actresses was Simone Signoret, especially after he saw her play the role of a murderess in Les Diaboliques; he admired her for her "large, smutty-looking face and lusterless, tired skin, for the impression she gave of being a ruthless, fearless, cunning woman." Many of Tanizaki's earlier heroines have this ruthless quality, and are beautiful because of it. In his later works, the heroine of The Diary of a Mad Old Man comes closest to this type; in fact, she is directly compared with Simone Signoret.

Tanizaki's predilection for the beauty of cruelty also found expression in his fondness for members of the cat family. He once remarked that of all animals he would most like to have a leopard as a pet because it was "beautiful, lithe, elegant, as genteel as a court musician and as merciless as a devil." The same is true of his early heroines. Of course, he could not keep a leopard at home; he therefore kept cats instead. His love of cats is reflected in his short novel The Cat, Shōzō, and Two Women, which must rank as one of the world's finest cat stories.

Tanizaki also found mothers beautiful but daemonic. Maternal beauty in itself had no evil connotations for him. But when he related it to the child's latent sexual drive, he thought that it took on a distinctly equivocal aspect. Once, when Tanizaki was asked what woman struck him as being supremely beautiful, he answered that it was his late mother, as he remembered her, not in her last days, but as a young, beautiful woman. Such a young, beautiful mother is the heroine of his short story "Longing for Mother," in which the son, looking at the mother closely, cannot help feeling "a mysterious, daemonic eeriness" in her. "Her powdered face," he says, "created an impression of coldness rather than of beauty or loveliness." The hero of "Arrowroot Leaves in Yoshino," pining for his late mother, wishes that she were a fox, an animal with supernatural powers in Japanese folklore. For Captain Shigemoto, too, his mother was a shadowy person who never showed herself outside the darkness of a dimly lighted room. When, after many years of searching, he as last meets her, he first takes her to be the spirit of an old cherry tree that is blossoming with "daemonic beauty" above her.

To conclude, Tanizaki's literary aesthetic centers on the beauty of half-light, of dusky visions that vibrate in the imagination. Living in the age of electricity, he nevertheless tried to create a world of shadows by means of literature. He preferred his world to be dimly lit because it permitted the weird creatures of the subconscious to come out into the open. In the kingdom of Tanizaki's fiction, women markedly outweigh men in importance, because he thought of them as creatures of darkness, belonging to the subconscious. Female beauty as worshiped by Tanizaki inevitably becomes equivocal: a woman who treats her lover sadistically or who seduces her son is always pictured as supremely beautiful. But this is logical, because for Tanizaki beauty and the grotesque are one and the same. The logic, of course, is that of the subconscious, the dark abode of Freudian goblins.

Further Reading

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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 and style.

Yamanouchi, Hisaaki. "The Eternal Womanhood: Tanizaki Jun'ichirō and Kawabata Yasunari." In The Search for Authenticity in Modern Japanese Literature, pp. 107-36. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

Discusses Tanizaki's works, including "The Tattooer" and "Searching for Mother."

White, Edmund. "Shadows & Obsessions." The New York Times Book Review, (July 18, 1982): 8, 22-3.

Discusses the theme of "obsessive sexuality" in Bushuko Hiwa (The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi).

Additional coverage of Tanizaki's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28 (rev. ed.), 93-96; and Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 8, 14, 28.

Noriko Mizuta Lippit (essay date 1977)

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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 and died in 1965 at the age of 79. He left behind thirty volumes of collected works which include novels, plays, tales, essays, and three versions of his translation into modern Japanese of The Tale of Genji. Such works as A Fool's Love, Some Prefer Nettles, The Makioka Sisters, The Key, and The Diary of a Mad Old Man were translated into English, and some were long-standing best sellers in the United States. The western reader will remember him best for the controversy aroused by The Key (1956), the sensual story of a perverted old man who schemes to throw his wife into the arms of his young assistant in order to arouse his ebbing sexual interest. In The Diary of a Mad Old Man and Seventy-Nine-Year-Old Spring, written following The Key, Taniazki turns to the theme of perverted eroticism. These erotic books, dealing with man's carnal desire and desperate effort to retain his waning sexual force in old age, have been criticized for approaching pornographic literature.

Most of his works, in fact, were controversial, and critics do not agree in their assessment of them or of Tanizaki himself as a writer; they do agree, however, on the perfection of his novelistic skills in creating a self-sufficient, polished world of beauty. In most of his works, especially those of his middle period, Tanizaki fastidiously excluded the social, economic, and political life of Japan, creating a literary space untouched by the forces of life in modern Japan. Often drawing material from Japanese history or old Japanese legends, he created a "pleasure dome" which is "out of space, out of time."

It is only natural that proletarian writers and such existentialist writers as ōe Kenzaburo criticize the lack of basic ideology and relevance to modern existence in Tanizaki's works. On the other hand, critics like Ito Sei argue that to regard the conditions of the flesh, such as erotic desire for life, as a determining factor in human life is an ideology in its own right, and defend Tanizaki as a writer whose major theme was man's struggle to attain the sense of life at the risk of moral and social integrity. With critical assessment so polarized and many critical questions unresolved Tanizaki will no doubt continue to be the subject of many critical studies in the future.

Tanizaki's creative works can be divided roughly into three periods; the first ends with Some Prefer Nettles in 1928, and the third starts with The Key in 1956. It is in the first period, from the 43rd year of Meiji to the 3rd year of Showa (1910-1928), that western influences, including that of Poe, were most evident; we can find many themes, expressions, descriptions, and stories reminiscent of Poe and of such writers as Baudelaire, Wilde, Zola, and Thomas Hardy.

Some critics have emphasized the influence of Wilde on Tanizaki, underestimating that of Poe. The importance of Wilder's influence is undeniable. Tanizaki tries to separate art from life, placing art above life. Because of his characters' antimoralistic and antisocial pursuit of sensual pleasure, justified for the sake of artistic creation, the term "diabolism" has been widely applied to Tanizaki's early works. Yet Tanizaki's diabolic aesthetes do not suffer from the serve remorse or pangs of conscience experienced by Dorian Gray. In Tanizaki's works, there is no struggle against conscience, against a firmly established social and religious orthodoxy.

In Taisho Japan there was no orthodoxy of religion nor was there a fully developed and established bourgeoisie against whose moral principles and hypocrisy writers had to rebel. Above all, the writers lived in a protected literary circle called Bundan, a greenhouse in which they were free to experiment with any new foreign ideas. Tanizaki's famous and quite autobiographical work, "The Sorrow of the Pagan Outcast" ("Itansha no Kanashimi," 1917), in which the hero sadistically ignores the affections of his family and friends in order to be true to his artistic sensibility and creative urge, appears to be the puerile rebellion of an adolescent; likewise, the masochistic self-torture which he calls "the sorrow of the pagan outcast," appears quite sentimental, since the orthodoxy against which he rebels at the risk of self-destruction is in fact quite obscure.

Instead, Tanizaki's heroes' diabolic pursuit of sensuous pleasure proves to be a distorted effort to attain a sense of life through the pursuit of unattainable feminine beauty, the pursuit of the absolute. Throughout Tanizaki's works, the search for a sense of life through the masochistic pursuit of an unattainable woman is a major theme. Tanizaki's heroes feel a deep sense of alienation that spurs them to perverted efforts to recover from it. Tanizaki's grotesque expresses these efforts to overcome alienation: it is not merely an exercise in decadent aestheticism. Indeed, the grotesque that expresses the heroes' pursuit is an appropriate style. In Tanizaki, as well as in Poe, the grotesque does not refer merely to this perverted pursuit, but also to the narrative form or perspective, which is ironic and tragicomic. Furthermore, Tanizaki developed, in his later period, his own myth of eternal woman, a myth that justifies the heroes' grotesque efforts at self-recovery. By developing his own myth, Tanizaki created his own world of romanticism. In these respects Tanizaki's works are fundamentally similar to Poe's.

The major themes of Tanizaki's early works are the fear of death, the sado-masochistic pursuit of feminine beauty, the discovery of perversity or cruelty in human nature, and the relation of art to these themes. As a young man Tanizaki himself suffered from a strange nervous condition manifested in sudden seizures of fear, especially fear of trains. In many of his tales, he describes this as a fear of persecution, a fear of madness and death. The narrator of "The Fear" ("Kyōfu," 1913) explains that his heart starts beating rapidly the minute he enters a moving vehicle. The drumming of his heart increases in speed and intensity, and he feels as if all his blood were rushing to his head, with his body about to burst into pieces or his brain into madness. This immediately reminds us of the descriptions in Poe's "The Imp of the Perverse" and "The Tell-Tale Heart," where the narrators burst out into selfdestructive confessions of their crimes, urged on by the ever growing sound of their hearts.

In "My Adolescent Days" ("Seishun Monogatari," 1932), Tanizaki says that he could not exalt death or madness as did Takayama Chogyu, a romantic writer of a decade earlier; instead, when he read Poe, Baudelaire, Strindberg, and Gorki, anxiety and fear permeated his nervous system, distorting his senses and his emotional responses to things. The fear of the explosion of his body and brain could be ignited at any time and place by the slightest sensory stimulus, for it had no concrete external source. He calls the period in which he suffered from this fear a period of inferno. In many of his tales he describes it in terms of the dizziness felt when standing at the verge of an abyss, a sensation of extreme fear and pain that might culminate in the total loss of his sanity.

The fear is clearly that of death and persecution, yet Tanizaki, unlike Poe, gives death itself a very small role in his works. Furthermore, the fear of death is actually the fear of his own urge toward self-destruction. The fear, therefore, can be called a "pleasurable pain" and its source is entirely internal. The hero's urge toward self-destruction is indeed the work of what Poe called the "imp of the perverse." In fact, to evoke this state of pleasurable pain, of the abysmal terror of self-destruction, is the purpose of the protagonists' diabolic actions in almost all of Tanizaki's works and is their major theme.

This sensation of pleasurable pain is directly related to the other themes of this period, the discovery of the perversity or cruel love of destruction in human nature, and the sadomasochistic pursuit of feminine beauty. Many of Tanizaki's tales were obviously inspired by Poe's crime and detective stories, tales in which the heroes commit, with the utmost cruelty, crimes that are almost gratuitous. These tales include "Gold and Silver," "The Criminal," "An Incident at Yanagiyu," and "The Cursed Play."

Many devices and techniques used by Poe appear in these tales, including the Dupin-narrator relationship later popularized in that of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. In most cases, the heroes' extreme sadism, the analytical precision with which they murder and hide the corpse, and their observations on criminal psychology vividly reveal their fascination with evil and gratuitous cruelty and their concern with making murder a work of art. The discovery of one's own perversity is related to the theme of the double; Tanizaki wrote several tales, such as "A Story of Tomoda and Matsunaga," in which he deals explicitly with the double and doppelgänger.

Yet the sadism of the heroes is often masochistic. In "The Devil at Noon" ("Hakūchyukigo," 1918), the hero, after witnessing a grotesque murder carried out by a beautiful woman, offers to be murdered by the same woman. He asks a friend to witness the scene of his own cruel death. "A Harlequin" ("Hokan," 1911), a masterpiece of the early period, is the story of a man who takes uncontrollable pleasure in humiliating himself and in pleasing others by allowing them to control and manipulate him. His effort to exist only in the consciousness of others, in which condition the pain he feels gives him a strong sense of his own self and body, is a classic case of masochism. The hero feels a strong sense of himself, a unity of consciousness, by existing only in the other's image of himself.

Tanizaki's grotesque world of perversity is obviously similar to Poe's. In the latter's crime stories, the heroes commit sadistic, gratuitous crimes which are often followed by self-destructive confessions. Such crimes appear in "William Wilson," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Black Cat," "The Cask of Amontillado," and "The Imp of the Perverse." In "The Black Cat," the hero perceives the ominous otherness in the cat's eyes and murders it brutally. The same pattern appears in "The Tell-Tale Heart," in which the hero is provoked to cruel murder by the old man's vulture-like eye. The heroes of "The Black Cat" and "The Imp of the Perverse" explain their acts of perverse evil as the result of the human impulse for self-torture.

Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than 1 am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart. . . This spirit of perverseness, I say, came to my final overthrow. It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself— to offer violence to its own nature—to do wrong for the wrong's sake only—that urged me to continue and finally to consummate the injury I had inflicted upon the un-offending brute.

The act of evil for evil's sake is as masochistic as it is diabolic: the pure evil is directed against himself, to vex his own soul so that he can be immersed in the immediacy of pain and terror. In the spontaneous experience of pain and terror, the nonreflecting consciousness kills the reflecting consciousness and thus the hero is immersed in the sense of himself, of his immediate body and subjectivity. The criminal action is an extreme method the hero adopts to cultivate artificial sensuous intoxication through self-torture. Murder is an attempt to eliminate the split in his consciousness caused by the ominous eye, to restore the wholeness of his consciousness.

In "The Premature Burial" and "The Pit and the Pendulum," the heroes, by their own imagination, induce sensations of the utmost terror and pain of death. "A Descent into the Maelström" and "MS. Found in a Bottle" also describe the heroes' experience of the ecstasy and terror of self-annihilation, their experience of an abysmal descent into nothingness. Thus, both in Poe and Tanizaki, the diabolism is actually directed toward the heroes themselves as a method of inducing pain and ecstasy and of intoxicating the reflecting consciousness in the immediacy of pain.

In Tanizaki, the themes of the discovery of perversity in human nature and the masochistic desire for selfdestruction are intertwined and are, furthermore, related to his other major theme, the pursuit of the femme fatale. "Secrets of Lord Bushu" ("Bushuko Hiwa," 1931), set in medieval Japan, is the most successful dramatization of the relations among these themes. One night in his youth, Lord Bushu was taken by a devilish old lady to the attic of a castle. There, women were preparing severed enemy heads to be brought before the lord of the castle for identification. In the dark room filled with a nauseating odor, he had the sensation of looking deeply into an abyss which had suddenly opened in his mind, and felt dizzy with terror and expectation. The young boy was particularly struck by the beauty of the hands of one beautiful young girl, hands which handled the heads. A faint smile appeared on her face when she handled an especially ugly head, one without the nose, and looking at her, he felt himself in an extreme state of excitement that led him to a hitherto unexperienced ecstasy. The ugliness and the grotesqueness of the severed head brought out the sublimity in the girl's cruel beauty and he found himself wishing earnestly that he were that severed head. He later finds that the beautiful wife of his master is secretly planning to remove her husband's nose as an act of revenge. Discovering this secret wish of the lady, Lord Bushu swears to be her servant and succeeds in rendering her husband an ugly cripple without a nose. He has intense moments of ecstasy when he imagines the man with an ugly, noseless face making love to a beautiful woman.

Here the sadism of the lord is actually masochistic, and it becomes clear that the three major themes of this early period—the fear of death, the discovery of the abyss (the perversity of one's own nature), and the fear of absorption in it—are directly related to Tanizaki's heroes' masochistic pursuit of the femme fatale. Indeed, the pursuit of the femme fatale is itself, for Tanizaki, a theme which deals with man's urge for self-torture and self-destruction. In "The Devil" ("Akuma," 1912), the hero is tortured by a physically attractive and cruel woman, while at the same time threatened by a mysterious, devilish man who swears to take revenge on him because of his relationship with her. Although extremely frightened by him, the hero continues his self-humiliating pursuit of the woman. In "The Devil: A Sequel" ("Zoku Akuma," 1913), he encourages the man to murder him and is indeed murdered by him.

Both the woman and the man are devils, yet the true devil is the "imp of the perverse," his self-destructive urge. Both are only agents of his inner desire, and he deliberately manipulates them to torture himself. In all of Tanizaki's stories in which the fatal woman is the main theme, the heroes are involved in drawing out the diabolic nature of beautiful women, thus molding them into ideal women, black widow spiders which devour males after sexual ecstasy. The creation of the cruel, beautiful woman is the externalization of the hero's inner desire and in actuality she is his puppet. This can be seen most readily in A Fool's Love (Chijin no Ai, 1924).

The hero of the novel falls in love with a western-looking waitress and encourages her to be more bold in displaying her beauty and sexual attraction. She begins to have many love affairs, yet the more cruel her treatment of him becomes, the more ecstatic the pleasure he finds in being with her. The creation of the fatal woman in order to be tortured by her is also the main theme of such other major works of the early period as "Tattoo" ("Shisei"), Jyōtar and "Until Forsaken" ("Suterareru Made") In the later period, such major works as "A Portrait of Shunkin" ("Shunkinshō"), Ashikari and The Diary of a Mad Old Man (Futen Rojin Nikki) are only extensions of these early works.

Tanizaki's heroes, however, do not pursue beautiful women for the sake of erotic fulfillment. Rather, they pursue an unattainable absolute, the symbolic essence of feminine beauty. In the early period, the beauty is typically revealed in human flesh, but it is human flesh as an object d'art which refuses normal erotic communication: Tanizaki's heroes find the essence of feminine beauty in women's feet.

In "Tattoo," the author says that the beautiful is the strong and the ugly the weak. The heroes long for the beauty that rejects them absolutely as ugly and weak, precluding any possibility of normal human relationships. Thus, beauty is elevated to the position of an absolute, an almighty existence. This is inevitable, for the pursuit of beauty, like the commitment to evil, is self-torture. Tanizaki's characters are involved in such fetishism, besides the involvement in women's feet, as licking a handkerchief dirtied by the woman's mucous, drinking a loved one's urine, and so forth. The pursuit of the unattainable beauty and the pursuit of the ugly are essentially the same.

Tanizaki separates art from life and from morality (goodness) in order to associate beauty with evil. In "Unicorn" ("Kirin," 1910), which shows the strong influence of Oscar Wilde, Tanizaki presents a Chinese emperor who is torn between his aspiration to become a virtuous ruler and his desire to become a slave to his beautiful and brutal empress; he finally yields to the empress, whom he calls the devil. The pursuit of pleasure and beauty must lead to the pursuit of evil, for the true pleasure the heroes seek is that of self-persecution. The fear of death described by Tanizaki's heroes is based on their psychic dread of life, their sense of alienation; their masochism is a means of objectifying their fear. Yet Tanizaki's hero is the creator of the sadistic persecutor; she is the externalization of his inner desire and is almost his double. Thus he is the schemer responsible for the whole situation: he is the persecutor as well as the victim. In this sense, Tanizaki's hero becomes a God, the creator of his own, self-contained world.

In both Tanizaki and Poe, art plays a significant role in this grotesque endeavor to restore the sense of life. We have seen that the creation of an ideal fatal woman is itself an art. In "Tattoo" (1910), a sadistic young tattooer, who enjoys watching the pain he causes his customers, finds an innocent young girl with beautiful feet in whom he recognizes hidden powers of evil. Pouring all his psyche into his art, he tattoos on her back an enormous female black widow spider, thus transforming her into a diabolical woman. She then declares that the tattooer will be her first victim. Here it is the tattooer's art that turns the innocent girl into a diabolical woman, thus fulfilling his secret masochistic desire to be devoured by a beautiful and cruel woman. Art is both the secret agent for creating evil and the means of inducing a masochistically ecstatic state of consciousness.

The similarity to Poe's art here is obvious, although in Poe's case the diabolical women do not have the same fleshly eroticism. Poe's dreamers create their own "bower of dreams," the "arabesque" room, by decorating it with their art of interior decoration. The arabesque room is meant to induce a dreaming consciousness in the inhabitant's mind; there he indulges in his grotesque dreams of transcendence by destroying his own and his lover's physical being or sanity. The agents of the hero's grotesque imagination, evoked by his art, are Poe's vampiric women with supernal beauty.

The similarity and difference between the concepts of art of the two authors can best be illustrated by comparing Tanizaki's "The Golden Death" (1914) with Poe's "The Domain of Arnheim"; "The Golden Death" is almost entirely based on Poe's tale. In both tales, the narrator tells of his friend, extravagantly rich and poetic in nature, who attempts the creation of an earthly paradise. In both tales the narrator's visit to the paradise forms the climax, and in both paradises the narrator finds that the original nature has been transformed by art, creating an extremely bizarre and bewildering earthly paradise, that is, a grotesque and arabesque one. It was both Poe's and Tanizaki's pleasure dome, which their art, by correcting nature, created. For both writers, art proves to be superior to nature; it is not nature but art that saves the heroes.

In Poe's "The Domain of Arnheim," the narrator's visit to the paradise strongly suggests his actual dreaming. The river journey is actually an inner journey, the imaginative fulfillment of his dream. At the end of his journey, the "arabesque canoe" which had taken the narrator to the inner gate of the paradise descends rapidly into a huge amphitheater. This tale, like, "The Fall of the House of Usher" and in fact like most of Poe's tales, is a dramatization of the myth he presents in Eureka. Eureka presents Poe's myth of the fall of man and nature from the Original Unity—primordial nothingness—and their return through self-annihilation and the destruction of earthly reality. The poet in Eureka is endowed with the power to initiate the return movement to Original Unity. The task of Poe's artists is to dream of glorious, "golden" death, to convert the void into a space filled with meaning.

The grotesque and arabesque are for Poe a means of entering into a darkly radiant world of dreams through destruction of the body and of reality. As Poe's keen irony dramatizes in his tales, this attempt at grotesque transcendence appears mad and comical from the perspective of rational intelligence. Poe's ironic grotesque presents the grotesque, transcendental hero as both tragic and comic, as both Eureka's archetypal poet and an insane, perverted man.

In "The Golden Death" the end of the hero's dream is also death. Yet the purpose of his art is not to cause death itself, but to bring about a state of extreme sensuous intoxication, so extreme as to risk self-destruction. Tanizaki's paradise is more voluptuous and erotic than Poe's, filled with the statues of centaurs, animals, and beautiful naked women. In the midst of the ecstasy created by the effect of the paradise, the hero dies, covering his entire body with golden powder. He himself becomes a most glorious, shining part of his paradise, a work of art.

The narrators of both tales are objective observers who witness the heroes' grotesque endeavors to create their own paradises. While Poe's narrator gradually becomes involved in the drama of the hero and at the end becomes almost his double, Tanizaki's narrator remains a rational man who escapes from the intoxicating effect of the paradise. Although he calls the hero a great artist, the narrator maintains the distance between the rational reader and the grotesque hero. In Tanizaki too, the dual or ironic point of view which regards the hero both as absurd and mad and as a positive artist is present.

Indeed, both Poe and Tanizaki frequently use the uninvolved, third-person narrator to describe the hero's grotesque effort. In Poe's stories the uninvolved narrator becomes involved. Thus, at the climax, the hero's drama is experienced by the narrator as his inner experience. In the works in which Poe uses a first-person narrator, the hero is split between a rational self and an irrational one; the narrator-hero, representing the rational self, describes the grotesque drama of the irrational self, a drama which the narrator-hero says that he himself finds difficult to comprehend. This skillful use of the narrator is a device to express the ironic, dual perspective inherent in Poe's grotesque; the serious and rational appear comical and absurd, while the mad and perverted appear tragic.

Although Tanizaki uses the uninvolved third-person narrator with great skill, the tales narrated by the hero himself do not always maintain the ironic point of view successfully. The reader is called upon to take the hero's grotesque drama seriously and with sympathy, which immediately raises the question of the drama's social, moral, and ideological relevance. It is only in The Diary of a Mad Old Man that Tanizaki, dramatizing man's tragicomic struggle for life, uses the ironic perspective successfully. In this work he reveals an almost terrifying spirit of irony and self-mockery. In his middle period, however, Tanizaki turned to the world of dream and imagination in his effort to create a self-sufficient romantic world, one that could give structure to his hero's grotesque pursuit of a sense of life.

While Poe had a myth that justified the poet's grotesque endeavor at destructive transcendence through his art, Tanizaki had no such cosmic myth. Tanizaki's heroes, therefore, are not transcendental heroes, but mad aesthetes who indulge in sensuous ecstasy to the point of death. Poe was a romantic who perceived the deterioration of the isomorphic relations between the order of mind and that of the body, and who believed in the power of imagination to transcend the phenomenal world to reach a higher level of reality where the split between subject and object is eliminated.

Tanizaki, on the other hand, did not yet have his own myth to explain metaphorically his view of the universe—his view of the source of man's alienation and of the life and task of the artist, and his vision of the ideal reality. Although in his youth he defined himself as a romantic writer who believed in the "poetic intuition" which perceives the world beyond phenomenal reality (a world he grasped in Platonic terms), it is difficult to call Tanizaki's early works romantic in the absence of a myth which creates a self-sufficient world of dream and legitimizes the theme of grotesque recovery from alienation. While Poe's mythopoeic thrust to create his own universe resulted in the creation of the beautiful, mathematically balanced universe of Eureka, in which the Poet is finally absorbed, Tanizaki had to depend on his skill of expression to convince the reader of the validity of his hero's grotesque endeavor. Asking the reader to hold in abeyance the question of morality, Tanizaki sought to appeal only to the reader's aesthetic sense. In this endeavor, the novel was not quite an appropriate form, and in the middle period his works gradually moved toward the world of romance.

While Poe's exploration of the sado-masochistic attempt to attain a sense of life and of the endeavor in grotesque art to induce dreaming consciousness presents features of human experience that are meaningful and interesting from the existential-phenomenological point of view, Poe dramatized them in his own fantasy world. He also had a myth that justified them externally as legitimate endeavors for man's return to Original Unity.

Tanizaki's middle period starts, in my opinion, with his awareness of the need to create a self-sufficient world of dream and beauty in which the question of morality and relevance to reality will be temporarily suspended. Without such a world, his exploration of grotesque eroticism might prove to be merely sensational.

This problem concerned all of the writers of the grotesque. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, the grotesque had been considered pejoratively, for it explored the realm of the ugly, the fantastic, and the subconscious, including man's fears and secret desires. During the romantic age, when artists saw the grotesque aspects of objective reality, the grotesque came to be regarded as closely related to the artist's reaction to and conception of reality. Even then, the grotesque was approved only half-heartedly; it is only in the modern period that the grotesque becomes recognized, through the works of Dostoevski, Kafka, Faulkner, Pinter, and Beckett, among others, as a highly significant symbol, style, form of imagination, and structural basis for literary works. Poe, by placing the origin and function of the grotesque in his romantic myth, was the first writer to clarify the link between Gothic terror and the romantic quest, thus integrating Gothic literature into the tradition of western romanticism. The idea of grotesque, destructive transcendence occupies the central place in his myth.

Tanizaki's turning to the world of classical Japanese culture reflects the same concern as that of the writers of the grotesque with the legitimacy of the grotesque world he creates. It is, like Coleridge's adoption of the medieval ballad form, a device to draw a magic circle around the hero and his exploration. It also reflects his mythopoeic desire to create his own dreamworld, which first became evident at this time.

Some Prefer Nettles, the novel that marks the end of Tanizaki's first period, already presents his effort to draw a magic circle, to create a myth of ideal feminine beauty that would enable him to pursue the theme of the masochistic search for a sense of life as the theme of man's search for unattainable ideal beauty. In his early writings, beautiful, diabolic women were the object of the hero's desire and the hero wanted to be tortured by them. Tanizaki describes the essence of such women as "white flesh." In this period, the woman is a living creature with white flesh, and it is the beauty and pleasure of the flesh itself that intoxicates the hero. Yet gradually, this white flesh is transformed into a white woman, an eternal woman who becomes the object of the hero's aspiration.

The eternal woman is first of all unreachable. In "The Sorrow of the Mermaid" ("Ningyo no Nageki," 1919), Tanizaki says that the mysterious beauty of the mermaid, a beauty that absorbs the whole existence of the hero, is fully revealed in her immense, unfathomable eyes. Her "divine orbs" look as if they are gazing at eternity from the depth of her soul. The reader will be reminded of Poe's description of Ligeia's eyes, eyes which make the hero feel the approach of the full knowledge of eternity. The mermaid is unattainable for human beings, but she is the only source of excitement for the hero, who is tired of all the pleasures of this world. This unattainable beauty gradually takes a more distinct form in Tanizaki's later works as both the beauty of eternal maternity, from which the hero is alienated, and that of the classical Japanese court lady hidden behind a thick screen.

By identifying the fatal woman as a mother figure, and transforming the hero's masochistic longing for the fatal woman into man's longing for his lost mother, Tanizaki explains the origin of the hero's alienation and gives universality and human relevance to his hero's masochistic drama. Poe's longing for his mother and for a mother figure is well known. So is Tanizaki's attachment to his own mother, whom he describes as a beautiful woman. Yet unlike Poe, Tanizaki's creation of eternal motherhood and its beauty is a conscious literary device; Tanizaki as a man evidently did not suffer from a mother complex. The essence of unattainable feminine beauty is symbolized in a persona of a mother figure.

At the same time, Tanizaki came to identify ideal beauty with the beauty of the classical Japanese court lady, whose white face glows faintly in a dark, screened room like the fluorescent glow of fireflies at night. Glimpsed only momentarily, she is inaccessible, a dream woman existing only in one's imagination and separated in time and space. Although the essence of her beauty is also whiteness, it is no longer white flesh, but whiteness itself. Tanizaki's fatal woman thus emerges as an archetypal Japanese court lady as well as an archetypal mother.

There is no doubt that Tanizaki rediscovered the beauty of Japanese culture and literature, yet the claim that Tanizaki, abandoning his western influences, returned to the classical world is misleading. Instead, Tanizaki created his own dreamworld and eternal woman, as exotic to him as their western counterparts, out of classical Japanese culture. The court life he presents in The Mother of Captain Shigemoto (1949) and the medieval life in Secrets of Lord Bushu are distinctively Tanizaki's own creations rather than historically accurate representations. Tanizaki himself explains enviously in "Ave Maria" (1923) that the myth of the eternal woman and the worship of woman do not exist in Japanese culture. Thus he creates his own goddess to rule over his self-sufficient dreamworld, a mythical world or one which functions as a substitute for myth. The eternal mother as goddess, as the symbolic essence of his dreamworld, is most vividly expressed in The Mother of Captain Shigemoto, the masterpiece of his middle period. Captain Shigemoto's mother, who has lived in his dream, finally appears at the end of the novel shining faintly in the darkness with a circle of light around her. Tanizaki's return was not to classical Japanese culture but to the primordial and infantile area of human consciousness, to the realm of the subconscious and dreams.

Some Prefer Nettles (Tadekuu Mushi, 1928) explains how this autonomous dreamworld is created. The protagonist Kaname is torn between his attraction to a Eurasian prostitute, who powders her legs to make them completely white, and his father-in-law's old-fashioned, doll-like mistress, who is carefully groomed to suit the old man's anachronistic taste. In this transitional novel, the hero is torn between his desire for white flesh and his longing for whiteness, the eternal beauty of woman.

With his mistress, Ohisa, Kaname's father-in-law lives an aesthete's life in complete retirement, re-creating a type of life of old Edo. They frequent the Bunraku theater and Kaname, while watching the white face of a crying doll move faintly across a distant stage, comes to realize that the essence of Ohisa's beauty is that eternalized by the Bunraku puppet. Tanizaki writes:

The Ohisa for whom his secret dream searched might not be Ohisa at all, but another, a more Ohisa-like Ohisa. And it might even be that this latter Ohisa was no more than a doll, perhaps even now quiet in the dusk of an inner chamber behind an arched stage doorway. A doll might do well enough, indeed.

After this novel, Tanizaki turned to the world of classical literature and beauty and recreated his ideal feminine beauty in historical figures and in historical settings. Such masterpieces as Yoshinokuzu, Ashikari, "A Portrait of Shunkin," "The Story of a Blind Man" ("Mōmoku Monogatari"), The Mother of Captain Shigemoto, "The Bridge of Dreams" ("Yume no ukihashi") were written one after another.

In these novels, the desire for white flesh disappears almost completely (although still lurking below the surface) and the hero's longing for the essence of feminine beauty is dramatized as his longing for an unattainable mother figure or for a superior woman with classic Japanese beauty. The hero's self-torture, born out of his longing for the unattainable, is intense, yet by fathoming this pain, the hero obtains a deep, soul-satisfying pleasure, a complete ecstasy. The eternal women in these stories are only extensions of the beautiful and cruel women of supernal beauty who tortured the heroes in the early works. Thus Tanizaki created his own world of romance by creating his own romantic myth of supernal beauty. Tanizaki also developed stories of sado-masochistic torture in historic Japanese settings, using the rich tradition of the grotesque in Japanese literature.

Poe's supernal beauty is also unattainable. Poe's myth of the Poet's return to the original unity presents a drama of the Poet in search of the beauty which exists only in the original paradise, the origin of life itself. Poe's ideal woman is doomed to die. Both Ligeia and Eleonora, whose beauty symbolizes man's original state of harmony and his aspiration for it, die and thus become unattainable for the heroes. They may even have existed only in their dreams. Following their aspiration for supernal beauty, the heroes enter the path to self-annihilation, returning to the original condition of nothingness.

Supernal beauty is attained only through self-destruction. The grotesque in Poe is a symbol of decadent human nature and reality, the result of the Fall, as well as a symbol which points towards transcendence of the decadent. In Tanizaki too, the grotesque serves not merely to induce sensuous pleasure, but as a means of entering his dreamworld, of returning home. It is a means of the hero's assuring his sense of life, a sense which he cannot obtain in the modern, industrial world. The origin and function of Tanizaki's grotesque, too, are legitimized by his creation of a romantic world of dream.

Some Prefer Nettles is often considered a dramatization of the conflict between Tanizaki's attraction to the beauty and culture of the West and those of the East. With this novel, the period of western influence on Tanizaki appears to end, and since his major works all explore the world of classical beauty, critics argue, as I have noted, that the western influence on Tanizaki was not lasting. Rather, however, the novel dramatizes the shift of the hero's pursuit of white flesh to whiteness itself, a shift from the world of reality to the world of romance, to the self-sufficient world of romantic dream. Poe's influence on Tanizaki appears, then, not merely in Tanizaki's early choice of the themes that were to characterize his literary career, but also in the creation of the romantic world that began with this shift.

Tanizaki was fascinated by the Gothic themes presented in the writings of Baudelaire, Wilde, and Poe, such as the ties between love and cruelty, pleasure and pain, and domination and humiliation, and tried to dramatize them in his own language and in the natural settings of Japanese life. Tanizaki's later turning to the world of classical beauty did not mean that he had discarded these themes and western influences. On the contrary, he developed these same themes more fully and uniquely within the tradition of Japanese culture.

More importantly, Tanizaki developed the Gothic themes into romantic themes: Tanizaki's insistent dramatization of man's sense of self-estrangement from "home," of his vision of and aspiration for eternal femininity, and of his grotesque, desperate effort to regain it, finally results in the creation of a self-contained, romantic world of his own. Based on Japanese tradition, Tanizaki created his own literary space and his own myth of the ideal woman to enable himself to develop his Poesque romantic theme of the self-destructive pursuit of a sense of life.

Tanizaki's literary world develops, therefore, from a mere description, however interesting, of man's perverted effort to attain a sense of life, a world that reflects his Edo taste or Gothic taste, to a romantic world in which man's alienation from the original harmony and his struggle to regain it become a major theme. The grotesque is not only integrated into his romanticism, but also emerges as a positive, although paradoxical, symbol which points toward the ideal reality. Poe's influence on the formation of his world is significant—especially Poe's concept of supernal beauty, his hero's tragicomic drama of search for it, and the role of the grotesque in this drama.

Toward the end of his life, Tanizaki returned to present reality from the world of romance and seemed to resume his earlier pursuit of the theme of erotic desire for white flesh, especially in The Key and The Diary of a Mad Old Man. Yet this time the heroes are old men, nearing death, who have already lost their sexual power. Their longing for white flesh is symbolic and not physical; the white flesh is almost a symbol of desire for life itself. Their longing for erotic desire is actually a longing for a lifegiving force.

In Tanizaki's later works, eros, life, and death are linked to each other; life can be experienced only as a sense of life, and in man's pursuit of a sense of life he encounters the terror of death. Eros is a beautiful, sublime, and grotesque life-force, which brings life to death. In the old men's desperate, masochistic, erotic desires, Tanizaki presents man's tragicomic, grotesque yet sublime struggle for life. This is essentially the same struggle Poe dramatized in his tales of the grotesque and systematized in his romantic myth. Tanizaki proves in these novels that the themes which preoccupied him in his early days were indeed his own. Tanizaki's early exposure to Poe's world of "negative romanticism," with its central concept of grotesque transcendence, cannot be irrelevant to the ultimate development of his own world of romanticism in the Japanese literary tradition. While Tanizaki's Japanese romantic world is unique, it is not incompatible with the western romantic tradition. Thus Tanizaki emerges not as a "pagan outcast," but as the legitimate heir to both the Japanese literary tradition and to the western tradition of romanticism, in both of which the grotesque plays an essential role.

J. Thomas Rimer (essay date 1978)

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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, stores, and hotels in Tokyo and nearby Yokohama, and he witnessed the destruction of that "modern" civilization he so appreciated when Tokyo burned after the great earthquake of 1923. Tanizaki left to live in a quiet area in the vicinity of Osaka, the large industrial city near Kyoto, the old capital. He wrote a considerable number of works during the increasingly difficult period of the 1930s; during the Second World War he finished composing what is perhaps his masterpiece, the long and evocative novel Sasame yuki (Thin Snow) as a tribute to the world he saw crumbling around him. In the vastly different postwar era he continued to produce novels as provocative as Kagi (The Key) in 1956, and, in 1962, the novel that provides a last ironic look at himself and his generation, Fūten rōjin kikki (The Diary of a Mad Old Man).

For Japanese readers of his generation, Tanizaki's works often seemed scandalously "modern." He himself commented that his extensive reading of Western literature (by which he may have meant such writers with a Naturalist bent as Ibsen, Zola, and Strindberg) gave him the ability to portray the liberation of sexual desire. Tanizaki seems to have meant that he had been liberated to portray a new set of relationships between men and women. Women in his work often became fierce and demanding creatures; if not quite jealous goddesses, they certainly remain larger than life. His male characters often find themselves most comfortable when groveling at their feet. In this respect, Tanizaki's celebrated short story "Shisei" ("The Tattooer"), written in 1910, can serve as a paradigm for much of his later work. When the beautiful heroine is about to have a spider tattooed on her body, the tattooer warns her of the pain involved. "I can bear anything for the sake of beauty," she replies simply. The thrust of much of Tanizaki's work is suggested by the overtones of that one sentence. His ability to push his reader into a peculiar psychological state, as well as his highly developed dramatic sense (he was a promising playwright early in his career) remained enormous assets for him throughout his creative life.

For all his interest in overtures toward sex and psychology, Tanizaki was always careful to stress the ultimate importance of careful literary construction. In 1927, he provided an explicit statement of the value of such methods in his own literary work, in the midst of a literary debate with Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, the author of Rashūmon and other celebrated stories. Tanizaki speaks as though he were a musician, explaining the importance of a fugue:

According to Akutagawa, I am excessively given to novel, fanciful plots. I wish to write only of the perverse, the fantastic, what excites the masses. This is not good. This is not what a novel should be. There is no artistic value in plot interest. Such, I think, is Akutagawa's general view. Unfortunately I disagree. Plot interest is, described differently, the way in which a work is assembled, interest in structure, architectural beauty. It cannot be said that this is without artistic value. .. . It is of course not the sole value, but I myself believe that among the literary forms the novel is that which can possess the greatest sense of structural beauty. To do away with plot interest is to throw away the special prerogatives of the form known as the novel.

Those readers who seized on the more outrageous aspects of Tanizaki's thematic concerns (some would term them obsessions) failed to take note of the means by which their interest was inevitably caught and sustained in those narratives. The means Tanizaki often chose owe much to traditional Japanese literature.

In "Shunkinshō" ("A Portrait of Shunkin"), Tanizaki explores to the full the psychological relationships between master and slave. The composition of such a work of fiction, with its eerie artistic and erotic insights, would doubtless have been impossible in Japan before the twentieth century; but its creation in 1933 would also have been impossible without a desire to render a certain literary homage to the past.

The narrative is presented in the first person by a learned man of this century with a taste for the traditional arts. He attempts to assemble various documents in order to recreate, and to understand, the life of Shunkin, the blind daughter of a rich Osaka merchant in the early nineteenth century, who became an expert player on the samisen. The narrative focuses on the relationship between Shunkin and the young boy Sasuke, who, having joined the family to learn a merchant's trade, is eventually assigned as a servant and pupil to the difficult daughter. The story chronicles the relationship between this extraordinary pair, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood, when Shunkin herself becomes a teacher. The two live together as mistress and servant until the beautiful Shunkin, scalded on the face by an unknown assailant, is able, through her own first experience with humility, to begin to accept Sasuke as her equal. Sasuke's own sacrifice is to blind himself, so as never to see the scarred face of his beloved. They finish out their lives together in the embrace of mutual darkness.

"Shunkin" is an extraordinarily rich narrative that can intrigue and move the reader in a variety of ways. The subject matter itself stands as a particularly powerful example of Tanizaki's predilection for creating forceful and autocratic women for his central characters. Sasuke, who is reduced to a kind of psychological slave, fondles her feet, takes her to the lavatory, and performs every conceivable function (including the sexual) to insure her comfort and well-being. Shunkin is not grateful. Tanizaki uses his psychological study of the relationship between the two, his literary manifestation of the special closed world in which they live, to suggest that the relationship between "Teacher" and "Taught" operates in any human situation. Although in "Shunkin" all such elements seem pushed to extremes, the characters remain believable: the reader, perhaps to his discomfort, is forced to recognize that he finds himself in familiar territory, no matter how purposefully exotic the trappings.

Tanizaki's own taste and learning create in "Shunkin" a document that reveals much about the quality of life in the late Tokugawa period. The various distinctions between social classes and the general compartmentalization of life are carefully delineated. All of society seems a series of airless rooms. Art (in this case the musicality of Shunkin) in such a social context, suggests Tanizaki, may have provided the most delicious of dangers, since it cut across all social distinctions and barriers—as it does in a number of important moments in the novella. The deepest level of thematic structure in "Shunkin" reveals Tanizaki's convictions concerning the necessary rigors of all art: only unrelenting efforts, and often the most painful ones, can produce any genuine results. Once attained, however, the continuing sacrifice seems justified. For Tanizaki, beauty is never far from pain.

When Sasuke begins to learn the samisen, he studies at night, in a dark closet, so as not to disturb the other sleeping apprentices. His difficulties are enormous.

. . . Sasuke would wait until he was sure they were sound asleep then get up and practice in the closet where the bedding was kept. The attic room itself must have been hot and stuffy, and the heat inside the closet on a summer night almost unbearable. But by shutting himself up in it he could muffle the twang of the strings and at the same time avoid the distraction of outside noises, such as the snoring of his roommates. Of course he had to sing the vocal parts softly and pluck the strings with his fingers, instead of with a plectrum: sitting there in the pitch-dark closet, he played by his sense of touch alone.

Later, Shunkin's very abuse spurs Sasuke on to greater skills:

"You're such a weakling!" she told Sasuke scornfully. "You're a boy, and yet you can't stand the least thing. It's all because of your crying that they blame me and think I'm being cruel to you. If you really want to become an artist you've got to grit your teeth and bear it, no matter how much it hurts. If you can't, I won't be your teacher."

After that, however badly she abused him, Sasuke never cried.

Only after Sasuke has blinded himself can he feel that he has attained a proper level of understanding:

Always before, even while they were making love, they had been separated by the gulf between teacher and pupil. But now Sasuke felt that they were truly united, locked in a tight embrace. Youthful memories of the dark world of the closet where he used to practice came flooding into his mind, but the darkness in which he now found himself seemed completely different. Most blind people can sense the direction from which light is coming: they live in a faintly luminous world, not one of unrelieved blackness. Now Sasuke knew that he had found an inner vision in place of the vision he had lost. Ah, he thought, this is the world my teacher lives in—at last I have reached it!

Shunkin as well only achieves the highest pinnacle of her art through suffering. The narrator comments on this fact:

How ever blessed with talent, she could scarcely have attained the ultimate mastery of her art without tasting the bitterness of life. Shunkin had always been coddled. Though severe in her demands on others, she herself had never known hardship or humiliation. There had been no one to humble her. But then Heaven had subjected her to a cruel ordeal, endangering her life and smashing her stubborn pride.

Indeed, Tanizaki ultimately suggests, the beauty of the lives of these two people seems to lie in their suffering, however perversely inspired.

In constructing "Shunkin," Tanizaki solves with consummate skill the chief artistic problem such an account proposes: he has made the fantastic world of the heroine credible. In this regard, the unnamed narrator plays a key role, although his presence contributes little of real importance to the theme of the story. He serves rather as a bridge between the commonplace world of the reader and the bizarre world of Tanizaki's heroine. The narrator begins by explaining that he has become quite interested in the musician Shunkin and that he has managed to visit the grave-site of the woman and her pupil Sasuke, also a fine musician. He goes on to tell the reader that he has located an old biography of Shunkin and a dim photograph of her as well. He has also spoken with an old woman who knew the pair when she was very young. The narrative that follows is constructed of juxtapositions of portions of that biography, along with statements made by the old woman, plus an extensive commentary provided by the narrator himself. Some statements contradict each other. Often the narrator speculates on the psychological meaning of the actions outlined in the biography. Raising questions about aspects of the meaning of the events makes the reader more willing to assume that the events actually took place; such questions act as a device to cast over the somewhat fabulous and hallucinatory narrative a thin semblance of ordinary reality.

For example, after an extraordinary account of the birth of Shunkin's illegitimate child, during which Shunkin's wanton cruelty toward Sasuke is first revealed, Tanizaki halts the flow of narrative so that his narrator can make the following comment.

Why did Shunkin treat Sasuke in this fashion? To be sure, Osaka people have always been more concerned about questions of family background, property, and status, when it comes to marriage, than those to Tokyo: Osaka is famous for its proud old merchant families— and how much prouder they must have been in the feudal days before Meiji! A girl like Shunkin would doubtless have regarded Sasuke, whose family had served hers for generations, as someone immeasurably beneath her. Then too, with the typically embittered attitude of a blind person, she must have been determined not to show any weakness, or let anyone make a fool of her.

I suppose she felt that she would be insulting herself irreparably by taking Sasuke as her husband. Probably she was ashamed of sleeping with an inferior, and reacted by behaving coldly toward him. Then did she consider him nothing more than a physiological necessity? As far as she was aware of her own feelings, I dare say she did.

The narrator's speculations here seem to provide the reader only a partial explanation for Shunkin's cruel behavior. In previous sections of the narrative, Tanizaki has already let the reader see further into the real nature of Shunkin than the narrator himself seems prepared to do. There seems something more, something terrible to state, that the narrator cannot quite bring himself to envision. Yet the reader quickly realizes that he can sense certain depravities in the couple's relationship. Forced to take cognizance of his own ability to recognize the presence of such abnormalities, the reader is shocked at himself and his own reactions. Tanizaki, of course, has sought all these results.

Sophisticated as the use of such a narrative technique may be in developing a contemporary psychological portrait of Shunkin and Sasuke, such methods owe some debt to earlier traditions. The first person narrator is perhaps the oldest organizing device used in what might be termed traditional Japanese fiction. . . . In "Shunkin," Tanizaki avoids the use of an omniscient narrator. The reader is shown his attitudes, foibles, tastes, curiosities. His personality is sketched to the extent that he can help propel the narrative along; yet his personal characteristics are not sufficiently obtrusive that they risk distracting the reader's attention from the couple. This reflective solo voice, so much a part of the traditional Japanese modes of narrative, is here fitted with great skill into a framework in which the device functions to produce precisely the complex effect desired.

A narrative constructed from so many diverse elements requires some kind of overall unity to which the various parts of the story can be related. Tanizaki adopts a number of strategies to bring this unity about. One involves the use of images and objects that recur again and again in his narrative. Such symbolism is a familiar enough device for Western readers. Blindness, for example, serves as one unifying image helping to link various levels of meaning.

Sasuke is first drawn to darkness when he learns to play at night:

. . . Sasuke never felt inconvenienced by the darkness. Blind people live in the dark like this all the time, he thought, and Shunkin has to play the samisen the same way. He was delighted to have found a place for himself in that dark world of hers. Even afterward, when he could practice freely, he was in the habit of closing his eyes whenever he took up the instrument, explaining that he felt he had to do exactly as Shunkin did. In short, he wanted to suffer the same handicap as Shunkin, to share all he could of the life of the blind. At times he obviously envied them.

"A Portrait of Shunkin" thus becomes, in one sense an account of how Sasuke's wish was eventually granted. The language of the narrative is filled with diverse images of blindness as the story progresses.

Tanizaki's most poetically effective symbols, however, are those of birds. Shunkin keeps caged nightingales and larks. When she listens to them sing, her spirits brighten. She often takes her caged larks to the roof of her house and, in accordance with custom, lets them out of their cages to soar into the sky and sing. The birds normally soon return, but, at the end of the story, her favorite lark does not come back. Shunkin falls into a despondency that eventually brings about her death. The birds have one meaning for her, but another for the reader, who comes to see Shunkin as a caged bird who finds the only release possible in her music. The lyrical images of the birds singing in flight may seem to provide too obvious a parallel to the blind samisen player. But they function well within the context of the atmosphere of the story.

An allied technique Tanizaki employs shows a great reliance on traditional Japanese aesthetics. No Western critical term serves to define such a device. He chooses one moment, one revelation, when the thrust of the whole narrative, its largest significance, seems suggested in a critical central moment. Such a moment creates, in modern prose, precisely that sense of aware, that deep sensitiveness to things, so highly prized by traditional Japanese writers. The whole is rendered visible by the revelation of one small element. The narrative microcosm that fulfills this function in "Shunkin" takes place at a party to which Shunkin (accompanied by Sasuke) has been invited by a wealthy young student. The gathering is boisterous. All the guests are fascinated by the beauty and hauteur of the blind woman. Suddenly, an untoward incident occurs:

That afternoon while they were all out strolling in the garden Sasuke led Shunkin among the plum blossoms, guiding her slowly from tree to tree and stopping before each of them. "Here is another!" he would say, as he held her hand out to stroke the trunk. Like all blind people, Shunkin depended on her sense of touch to make sure that something was really there; it was also her way of enjoying the beauty of flowers and trees. But when one of the jesters saw her eagerly caressing the rough bark of an old plum tree with her delicate hands, he cried out in a queer, shrill voice: "Oooh, I envy that tree!" Then another jester ran up in front of Shunkin, threw himself into a grotesque pose, arms and legs aslant, and announced: "I'm a plum tree too!" Everyone burst out laughing.

Up until now the pressures of vulgar humanity have been carefully excluded from the story. Until this moment, the reader has unwittingly come to inhabit the closed world of Shunkin and her companion. Now the reader is shocked into the realization that, whatever the nature of Shunkin's cruelty and obsessive demands for excellence, she is a great artist. And now she is being made fun of. The reader's sympathies for her are crystallized, fully engaged. They remain so for the rest of the narrative. This means of creating aware in prose, of producing a shock of realization which can suggest the significance of a narrative and so push it forward, finds many antecedents in Japanese fiction, stretching back to The Tale of Genji, that classical text which most occupied Tanizaki during the course of his own artistic career. He read and studied that work continuously, and first translated it into modern Japanese before the war.

"Shunkin" is an altogether modern piece of writing and indeed seems a thorough vindication of James's dictum quoted earlier, "What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?" Yet it owes much to the Japanese past, not only for the choice of subject matter but because of the author's occasional use of traditional literary methods. "Yume no ukihashi" ("The Bridge of Dreams"), however, a later story written in 1959, after Tanizaki's profound involvement with Genji seems an even more effective literary experiment, for here Tanizaki attempts a recreation of some of the themes from Lady Murasaki's novel, paying homage (albeit in his own way) to the classic, while maintaining with great flair his own literary identity.

More than any other work of Tanizaki, "The Bridge of Dreams" seems difficult to summarize. The peculiar power of the story lies in the creation and in the sustaining power of a special atmosphere. At a climactic moment, the young man Tadasu, who narrates the entire account in the first person, cries out, "I was back in the dream world that I had longed for, back in the power of the old memories that had haunted for so many years." As a small child, Tadasu lived in an elegant and secluded house in Kyoto with his father and his mother Chinu. His mother died when he was five, and his father remarried another woman so like his own first mother that the child's memories become completely confused and blurred. He reestablishes the same relationships with his new mother, some of them abnormal and erotic. When Tadasu is eighteen, his father dies and asks his son to take his place, marrying another girl his own age for the sake of appearances. This bizarre relationship continues until the demise of his second mother, who is bitten by a centipede and dies. Tanizaki's tangle of erotic relationships may seem perverse and arbitrary when subjected to such summary treatment. They are, however, part and parcel of the atmosphere of the story. And the atmosphere is the subject of, and the justification for, the entire narrative.

Tanizaki has created a world as close to that of the court depicted in The Tale of Genji as might be possible in a twentieth-century setting. The reference to Genji is clear from the title of the story, "The Bridge of Dreams," itself the name of the very last book of Lady Murasaki's novel. Indeed Tanizaki's story opens with a quotation, a poem written by one of the mothers on the subject of Genji. The house in which Tadasu is brought up seems to exist in a timeless world. The descriptions of the rooms and gardens have nothing contemporary about them. The sense of the past is always powerful; indeed it is the present that seems ambiguous and arbitrary. Tanizaki creates his links with the present through his characters, who cool their beer in the garden pond and, reluctantly, visit a physician when care is needed. But the world of the house, with its silences, the occasional koto music, and the sound of the old-style bamboo clapper in the pond, seems as complete as that of those secluded chambers in which so many of the characters of Genji live and, occasionally, die.

Tanizaki's treatment of his characters and of their interrelationships provides an equally effective reworking of certain themes in Genji, Tanizaki's musical variations on an earlier theme. That theme, so skillfully developed by Murasaki, concerns the love shown by several important male characters for their mothers, or, perhaps one should say stepmothers. Murasaki relates the discovery by these male characters of this love to their own ability to understand themselves. More often than not, Lady Murasaki uses the theme to show the eternal appeal of certain types of beauty and to suggest the interdependence of all human affection. The emotional and moral world of Genji, created when it was, contains much that suggests an ultimate openness and innocent good will in many kinds of human relationships. For Tanizaki, living in the twentieth century, the recreation of a modern version of this earlier world brings with it a strong odor of decadence and decay. This too, for Tanizaki, is beautiful, and such are the elements that make up his own contribution to the world of Genji.

Along with the theme of loving one's mother, muted and etherealized in Murasaki, eroticized in Tanizaki, is a second theme common to both narratives, that of children concealed and discovered. Again, in Lady Murasaki's novel, this motif is often used (along with its value as a plot device) as a means by which a character can achieve self-definition and self-enlightenment. For Tanizaki, the lost child serves rather as a means to permit the others (especially Tadasu) to turn ever more inwards upon themselves. Some Japanese writers and critics have pointed out that Tanizaki is, in fact, a moralizer; to the extent that a foreign reader may agree that this might be the case about so atmospheric a story as "The Bridge of Dreams," such a penchant for moralizing might be seen in Tanizaki's discreet suggestion (certainly nowhere stated) that he is depicting a culture that has lived too long.

Tanizaki's care in selecting every proper detail in order to create the atmosphere he desires shows his literary skill and learning at its best. The story is filled with references to Genji and the whole history of Kyoto, just as The Tale of Genji itself is filled with earlier literary and cultural references. A discussion on calligraphy, one of the arts most prized in Lady Murasaki's novel, opens Tanizaki's story. Poems by Kamo no Chōmei are mentioned; and indeed Chōmei himself, who, in his Hōjōki (An Accountof My Hut) created a celebrated (and fictionalized) account of his own retirement, seems a perfect prototype for Tadasu, who is keeping a record of his own spiritual existence. Rai Sanyo (1780-1832) and Ishikawa Jōzan (1583-1672), two other learned writers and poets from the Tokugawa period, are also cited, expanding the world of taste and learning in which the characters of the story live. Even when Tadasu leaves the house in search of the mysterious younger brother he has never seen, his trip takes him to villages in the countryside famous in classical literature through references in The Tale of the Heike and the medieval plays. Indeed, the only thoroughly modern element in the story is the occasional intrusion of the doctor, who heralds births and deaths. His appearance always seems startling and usually (despite his personal kindness) disagreeable.

Tanizaki's most elusive homage to Genji may lie in his tacit adoption of certain of Lady Murasaki's attitudes. In the earlier novel, the world created by the author is one inhabited by the women of the court, retired from the world, who have the leisure to dream and to reflect. Largely cut off from the world of politics and court activity, they learn of events outside their purview slowly and imperfectly. Tanizaki has made his main character a man, but, despite the change in sex, Tadasu remains far more a part of the world of his strange home than he does of any world at large. Both he and Shunkin exist in terms of the atmospheres surrounding them. Toward the end of "The Bridge of Dreams," the reader is casually informed that Tadasu graduated from high school and studied law at the university, but elements from the outer world have nothing to do with what he perceives to be his real existence. Tanizaki has remained quite faithful to Lady Murasaki in this respect.

What is more, Tanizaki has absorbed and made use of one of Lady Murasaki's major literary devices, and one so appropriate to the atmosphere in which she lived and wrote: that of indirection. In The Tale of Genji, the truth about the various characters and their mutual relationships are revealed in pieces; the reader comes to know the truth, or a variety of truths, quite slowly. Overarching relationships—physical, psychological, or spiritual—are slowly suggested as the narrative moves forward. The reader of Lady Murasaki's novel thus comes to be enlightened in somewhat the same fashion that he might hope to be in real life.

In "The Bridge of Dreams," indirection and reticence make it possible for Tadasu to tell his story. Before the final revelation of his relations with his second mother and of his marriage of convenience to the daughter of the family gardener, Tadasu makes the following statement.

I have tentatively given this narrative the title of "The Bridge of Dreams," and have written it, however amateurishly, in the form of a novel. But everything that I have set forth actually happened—there is not one falsehood in it. Still, if I were asked why I took it into my head to write it all, I should be unable to reply. I am not writing out of any desire to have others read this. At least, I don't intend to let anyone see it as long as I am alive. If someone happens across it after my death, there will be no harm in that; but even if it is lost in oblivion, if no one ever reads it, I shall have no regret. I write for the sake of writing, simply because I enjoy looking back at the events of the past and trying to remember them one by one. Of course, all that I record here is true: I do not allow myself the slightest falsehood or distortion. But there are limits even to telling the truth; there is a line one ought not to cross. And so, although I certainly never write anything untrue, neither do I write the whole of the truth. Perhaps I leave part of it unwritten out of consideration for my father, for my mother, and for myself. .. . If anyone says that not to tell the whole truth is in fact to lie, that is his own interpretation. I shall not venture to deny it.

Tadasu's words are, at least in part, an ironic reworking of the well-known passage in The Tale of Genji in which Genji defines the art of fiction:

I have a theory of my own about what this art of the novel is, and how it came into being. To begin with, it does not simply consist in the author's telling a story about the adventures of some other person. On the contrary, it happens because the storyteller's own experience of men and things, whether for good or ill—not only what he has passed through himself, but even events which he has only witnessed or been told of—has moved him to an emotion so passionate that he can no longer keep it shut up in his heart. Again and again something in his own life or in that around him will seem to the writer so important that he cannot bear to let it pass into oblivion. There must never come a time, he feels, when men do not know about it.

Tanizaki's passage reflects something of Murasaki; but, more than that, Tadasu's words reveal certain artistic principles involved in the composition of much Japanese poetry and prose. ". . . I certainly never write anything untrue, neither do I write the whole of the truth." Such a principle of adhering closely to the "truth" of one's natural materials but shaping them to the ends of art is one alive in the earliest poetic diaries and is still visible in contemporary fiction. Instinctive selectivity from all the possible materials that the observation of life might offer: in the art of Tanizaki, at least, reticence and taste join together at this point to produce, not verbal photographs, or confessions, but literary evocation.

"A Portrait of Shunkin" and "The Bridge of Dreams" will surely strike a Western reader as contemporary in their explicitness and profound in their artistic concerns. And the stories explain themselves. No footnotes on Japanese culture are required to penetrate these peculiar worlds that Tanizaki has created. The author's mastery of the intimate connections between character, incident, and atmosphere permit each element of these stories to reinforce the others; each word of the text seems inevitable, exquisitely appropriate. Nevertheless, Tanizaki's work satisfies profoundly because behind his own personal accomplishment lies a long literary heritage to which his art pays the ultimate compliment of constant reference.

Donald Keene (essay date 1984)

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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 later, and the self-conscious allusions to Buddhist texts and works of European philosophy, the story is unaffected and even moving. It relates how Tanizaki, returning home with the prizes he had won as the best pupil in elementary school, is informed by his father that he will not be able to go on to middle school. The father insists that education is not necessary for success; many men of humble birth and small education have amassed great fortunes. The boy bursts into tears.

What manner of tears were they? Tears of gratitude for the solicitude of my father? No. Tears of indignation over the heartlessness of the world? No. Ah, those were tears of grief that because I could not go to middle school I would have to find work in some business establishment.

Ever since I was a small child I had disliked military men most of all human beings, and businessmen next. Even supposing a man achieves a worldwide reputation and his exploits resound through the nation, can one say that what he does accords with the way fit for human beings if he robs others of their lives or sheds blood with a sword? Even supposing a man amasses an immense fortune and can abandon himself to uninterrupted days of a spring of opulence, surely there is no point in his having been born a man if he makes this dreamlike existence no more than a dream.

Beneath the surface of this ponderously balanced prose we find a first statement of Tanizaki's dislike of the military and businessmen, which remained with him through his life, though it was certainly not typical of most ambitious and patriotic boys of his age. But the boy Tanizaki was properly Confucian in his feelings of remorse over being the kind of unfilial son who worries more about his education than about providing for his parents who were rapidly growing old in their struggle to make ends meet. The story concludes:

My heart has become iron. My heart has died. Without wild passion, without anguish, without gods, without Buddha, without tears, there remains only an object like a cold stone in the abyss of my soul. Have I attained the calm immobility of a philosopher of the Epicurean school? I do not know my own heart.

These lines were followed by a tanka, which rather cryptically describes the frost on the moss at the Oka Temple glowing like lapis.

Tanizaki had convincingly described a painful memory of his childhood. Another painful occurrence came soon afterward. He was enabled to continue his education by his teacher, who found for him a job as a shosei, a kind of combination houseboy and tutor, in the family of a restaurant proprietor. His humiliation at being treated like a servant would be remembered not only in the autobiographical story "Shindō" ("The Boy Prodigy," 1916), but even in the very late volume of short essays Tōsei Shika Modoki (In the Manner of a Modern Storyteller, 1961), evidence of how deeply his resentment lingered within him. Tanizaki worked as a shosei from 1902 to 1907, when he was unceremoniously expelled from the household after a love letter he had addressed to a maid was intercepted. He daily suffered minor annoyances; for example, the lady of the house, intending to test his honesty, included one more banknote than she had listed on the deposit slip when she sent him to the bank. But his classmates found him an exceptionally lively and cheerful, as well as gifted, student and he generally ranked at or near the top of his class in the best middle school of Japan.

In March 1905 Tanizaki was promoted from the First Middle School to the First High School. He enrolled in the division of English Law, presumably in the hopes of convincing the family who were still employing him as a shosei that he was serious about getting ahead, in the manner expected of Meiji youths. But his enthusiasm for literature had by no means waned and he continued to be active in the school literary societies. His stories, published in the high school magazine, described such personal experiences as his tribulations as a shosei and his first love affair. . . .

Tanizaki entered the Tokyo Imperial University in 1908, after his graduation from high school. This time he enrolled in the Department of Japanese Literature, always known as a haven for students who chose not to study. He had made up his mind to become a writer, and his attitude toward classes was cavalier. He seemed indifferent also to the plight of his family, who were suffering not only because he failed to contribute to their support, but because they still had to provide him with food and a bed. His father had no choice but to pawn the family belongings, and there were so many family quarrels over money that his mother was often hysterical.

Tanizaki neglected his studies to the point of rarely appearing at the university. He took to frequenting the licensed quarters, and before long contracted a venereal disease. He had established himself in the eyes of family and friends as an egregiously unfilial son. But he discovered the one remedy for his disgrace: while recuperating from nervous exhaustion at a friend's house in the country in 1909 he began to write for publication. This was the height of the popularity of Naturalism, but Tanizaki from the outset of his career displayed disdain for this school of writing and preferred to describe unusual people and events. He established his reputation (though its worth was not immediately recognized) with the short story "Shisei" ("The Tattooer"), published in the November 1910 issue of Shinshichō (New Thought Tides), a Tokyo University literary magazine. Years later (in 1956) Tanizaki, recalling the circumstances of the composition of "The Tattooer," stated that he had originally placed the story in a contemporary setting, but had shifted the period back to the Tokugawa era because the story did not work as a modern piece. This remark suggests how Tanizaki would use the past in his writings. He had no desire to make the figures of the past come alive by attributing to them contemporary attitudes in the manner of authors of popular historical fiction, nor did he (like Mori ōgai) attempt to preserve absolute fidelity to the facts, nor (unlike Akutagawa Ryūnosuke) was he dependent on the past for his materials. Tanizaki chose to set works in the past because this gave him greater scope for his imagination. Actions that might seem exaggerated or even absurd if attributed to contemporary people were believable of people who lived in the past, when life was more brightly colored and unfettered by social conventions of the present.

After Tanizaki completed the first draft of "The Tattooer," his first thought was to show it to Izumi Kyōka. At this time, when Naturalism of the most prosaic variety was the prevalent literary mode, only Kyōka continued to include in his works supernatural or irrational elements associated with the writings of the past. Tanizaki's world was closer to reality than Kyōka' s, but the early works resemble Kyōka's in their rejection of the cold glare of common sense. "The Tattooer" is entirely a work of fiction, and whether or not the background is historically accurate is of no importance; what remains in the reader's mind is the intense coloration and the unhealthy, decadent atmosphere. Seikichi, the tattooer, is first attracted to a girl when he catches a glimpse of her naked foot. We are told: "To his sharp eyes a human foot was as expressive as a face. . . . This, indeed, was a foot to be nourished by men's blood, a foot to trample on their bodies." Tanizaki's foot-fetishism is often coupled with the ideal of the beautiful but cruel woman. In this instance the tattooer is at the enslaved by the girl after he has transformed her by tattooing a monstrous spider on her back; as his first glimpse of her foot presaged, she has become a heartless creature destined to trample on many men. Tanizaki's taste for the perverse, the sinister, the ingeniously wrought, which he shared with Kyōka, runs through his career. In his last novel, Fūten Rōjin Nikki (Diary of a Mad Old Man, 1962), he described his perfect woman: "Above all, it's essential for her to have white, slender legs and delicate feet. Assuming that these and all the other points of beauty are equal, I would be more susceptible to the woman with bad character."

Another early story, "Shōnen" ("Children," 1911), tells of a group of small boys and one girl who play at various games involving sado-masochism. "Cops and Robbers" is given a distinctive twist by the extreme savagery with which the "robber" is punished. The narrator, observing the expression of pain when the "robber" is trampled on—so fiercely that his face is twisted out of shape—experiences a pleasurable sensation more intense than any he has previously known. The next game is that of "Wolf and Traveler." This time the narrator is the victim, and when another boy stamps on his face, he once again experiences strange pleasure. During the next game, "The Human Being and the Three Dogs," the narrator, as one of the dogs, licks the soles of the human being's feet and sucks at the toes. This scene prefigures one in Diary of a Mad Old Man, written a half-century later, in which the old man, kneeling in the shower, takes his daughter-in-law's foot and crams her toes into his mouth. The most memorable of the games the children play is the last. Up until this point the girl, Mitsuko, has always had to play the part of a victim, but this time she makes the boys her slaves. They gladly trim her toenails, clean the insides of her nose, and even drink her urine. Mitsuko, though only a child, is another example of the cruel woman who fascinated Tanizaki throughout his life. . . .

"Kirin" ("The Kylin," 1910) . . . ostensibly drew its materials directly from Chinese sources, but it strikingly resembles Tanizaki's other sado-masochistic stories. Confucius and a small band of disciples arrive in the dukedom of Wei, where Duke Ling lives in the utmost splendor with his consort, Nan-tzu. When the arrival of the sage is reported, the duke summons him, hoping that Confucius will teach him to reign in a manner consonant with his magnificent palace and his incomparably beautiful consort. Confucius is tempted with promises of every kind of earthly delight if he consents to stay and teach there. Confucius, who desires nothing more than suitable employment with a ruler, says that he is willing to spend the rest of his days in Wei, providing that the duke genuinely desires to foster the happiness of his people. The duke assures him that this is the case, and before long he has become so absorbed with the pursuit of virtue that he neglects Nan-tzu. When she reproaches him, he declares:

It is not that I do not love you. I have always loved you like a slave serving his master, or like a human being worshiping a god, but from now on I shall love you as a husband loves his wife. It has been my function to purchase happiness for you, whatever the cost to my country or to my own wealth or to my people or even my life. But the sage has taught me that there is more important work for me to do. The beauty of your body has always been my greatest strength, but the sage's mind has given me an even greater strength.

The slavish worship of beautiful women is so frequent a theme in Tanizaki's writings that the duke's assertion that an even more powerful force exists in the world is bound to startle anyone familiar with Tanizaki's work. Nan-tzu derides the duke's attempts to free himself from her charms, and declares that she will make Confucius her captive. At this point the reader is likely to foresee that Nan-tzu will achieve precisely what she predicts, regardless of what history has to say about the iron-clad virtues of Confucius, but her attempts to seduce him are rebuffed. Instead of feeling disappointment, however, she is more and more intrigued by this strange man who can resist all temptation. Finally, she offers as the pièce de résistance the spectacle of what has happened to people who have been punished for having spoken ill of her or for having attracted the duke's attention. Women who have aroused Nantzu's jealousy have had their noses cut off, both feet amputated, and they are bound with iron chains. The loving attention Tanizaki bestows on his descriptions of the maimed and tortured is characteristic of this period of his career, as is the comment: "Nan-tzu's face as she gazed rapturously at the sight was as beautiful as a poet's, as dignified as a philosopher's." She menaces Confucius with a similar fate, her eyes as gentle as ever, her words as cruel, but he remains obdurate. In the end, the duke, though by now he detests Nan-tzu, returns to her bedchamber, unable to leave her. Confucius and his disciples are obliged once more to set out on their weary travels.

"The Kylin" is written in a severe, at times pedantic language, which indicates that Tanizaki, if he had so chosen, could have written in the manner of Kōda Rohan or Mori ōgai, giving new life to the Chinese classics. But his choice of materials was quite dissimilar, and the fin-de-siécle atmosphere is closer to Flaubert's La tentation de St. Antoine or Wilde's Salomè than to Chinese sources. The beautiful, cruel woman wears the trappings of traditional Chinese ladies, whether in the perfumes that scent her mouth and hair or the exotic foods and other treasures with which she tempts Confucius, but she belongs to the same race as the other cruel women in Tanizaki stories.

The duke is able, thanks to Confucius, to overcome his tendency to grovel, but philosophy is no match for lust: Confucius, as he leaves Wei, declares, "I have never yet met a man who loved virtue as much as he loved sex," an authentic quotation from the Master.

"The Kylin" attracted even more attention than "The Tattooer." By March 1911, when Shinshichō ceased publication, four or five stories by Tanizaki had appeared and had received favorable notice from such eminent figures as Ueda Bin and Mori Ōgai. [According to Nomura Shōgo in Denki Tanizaki Jun 'ichirō] Kikuchi Kan recalled that university students had read "Children" with consuming interest. Tanizaki, encouraged by this success, left the university in July 1911. He had decided to become a writer, and consoled himself with the reflection that Ozaki Kōyō had also left Tokyo University without obtaining a degree.

In October 1911 Tanizaki published in Mita Bungaku, the literary magazine of Keiō University, the novella Hyōfū (Whirlwind), which he wrote at the request of the editor, Nagai Kafū. The story is of a young artist who, exhausted by his indulgence with a Yoshiwara prostitute, decides to free himself of his passion by traveling to the north of Japan on a sketching tour. He is obsessed with sex, even to the point of desiring a leper he meets in the train, but he manages to fight off the call of his blood until he returns to the Yoshiwara. In the intense excitement of release from his self-imposed austerity, he dies in his mistress's arms. This issue of Mita Bungaku was banned by the police because of Tanizaki's story, and Whirlwind was not reprinted until 1950. Tanizaki subsequently exercised great care when writing about erotic subjects, lest he run afoul of the censors again, but Whirlwind was by no means his only story to be banned.

Not long after this setback Tanizaki's career was given an immense boost: Takita Choin, the editor of Chūō Kōron, a man celebrated as a discoverer of literary talent, paid a visit to Tanizaki, then living with his family in a squalid tenement. Takita had been so impressed by "Children," Whirlwind, and another story that he requested a contribution for the November issue of his magazine. Tanizaki wrote in response the story "Himitsu" ("A Secret"). It is not one of his most expertly crafted works, but it is entirely original, a believable (or intermittently so) account of a man who decks himself in woman's finery and pretends to be a woman. The story not only abounds in crazily imaginative details, but is full of humorous situations. In one scene the narrator is so successful in his disguise as a woman as to attract the notice of everyone at the theater, but to his chagrin he finds that he is no match for a real woman who is even more fashionably dressed. On closer examination he realizes that the woman was formerly his mistress, and this discovery naturally complicates his reactions even further. This is a minor work, but the author is unmistakably Tanizaki.

Recognition from Takita assured Tanizaki of favorable auspices under which to begin a career, and he took full advantage of them. He was able to write what he pleased for the best magazines and newspapers, and his fee for each page of manuscript was regularly higher than that received by any other writer. Even if he was often ignored or slighted by "serious" critics, his position in the literary world was unassailable.

In November 1911, about the time that "A Secret" appeared, Nagai Kafū published an article on Tanizaki in Mita Bungaku. It was highly laudatory, beginning with such statements as: "Tanizaki Jun'ichirō has succeeded in exploiting a domain of art that nobody else in the Meiji literary world has hitherto been able to, or even desired to exploit. To put it in other terms: Tanizaki Jun'ichirō possesses to the full certain rare qualities and abilities that none of our many other writers today possesses." Kafū listed in particular three characteristics of Tanizaki's writings: a mysterious depth produced by carnal dread, an intense pleasure savored by way of reaction to physical cruelty; entirely city-oriented concerns; and the perfection of style.

Kafū's praise expressed in part his distaste for Naturalist literature, but as a description of Tanizaki's early writings it was remarkably perceptive. He said in later years that he had been moved to write this essay by the plea of the publisher of Tanizaki's first collection of short stories, who feared that the book might otherwise be banned by the police. In any case, Kafū's praise raised Tanizaki to the rank of an important writer. Tanizaki was naturally deeply grateful, and Kafū remained his sensei until Kafū's death. Tanizaki had been the despair of his family, but thanks to Kafū he had suddenly revealed himself as a filial son who justified by his success the money spent on his education. Tanizaki and Kafū never became close friends, probably because both were difficult and demanding men, but each respected the other's art.

In December 1911 Tanizaki's first collection of short stories, The Tattooer, appeared. It contained in addition to the title story six other works including "The Kylin," [the one-act play] Shinzei, "Children," and "A Secret" It was considered for the prize awarded by the Ministry of Education for the finest work of literature of the year, an indication of the respect he had come to command. Soon afterward Tanizaki was asked to write his first newspaper serial and other commissions followed. Many of his writings of this period are, however, inferior. Perhaps the most notable is "Akuma" ("The Devil," 1912), which boasts a specially revolting episode: a young man, captivated by a certain woman, manages to steal her handkerchief. She has a bad cold, and the handkerchief is dirty, but after savoring its odor to his heart's content the man "began to lick it like a dog." The narrator comments: "This was the taste of snot. I felt as if I were licking some suffocatingly carnal odor, but only a faint, salty taste lingered on my tongue. Presently, however, I began to discover something curiously sharp in taste, almost intolerably captivating. This secret, strange paradise lurked on the reverse side of the world of human pleasure."

This kind of writing, and no doubt also the title of the story, earned for Tanizaki the sobriquet of "Diabolist" (akuma shugisha). He came to detest this expression, but he did little to prove that it was mistaken. His flamboyant sexual activities and his chronic lack of funds caused him to go in hiding from his creditors more than once. His writing suffered, but he recalled in a letter to his brother Wilde's remark that he had put all his genius into his life and only his talent into his works. Tanizaki added, "Almost the same thing could be said about my life from last year to this summer. I do not wish to describe it in further detail, but at any rate I do not very much regret anything about my life to the present. As far as I am concerned, the life of art is more important than the art of life." In 1916 he wrote in the same vein:

For me art came first and life second. At first I strove to make my life accord, insofar as possible, with my art, or else to subordinate it to my art. At the time I was writing "The Tattooer," "Until One Is Deserted," and Jōtarō, this seemed to be possible. And I managed to carry on my pathological life of the senses in the greatest secrecy. When eventually I began to feel that there was a gap between my life and art that could not be overlooked, I planned how I might, at the very least, make as advantageous use of my life as possible for my art. I intended to devote the major part of my life to efforts to make my art complete. I chose to interpret my marriage also as being, ultimately, a means of making my art better and deeper. In this manner I continued to place art before life. But today the two—leaving their respective importance aside—have for the time become separate. In my mind I think of art, but in my heart I yearn for the beauty of the devil. And, when I look back over my life, I am intimidated by the tocsin of humanity. I who am cowardly and deceitful have always had a tendency to wander off onto side roads, unable to persist in the struggle between these two contradictory purposes.

When Tanizaki wrote these lines he feared that in becoming a father the "second self who was his child might deprive him of some of his vital force. He confessed that even after the first month he still felt no affection for the baby and supposed that he never would. He had made up his mind that if he had a second child he would give it away in adoption. Such remarks could hardly have endeared him to most Japanese readers, who no doubt interpreted them as further proof of his "Diabolism." His insistence on the precedence of his art over his way of life suggested not the consecration of the artist who gives up his daily pleasures in order to perfect his art but the author who immerses himself in debauchery with the ostensible aim of being able to write more convincingly about human passions. Tanizaki's name was often coupled with that of Oscar Wilde as an advocate of art for art's sake who denied that literature had any other function except to be beautiful. Tanizaki certainly read Wilde and occasionally quoted him, but the connections between the two men were neither deep nor pervasive. . . .

[Tanizaki] disliked the persona of the suffering intellectual who believed himself to be the conscience of the Japanese nation, and he preferred to write about his distorted pleasures. His private life at the time when he was writing Jōtarō [published in 1914] was turbulent. He behaved abominably toward his wife, perhaps because she was insufficiently vicious; and even though he had written that he had married in order to deepen his art, he soon afterward openly stated that marriage had been a mistake. His writings, though much praised and even the subject of a special issue of Chūō Kōron in April 1916, were mainly a means to earn the money needed for his extravagances. Many years later, when a Complete Works (zenshū) was prepared in 1957 under his supervision, Tanizaki insisted on leaving out most of his writings of this period, expressing his strong dislike for them. Several were also disliked by the censors and banned; the play Kyōfu Jidai (The Age of Fear, 1916), a work of sadistic cruelty, outdid Hamlet in that every character was dead at the conclusion!

It is not surprising that Tanizaki's works of the "bad" period should have been a source of embarrassment to him in later years, and they represent an awkward hurdle for the commentator to vault between the brilliant early stories and the period that began in 1925 with Chijin no Ai (A Fool's Love). But the badness of the bad period can be exaggerated: even the works Tanizaki refused to include in the 1957 Complete Works are by no means devoid of interest. For example, "Konjiki no Shi" ("The Golden Death," 1914), the story of a young man's narcissistic fascination with his own beauty and intelligence, presents Tanizaki's conception of beauty in a particularly striking manner, for all its faults of construction and characterization. His insistence on the body—"a people which despises the flesh will never produce great art"—echoes views expressed in Jōtarō, and there are even virtually identical passages in both works on the relative effectiveness of different arts to communicate beauty. In "The Golden Death," however, such views are not merely thrown off in passing but developed into the central theme of the story. Okamura, the hero, has expended his vast fortune to create a visual paradise composed of elements borrowed from the architecture, sculpture, and gardens of the entire world. He guides the narrator to his masterpieces—sculptures that consist of living people, proof of his thesis that no beauty can surpass that of the human body. At the end Okamura takes part in an extravaganza that features hordes of beautiful men and women who are costumed as bodhisattvas and lohans. Okamura himself appears as the Buddha, his body entirely covered with gold leaf. After a night of drinking and dance he dies because the gold leaf has choked his pores.

In 1970, the year of his own death, Mishima Yukio devoted almost the whole of an essay on the art of Tanizaki to "The Golden Death." Mishima felt sure that one could perceive even in a failure like "The Golden Death" the marks of genius; "or, rather, one can often discover in such works both the characteristic qualities of the author and important themes that he never developed in his later works." Despite obvious influences from Poe and Baudelaire, the extraordinary individuality of this story for its time cannot be doubted. The discussions of art between Okamura and the narrator if more fully developed might have become a rare Japanese prototype of the roman idéologique. Mishima believed that Okamura's death enabled him to achieve a unity between his life and art, but that Tanizaki rejected suicide: "That is to say, anyone who attempts to make of himself a work of art will be tempted repeatedly by the desire to commit suicide; to go on living thus means relinquishing the attainment of beauty, or, to put it in other words, relinquishing the important premise of the discussions of art in 'The Golden Death.'" Mishima attributed the failure of the story to its period, a time when Japanese culture had lost any semblance of a unifying order. Okamura's garden of delights was filled with copies of Michelangelo and Rodin sculptures, tableaux vivants of Giorgione and Cranach paintings, the art of Rome, China, Esoteric Buddhism, and so on—a conglomeration of East and West that faithfully reflected the confusion in the aspirations of intellectuals of the time and that suggested to Mishima nothing so much as the Tiger Balm Garden in Hong Kong. Mishima's essay demonstrates how much can be found in even the works of Tanizaki's "bad" period, though Mishima's interest, it might be argued, was not unconnected to his own decision to commit the kind of death that would achieve a unity between his life and art. . . .

Tanizaki's trip to China, [in the autumn of 1918], ostensibly inspired by his fondness for the Chinese classics, gave rise to a few travel accounts, but did not deeply affect his writings. His main object seems to have been sensual pleasures. A second trip to China, in 1926, was more serious; Tanizaki met various Chinese intellectuals with whom he would keep in touch until the close of his life, including Kuo Mo-jo and T'ien Han.

Tanizaki's interest in foreign countries was oriented elsewhere than China. The curious, anecdotal story "Dokutan" ("The German Spy"), published in 1915, describes Tanizaki's first European friend, a shiftless Austrian from whom he learned French conversation. As a boy Tanizaki had not been much interested in the West, and had never felt impelled to come any closer to Western people than reading about them in fiction. He was ready to admit that some novels and plays written in the West possessed deeper content than similar works by Japanese, but he was sure that he himself wanted to become a distinctively Japanese artist. He recalled in "The German Spy," "I was particularly unmoved by Western painting and music. Even while our gentlemen of letters were making a great fuss over Gauguin and trumpeting the cause of exoticism, I was of the opinion that any Japanese who was interested in pursuing exotic art would do better to direct his attention to China or India." He went on:

Two or three years later, however, I reached a point where I could not but shake off such stupid ideas. I discovered that, as a modern Japanese, there were fierce artistic desires burning within me that could not be satisfied when I was surrounded by Japanese. Unfortunately for me, I could no longer find anything in present-day Japan, the land of my birth, which answered my craving for beauty. There was neither the overripe civilization of the West nor the intense barbarity of the South Seas. I came to feel violent contempt for my surroundings, and at the same time I began to think that I would have to observe more deeply, more intimately, the West, whose art was so infinitely greater than our own. I would have to seek from the West objects to satisfy my craving for beauty, and I was suddenly overcome with passionate admiration for the West. Western paintings and music had hitherto left me indifferent, but now they made me tremble with excitement at every contact. For example, the paintings of the Impressionist school, which I knew only from color or collotype reproductions, overwhelmed me by their powerful, intense character, so unlike the manner of expression of Japanese paintings, which are distinguished only by manual dexterity and totally lack content or stimulation. I could hear Western music only on the rare occasions when it was performed by Japanese, or in excerpts on phonograph records, but how directly and how grandly it sang of the sorrows and joys of human life as compared to the etiolated, somnolescent sounds of the samisen, or the curiously perverse, retrogressive, superficial hauta, jōruri, and the like. Japanese vocalists sing in voices trained to produce unnatural falsetto tones, but Western singers sing boldly and with impetuousness, like birds or wild beasts, sending forth their natural voices so ardently they risk bursting their throats or caving in their chests. Japanese instrumental music produces a delicate sound like the murmur of a little stream, but Western instrumental music is filled with the grandeur of surging waves and has the intense beauty of the boundless oceans.

Once I had become aware of these truths, I felt an uncontrollable desire to learn everything there was to be known about the countries of Europe that have given birth to these many astonishing works of art, and about the various aspects of the daily lives of the superior race of men living there. Everything labeled as coming from the West seemed beautiful and aroused my envy. I could not help looking at the West in the same way that human beings look up to the gods. I felt sad that I had been born in a country where there seemed to be no possibility that any first-rate art could ever be nurtured. I grieved in particular over my misfortune that, having been condemned to the fate of being born in Japan, I had chosen to make my life as an artist, rather than as a politician or a military man. And I made up my mind that the only way to develop my art fully was to come into ever closer contact with the West, if only by an inch closer than before, or even by totally assimilating myself into the West.

In order to satisfy this craving I would go abroad if possible—no, going abroad would not be enough; the best and only way was to move there permanently, resolved to become one with the people of that country and to have my bones buried in its soil.

There could hardly be a more wholehearted affirmation of the West than Tanizaki professed in "The German Spy." Of course, it can be argued that this is a work of fiction, and that the sentiments do not necessarily reflect Tanizaki's beliefs, but the tone carries conviction, and similar sentiments are found in other works of the time. . . .

The writings toward the end of Tanizaki's "bad" period were among the worst of his entire career. Perhaps it was dissatisfaction with his own novels and short stories that induced him to turn to the theater. None of his plays was really successful, though Okuni to Gohei (Okuni and Gohei, 1922) was effective. Indeed, only a few works of the period were of significance for his oeuvre. One was "Haha wo kouru ki" ("Longing for Mother," 1919), written a year and a half after the death of his mother. It describes in the form of a dream the search of a small boy for his lost mother. The theme was one particularly close to Tanizaki's heart and would be treated again and again until the final statement in "Yume No Ukihashi" ("The Bridge of Dreams," 1959). Tanizaki, though famed for his portraits of women, was even more successful in describing children, whether in recollections of his own childhood or fictitious characters. "Longing for Mother," a curious mixture of fantasy and nostalgia, is not wholly convincing, but it is certainly more moving than the plays. Another story of special significance to the student of Tanizaki's career, though not of great literary distinction, is "Fumiko no Ashi" ("Fumiko's Feet," 1919), an early and extreme example of Tanizaki's foot fetishism. An old man, infatuated with the beautiful feet of his young mistress, asks a painter to draw her portrait in a pose that best displays her feet. When the old man is bedridden and too feeble to play with the girl's feet in his accustomed manner, he asks the willing painter to roll like a dog at Fumiko's feet and allow himself to be trampled by her. The old man dies blissfully happy because during his last moments Fumiko's foot has been pressed against his forehead. . . .

Tanizaki's worshipful love of Nezu Matsuko inspired most of his best writings, beginning with "A Blind Man's Tale." The central situation in many of these works is that of a man who serves a beautiful but cruel woman. He does not dislike her cruelty; indeed, this is an important part of her attraction. Tanizaki's two wives had been gentle. That no doubt was why he lost interest in them and why he was so determined that Matsuko would remain cruel, in his imagination if not in fact. Even after they were married in 1935 (the divorce from [his second wife] Tomiko took place in 1933, when he and Matsuko were already living together), he addressed letters to Matsuko in the deferential language of a servant petitioning a haughty mistress.

"A Blind Man's Tale," the second of a series of historical stories, is related throughout in the first person, rather in the manner of Manji, but the distinctive quality of the narration is supplied not by dialect but by the archaic language and, above all, by the deferential tone, appropriate in a blind masseur who is relating long-ago events to the nobleman he is massaging. The visual appearance of "A Blind Man's Tale" also was intended to suggest the accounts written in the late sixteenth century with long, unbroken paragraphs consisting of strings of kana only occasionally interrupted by Chinese characters. The original edition was in an old-fashioned format, and the box, endpapers, and title page were of handmade paper from Kuzu. This was the first of many books by Tanizaki that appeared in formats intended in some way to match the contents.

"A Blind Man's Tale" is the story of how a masseur, a gifted samisen player, served the peerlessly beautiful sister of the warlord Oda Nobunaga. Naturally in a work of this period there are descriptions of battles and deeds of treachery, but the quality that marks it as a work by Tanizaki is the masseur's slavish devotion to his mistress, whose body he knows from his hands, though he can never aspire to be more than a humble servant. This is not quite the same as the masochism of Tanizaki's earlier stories, but stemmed from the craving he mentioned in [a September 1932] letter to Matsuko to worship a noble woman. The sixteenth-century battles are of interest to Japanese familiar with the names of the people involved, but even readers born outside these traditions can hardly fail to be moved by the portrait Tanizaki drew of Yaichi, the blind man. Surely there is little indebtedness to Western literature in this work, though Tanizaki may have owed something to Ozaki Kōyō's Darkness in the Heart. . . .

Perhaps what distinguished Tanizaki's works most conspicuously from those of other major Japanese writers of the twentieth century was his absorption with writing itself. . . . His success in creating a body of writings that perpetuated Japanese traditions, after so long having immersed himself in completely untraditional activities, did not represent a change in direction so much as a deepening of his art in the way he found most feasible and congenial. No one would turn to Tanizaki for wisdom as to how a man should live his life, nor for a penetrating analysis of the evils of modern society, 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.

Deborah DeZure (essay date 1989)

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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 equivalent in English but does encompass a cluster of related western psychoanalytic constructs, among them: indulgent love, reciprocal dependence, denial of separation, passive love, passivity, loss of self, and, in its more neurotic forms, mother fixation and obsession.

Doi writes:

The prototype of amae is the infant's desire to be close to its mother, who, it has come vaguely to realize, is a separate existence from itself. Then one may perhaps describe amae as, ultimately, an attempt psychologically to deny the fact of separation from the mother . . . Amae psychology works to foster a sense of oneness between mother and child. In this sense, the amae mentality could be defined as the attempt to deny the fact of separation that is such an inseparable part of human existence and to obliterate the pain of separation . . . Wherever the amae psychology is predominant, the conflicts and anxiety associated with separation are conversely lurking in the background. . . . Since amae would seem to arise first as an emotion felt by the baby at the breast towards its mother . . . it corresponds to that tender emotion labeled by Freud "the child's primary object choice." [The Anatomy of Dependence, trans. John Bester]

This infant desire to depend upon the mother figure is reinforced by Japanese cultural patterns of maternal indulgence, late weaning, prolonged co-sleeping among children and their parents, and a societal value which prizes dependence over autonomy. The "desire to depend and presume upon another's benevolence" [David Y. H., "Asian Concepts in Behavioral Science," Psychologia, 25, No. 4, 1982], one of the connotations of amae, is carried over into diverse elements of Japanese adult life from its first manifestations in the infant's relationship with his mother. This culture-bound pattern of behavior and feeling is widely recognized in Japan and pervades dimensions of language, psychology, politics, law, and the arts. It is, therefore, relevant to explore Japanese literature with the insights of amae.


Tadasu's mother obsession appears to be an extension into adulthood of a yearning to amae with his mother.

Amae psychology shapes not only Tadasu's behavior and character development but is also the basis of the formal structure of his "confessional," the emotional development of the other major characters with whom Tadasu relates, and the imagery he employs in narrating his memoir.

The tale is structured by a prototypic infant desire for a mother. Three scenes portray Tadasu suckling at his mother's breast. Each time the suckling reinforces this infantile need in Tadasu. The three episodes have great significance for the development of character and events and are the most dramatic moments in the memoir.

The prototypic amae experience occurs in Tadasu's childhood with his real mother:

Sometimes I fretted and lay awake for a long time, pleading, "Let me sleep with Mama!"

Then Mother would come to look in on me. "My, what a little baby I have tonight," she would say, taking me up in her arms and carrying me to her bedroom . . . She lay down next to me just as she was, not taking off her sash, and held me so that my head nestled under her chin. The light was on, but I buried my face inside the neck of her kimono and had a blurred impression of her being swarthed in darkness. The faint scent of her hair, which was done up in a chignon, waffled into my nostrils, seeking out her nipples with my mouth, I played with them like an infant, took them between my lips, ran my tongue over them. She always let me do that as long as I wanted without a word of reproach. I believe I used to suckle at the breasts until I was a fairly large child, perhaps because in those days people were not at all strict about weaning their children. When I used my tongue as hard as I could, licking her nipples and pressing around them, the milk flowed out nicely. The mingled scents of her hair and milk hovered there in her bosom around my face. As dark as it was, I could still dimly see her white breasts . . . often my dreams were penetrated by the distant clack of the water mortar, far beyond my sheltered windows.

After this first description of memories of breast feeding before age five, we are aware of Tadasu's strong attachment to his mother. Their relationship, however, is still within the normal cultural bounds of late weaning in Japan and exemplifies indulgence of male children by their mothers. Tadasu ends his description of this memory by announcing that his mother died when he was five. The decisive aspect of this memory, therefore, is his association of his close relationship with his mother and her subsequent death, which in turn led to the frustration of his need to amae. This separation from the mother he loved is the trauma which fixates Tadasu's infantile attachment and need to amae with a mother or mother figure and determines much of his personality.

The second breast feeding episode occurs when Tadasu is an adolescent. His stepmother invites him to share her bed and suckle from her milkless breasts:

. . ."What a funny little boy you are! Now, hurry up and see if you can find the milk!"

I drew the top of her kimono open, pressed my face between her breasts, and played with her nipples with both hands. Because she was still looking down at me, a beam of light shone in over the edge of the bedclothes. I held one nipple and then the other in my mouth, sucking and using my tongue avidly to start the flow of milk . . . But as hard as I tried, it wouldn't come. . . . I wouldn't let go of her breasts, and kept sucking at them. I knew it was hopeless, but still enjoyed the sensation of rolling around in my mouth those firm little buds at the tips of her soft, full breasts.

. . . Once again by some strange association, I seemed to drift among the mingled scents of hair oil and milk that had hovered in my mother's bosom so long ago. That warm, dimly white dream world—the world I thought had disappeared forever—had actually returned.

. . . When I reached the age of twelve or thirteen, I began sleeping alone at night. But even then I would sometimes long to be held in my mother's bosom. "Mama, let me sleep with you!" I would beg. Drawing open her kimono, I would suck at her milkless breasts, and listen to her lullabies. And after drifting peacefully asleep I would awaken the next morning to find that in the meantime—I had no idea when—someone had carried me back and put me to bed alone in my small room. Whenever I said: "Let me sleep with you!" Mother was glad to do as I wished, and Father made no objection.

Just as the first episode was followed by the associated pronouncement that his mother died when he was five, this episode, too, is followed by a significant association: "Within half a year, though I hadn't forgotten my real mother, I could no longer distinguish sharply between her and my present one . . . Gradually the two images merged." Thus, with the second episode, Tadasu is no longer able to distinguish between reality and illusion. This confusion reveals his ambiguous vision of the world and the people in his life.

Indulgence of male children is by no means unusual in Japan. Doi quotes Daisetsu Susuki as writing, "The mother enfolds everything in an unconditioned love. There is no question of right or wrong. Everything is accepted without difficulties or questioning." However, it is clear from the second episode that the breast feeding initially took place at the initiative of the mother and not on request of the son. Moreover, asking Tadasu to suck when there was no milk was a bizarre form of enticement. From this episode, it appears that the mother herself is maladjusted. Whatever her motives are, or those of the passive and indulgent father, they no longer reflect characteristic Japanese practices.

The third episode takes place on the veranda when Tadasu is eighteen. His stepmother, having given birth to a son, offers Tadasu milk from her swollen breasts:

"I wonder if you remember how to nurse," she went on. "You can try, if you like." Mother held one of her breasts in her hand and offered me the nipple. "Just try it and see!" I sat down before her so close that our knees were touching, bent my head toward her, and took one of her nipples between my lips. At first it was hard for me to get any milk, but as I kept suckling, my tongue began to recover its old skill. I was several inches taller than she was, but I leaned down and buried my face in her bosom, greedily sucking up the milk that came gushing out. "Mama," I began murmuring instinctively in a spoiled, childish voice.

I suppose Mother and I were in each other's embrace for about half an hour. At last she said: "That's enough for today, isn't it?" and drew her breast away from my mouth. I thrust her aside without a word, jumped down from the veranda, and ran off into the garden.

. . . Mother's state of mind was a mystery to me, but my own actions had been equally abnormal. The moment I saw her breasts there before me, so unexpectedly revealed, I was back in the dream world that I had longed for, back in the power of the old memories that had haunted me for so many years. Then, because she lured me into it by having me drink her milk, I ended by doing the crazy thing I did. In an agony of shame, wondering how I could have harbored such insane feelings, I paced back and forth around the pond alone. But at the same time that I regretted my behavior and tortured myself about it, I felt that I wanted to do it—not once, but over and over again—if I were lured by her that way—I would not have the power to resist.

This episode of breast feeding, with the statement of intense shame and impotence to resist, completes Tadasu's development in relation to his mother. The shame Tadasu bears remains with him; the powerlessness to deny his mother and his own desires for her determine his actions in the future.

Thus, the prototype of amae, the closeness of mother and child manifest in the act of breast feeding, structures the character development of the narrator and, therefore, structures the tale itself as a memoir of his life. . . .

[That amae does not end suggests] the ongoing nature of Tadasu's quest for a mother and the continuation of his feelings of yearning, shame, and confusion as established in the breast feeding episodes. As the tale ends, we are told of his latest attempt to recapture his mother by bringing his brother, Takeshi, to his home becuase Takeshi resembles the stepmother. And, as the memoir ends, it is dated, "the anniversary of Mother's death," suggesting the continuity of his obsession in which telling the story of his life is used as a way to re-live once more his closeness with his mothers. This is confirmed by Tadasu's statement of purpose in writing: "I write for the sake of writing, simply because I enjoy looking back at the events of the past and trying to remember them one by one."

In Jungian terms, Tadasu has a mother complex. It reveals itself most clearly in the emphasis placed upon his mother figures as the central characters in the memoir. We learn almost nothing of Tadasu's life at school. We are told of no friends; and we hear that after his father's death, Tadasu receives no guests but Sawado and her family. In short, Tadasu is friendless and alienated from society; if he functions in the outside world, he clearly gives it no attention in his memoir.

Tadasu's mother complex is apparent in other ways. Physically, Tadasu prefers to identify with his mother, not his father. He writes, "She used to say I looked exactly like him, not like my mother, that made me unhappy too." In evaluating Sawado, all of his reactions are relative to his feelings for his mother: for example, "Mother's strength and firmness made her [Sawado] seem retiring, by contrast." Tadasu marries to provide his mother with a servant. He takes Takeshi, his brother, to live with him to be near one who resembles his stepmother and to fulfill his wish, "simply to go on living as long as possible with Takeshi, my one link with Mother."

Tadasu's mother complex is an obsession. Doi identifies a number of pathological conditions associated with an obsession, all of which relate to amae psychology. One of these, hitomishiri, is the way a baby comes to distinguish its mother from other people, objecting when other people hold him, calming down only in his mother's arms. If a child's hitomishiri is too strong, the child will make no move to leave its mother and tends to shy away from strangers.

Tadasu exemplifies hitomishiri. As a child, he cried incessantly for his mother and would not be quieted until she came to him. After her death, when Okane, his nurse, tried to comfort him, he "cried about in bed. 'I don't want you to sing for me. I want Mama!' Kicking off the covers, I howled and wept." At times his father would try to comfort him, but Tadasu rejected him because of his father's intolerable "masculine smell."

Doi writes about hitomishiri:

Where the individual is by birth extremely sensitive or where the mother's personality or other environmental factors have hindered a good relationship with the mother during the early stages, the individual it seems never transcends the experience of hitomishiri which continues into adulthood.

The frustration of amae which Tadasu experiences is a function of his mother's death and of a father whose own sense of loss made it impossible to comfort his son or to serve as an adequate love object substitute. Therefore, coupled with Tadasu's fixation at a stage of hitomishiri, Tadasu lives with feelings of the frustration of amae (shinkeishitsu) and the feelings of shame associated with them.

The frustration of amae has many other effects, including the tendency to form an inadequate sense of self (jibun ga nai). Doi points out that if the need to share amae with a mother has been unsatisfied or if the primary love object is denied to the child, satisfactory feelings of self are impossible to attain. This is because the loss of the world to which one belongs is normally experienced as a loss of the self. Tadasu suffers from this sense of inadequacy. Tadasu defines himself through his identification with others, most notably his mothers. He acknowledges his passivity and lack of initiative. He accepts all demands and acquiesces in all decisions made about his life (with, of course, the outstanding exception of his indulged desire to sleep with and presume upon his mothers). In the end, he chooses to live his life for his mother's sake and ultimately for her memory. In short, he totally denies his own jibun as an active, asserting being.

Associated with an inadequate sense of self is the tendency to project. Tadasu frequently projects attitudes and motives to his mothers and his father, which enables him to deny responsibility for his actions. He attributes to others the feelings he is afraid to acknowledge because of his weak sense of self. After he suckles with his mother at age eighteen, Tadasu rationalizes and projects responsibility for the act onto his parents. For example, "possibly knowing he [father] hadn't long to live, he was trying to create a deeper intimacy between mother and me so that she would think of me as taking his place and she made no objection." Tadasu is merely the passive one who obeys the will of others and is dependent upon them. Doi concludes that a man who has a jibun is capable of checking amae, while a man who is at the mercy of amae has no jibun. Tadasu is clearly the latter.

At more aggressive moments, Tadasu's projection transforms itself into a sense of being victimized (higai). In anger at his mother and father for the shame of nursing at his mother's breast at eighteen, his first thoughts are, "I hardly think Mother would have tried to tantalize me so shamelessly without his permission." Ultimately, Tadasu expresses feelings of regret, kuyama, defined by Doi as "to regret something that has happened over which one has no control, or about which it is too late to do anything." After Tadasu suckles in the third episode and acknowledges that he has no self control, he has feelings of deep regret. Once again, this kind of regret Tadasu's impotence and jibun ga nai.

The frustration of amae leads to feelings of loneliness and insatiable yearning. The word loneliness appears a number of times in the memoir, both in relation to Tadasu and to his father. The term is used to end the tale when Tadasu offers a final explanation for all that has gone before:

Because my real mother died when I was a child, and my father and stepmother when I was some years older, I want to live for Takeshi until he is grown. I want to share with him the loneliness I knew.

Another more tentative interpretation of the effect of frustrated amae on Tadasu is related to homosexuality. Doi suggests that closeness to the mother and frustration of amae in some cases lead to homosexuality. As the tale ends, Tadasu tells us that he will never marry again and turns his attention to a young boy, his brother. Tadasu is reluctant to acknowledge Sawado's beauty and tells us that only others think of her as beautiful. Further, his identification with his mother rather than his father suggests the classic Freudian cause of homosexuality. While there is no overt reference to either bisexuality or homosexuality, the closing passage is suggestive of a final denial of women in his life.


The frustration of amae in the lives of the Japanese has led to the development of an archetypical pattern. This pattern, seen in Japanese literary figures like Yoshitsune, includes many pathological factors already cited by Doi. In early life, the frustration of amae and a sense of denial fixate the character in a stage of infantile dependence. Life is thereafter permeated with an emotional yearning. The archetypical character is often sensitive and yet can exhibit cruelty or contradictory behavior. The character will often presume upon others. Most importantly, he is compulsively driven to be self-destructive. Eventually, the character resigns himself to his loss and from continued frustration becomes increasingly passive and apathetic.

The archetypical pattern fits Tadasu's life in many ways. Tadasu was denied amae in his early childhood by the death of his mother and the inability of his father to amae with him. Tadasu's yearning for amae continues throughout his life. His behavior toward his mothers is one of extreme indulgence and presumption. His sensitive nature, as demonstrated in his acute sensory description and awareness, is contrasted with his selfishness and cruelty as revealed in his plan to marry Sawado and use her for his mother's purposes. Clearly, Tadasu's relationship with his stepmother is self-destructive though he pursues it as if without choice.

Tadasu becomes increasingly passive and dependent on others, particularly mother figures. Tadasu acknowledges his passivity when he writes, "not that I was determined to steal Takeshi away from them and bring him home again. I am not the sort of person to do a thing like that on my own initiative."

Tadasu is the subordinate in his home although he is a married man, already about twenty years old, and the only male figure. Tadasu writes, ". . . . since I was still going to school and was still a dependent . . . Mother was in charge of all the household accounts." At an earlier point, when his father tells him to marry for his mother's sake and give away his child should he ever have one, Tadasu makes no objections. He passively agrees. Tadasu tells us that he was always careful to ensure that he never conceived a child, thereby fulfilling his father's wishes even after both his stepmother and father are dead. At the end of the tale, presumably because of the scandal of incest, Sawado's family forces him into a divorce settlement in which he loses his estate. Once again, it appears that he accepted these events with resignation. Finally, he ends up working as a bank clerk in the bank once owned by his father, a clear demotion and fall from power and status. In all these ways, Tadasu's passivity exemplifies the results of a frustrated need to amae and reflects the Japanese archetypical pattern of amae pathology.


Tadasu's personality and behavior are in many ways clearer than those of his father and stepmother about whom he tells us. Veiled by Tadasu's tendency to project and distort, his selective inattention, and his ambivalence towards his parents, the father and stepmother are enigmatic figures. In addition, the ambiguity in characterization is due to Tadasu's inability to distinguish between reality and illusion. The motives for the parents' actions are presented to us as questions in the mind of Tadasu, questions which he cannot answer because he is incapable of decisiveness and is torn by conflicts of trust-mistrust and shame.

The father was an insular man who "liked a quiet life." His main respites were his wife and the solitude of his home and garden to which he seldom invited guests. The father presents a contrast to the grandfather who was active and financially more successful, living in the hub of Kyoto business and social life. We are told that the grandfather's teahouse, built for entertaining, was no longer in use. From these few background facts, we may infer that perhaps Tadasu's father also suffered from some pathology of amae which made him adverse to strangers and capable of only limited communication.

The father's life appears to center around his first wife. Except for an "appearance at his bank now and then . . . [he] spent most of his time at home with her." Tadasu makes a point of telling us that his father's love and attention for his mother were so strong and undivided that they excluded him:

All my father's love was concentrated on my mother. With this house, this garden and this wife, he seemed perfectly happy.

This suggests that Tadasu felt frustrated amae with his father even before the loss of his real mother. If Tadasu had already felt rejected by his father, we can more readily understand his inordinately close relationship with his first mother and interpret, in part, his excessive need for her as a response to his father's distance.

However, numerous references to the father reveal his concern and interest in his son. Tadasu's memories include many episodes of eating at home, dining out, and feeding fish with his mother and father. Although no feelings of warmth towards the father are to be found in these descriptions, they do suggest some domesticity and a family relationship.

The most significant clue to the father's personality is his direct admission to Tadasu that "Her death was a terrible blow to me—I couldn't get over it." The father states that he is remarrying only because the woman resembles his first wife. He has a persistent, pathological need to think of his second wife as his first wife. Here, then, is the basis for the crucial influence of the father on the son. Because of the father's need to believe that his present wife is his first one, he projects that need onto Tadasu. The father manipulates others to ensure that Tadasu thinks of the stepmother as his first mother. This served to ensure the security of the father's own fantasy, his bridge of dreams which denied the reality of death. Tadasu's acceptance of this illusion further assured the perpetuation of the fantasy. Thus, Tadasu writes, "No doubt father had instructed my present mother how to behave and was trying his best to confuse me about what my mothers had said or done so that I would identify them in my mind." A further example is that the father changes his second wife's name to Chinu, the name of his first wife.

In a second way, the father projects his needs—this time onto his wife. He assumes that his wife has a need to see him reincarnated in Tadasu. Therefore, the father says to Tadasu on his deathbed:

"Everyone says you resemble me. I think so myself. As you get older you'll look even more like me. If she has you, she'll feel as if I am still alive. I want you to think of taking my place with her as your chief aim in life, as the only kind of happiness you need."

There is no evidence to confirm that, in fact, the mother wants Tadasu as a reincarnation of her husband, but rather preferred to maintain him as a young lover quite distinct from her husband. It is really only the father's need which is reflected here. Consistent with the father's life struggle to shun death by creating illusions, the father structures this last bridge of dreams to perpetuate his own life on earth.

The father's inability to accept his wife's death may well have had its roots in a personality maladjustment established before her loss. His social isolation would suggest this. Nonetheless, his wife's death is the factor which dramatically alters his ability to function and eventually leads him along a self-destructive path.

As the father progresses in his self-destructive behavior, his motives become increasingly unclear. Tadasu states that his father had no objections to Tadasu lying with his stepmother during his adolescence. This raises questions about the father's motives, but it still does not seem necessarily insidious or perverse. However, we learn of other more questionable acts: the father probably knew that Tadasu was suckling from the stepmother at age eighteen; the father gave away his second son; and, on his deathbed, the father asks Tadasu to take his place with his second wife. We must, therefore, view the father's motives as pathological, harmful to himself as well as others. This calls to mind the title of another Tanizaki novel, Some Prefer Nettles, because the father appears to be masochistic.

The issue is further complicated by the geisha past of the mother, also presented in a veil of mystery. In the father's apparently self-destructive behavior, he may have been responding in some way to her immoral past. Tadasu suggests that perhaps the father's fatal illness has driven him to resignation. The doctor's prohibition against sexual relations may also have affected the father. Whether or not the father willfully desired to destroy his son, the father did so at the expense of his wife and his own personal shame.

The father also exemplifies the archetypical pattern of amae pathology which, in turn, explains some of his enigmatic behavior. In the end, the father succumbs to total passivity in the face of a wife who succeeds in demoralizing him and his son. This is born out by Tadasu's references to his father as one who "made no objections," which demonstrates an essentially passive attitude to other's actions. The father also states that he is resigned to death. Most significantly, the father is locked into a compulsive selfdestructive need to recapture the illusion of his first wife, even if it means living vicariously through the delusion and arousal of his own son.


The stepmother's personality is even more complex and ambiguous than the father's. Not only are we unclear as to her motives, we also cannot be sure at times that Tadasu is speaking about her, rather than the first wife. For example, we do not know for sure which mother wrote the poem at the beginning of the tale. The spectrum of possible interpretations for the stepmother begins at one extreme in which she is a perverted, lascivious, former geisha who indulges herself with father and son. At the other extreme she can be understood as the passive subordinate of a sick, self-destructive husband who orders her to carry on perverse activities in order to satisfy his obsession with his first wife; she patiently tends her husband during his illness and treats Tadasu with the indulgent love of a Japanese mother.

The ambiguity which surrounds this character is typified by Tadasu's inability to decide why she and his father sent the baby away. Tadasu makes numerous conjectures about her motives, ranging once again from characterizing her as a demonic whore to a self-sacrificing mother, which is, in fact, the range of Tadasu's confused images of his mother figures. At one point, Tadasu writes that possibly the stepmother sent the baby away for Tadasu's sake (as confirmed by the father's words on his deathbed). At another point, Tadasu thinks that sending the baby away gave the stepmother more of an opportunity to entice him. It is implied that perhaps her activities and status as a former geisha or her role as a second wife had something to do with her decision. Sokichi Tsuda indicates, however, that ordinarily Japanese stepmothers are particularly covetous of their own real children because only they are bound in obligation to their parents. Therefore, the stepmother would not be likely to give the baby away. Her husband's imminent death or his prohibition from intercourse may have affected her decision. And, last, if the most extreme of the rumors is true, that Takeshi is Tadasu's own son, then sending the baby away could be seen as an act of shame or denial.

Any combination of these interpretations is possible. The evidence, however, points heavily in the direction of her incestuous activities, although not to the extreme position that Tadasu is the father of the baby. We are told early in the tale that the stepmother, "preferred the thick, fleshy Konoe line . . . which probably reveals her personality"; which is to say, it reflects her sensuous nature. She was a geisha; and whether or not she had been officially married before, she was divorced after three years for an unknown reason. Tadasu writes that he was reluctant to ask Okane about his stepmother's past because he was afraid of what he might discover. We do not, however, know what aroused Tadasu's suspicions. One might conjecture about the feelings of rejection the stepmother felt as a result of that first marriage. There are suggestions of her excessive physical self-indulgence, if not bisexuality. She spends most of her time getting massaged by Tadasu and Sawado. Sawado is said to massage the stepmother alone at night in the stepmother's bed. The stepmother's selfishness is clear when Tadasu discusses his marriage and she replies, "You're not getting married for their benefit—it's enough if you and I and Sawado are happy." The order of pronouns is significant here; it characterizes the stepmother's interference between Tadasu and Sawado as a married couple.

For Tadasu, as for Tanizaki in other works, feet are used repeatedly as the symbol of female sensuality. Tadasu writes about his real mother:

Mother would sit at the edge of the pond and dangle her feet in the water, where they looked more beautiful than ever. She was a small, delicately built woman with plump, white little dumpling like feet which she held quite motionless as she soaked them in the water letting the coolness seep through her body . . . Even as a child I thought how pleasant it would be if the fish in our pond came playfully around her beautiful feet, instead of coming only when we fed them.

Foot imagery itself contains the dual association central to Tadasu's confusion; that is, the feet are both sensual and maternal.

In remembering his stepmother, Tadasu writes,

As I looked at her feet through the water, I found myself remembering my real mother's feet. I felt as if they were the same; or rather to put it more accurately, whenever I caught a glimpse of my mother's feet, I recalled that those of my own mother, the memory of which had long ago faded, had had the same lovely shape.

The sensuous nature of the stepmother's feet is confirmed by the daughter-in-law who perceives them as a source of envy and jealousy. This reaction to the stepmother's feet provides one of the few clues to Sawado's feelings towards her mother-in-law. When the mother invites Sawado to dangle her feet, too, Sawado responds, "Your feet are so pretty! . . . I couldn't possibly show ugly ones like mine beside them!"

Preoccupation with feet and feet fetishes, evident in Tadasu's attachment to the memory of his mother's feet, have been associated with mother complexes. Donald Keene states [in Landscapes and Portraits, 1971]:

Psychoanalysis has cleared up one of the remaining gaps in our understanding of fetishism . . . Both the feet and hair are objects with a strong smell which have been exalted into fetishes after the olfactory sensation has become unpleasurable and been abandoned. Various of Freud's followers have pointed out that fetishism is associated with a clinging to the mother and a strong desire to identify with her, and with castration anxiety . . . Tanizaki's fetishisms . . . seem to be associated with longing for the mother which is a powerful intermittent theme in his works.

For Tadasu, feet represent sexuality and his mothers, and each memory of breast feeding refers to the hair of his mothers.


Whether Tadasu did, in fact, commit incest with his stepmother is a significant ambiguity central to understanding what happens to Tadasu after his father's death. We first hear rumors of incest from Okane, although she need not be believed. Okane does, however, represent the community at large and its responses to the behavior of this secluded Kyoto family. There are other more significant factors which suggest that incest did occur. First, the tale is a confessional written for a reason which Tadasu will not share with us. As if attempting to expiate his guilt by writing down his deeds and their causes, he tries to purge himself. Just at the time in the narrative when Tadasu would have begun having sexual relations with his stepmother, he intrudes into the text to tell us that lies of omission may follow because

There are limits even to telling the truth. There is a line one ought not to cross. And so, although I certainly never write anything untrue, neither do I write the whole of the truth.

Other than incest, there is no action logically emanating from the text itself which Tadasu could be withholding from the reader. In addition, Tadasu tells us that he, "went to suckle at Mother's breast more than once," at the age of eighteen and after. He also writes that "unable to forget the days when mother had given her breasts to me, I now found my sole pleasure in massaging her." After his father's death, he tells us that his stepmother thrives so well that, "Mother was almost too plump as if now that father was dead her worries were over." And, finally, we are not told (because, as Tadasu states, "it is too painful to relate") the reason for his divorce and the settlement in favor of Sawado and her family.

Tadasu's guilt could have stemmed solely from his confused incestuous desires and his shame about breast feeding with his mother as an adult. However, incest itself is the natural conclusion of the events described and is consistent with the degree of pathology associated with the stepmother, the son, and the father.


Shame is a significant aspect of "The Bridge of Dreams" which affects the form of the work, specifically, the point of view. The tale itself is written as an "I" memoir. It is a confessional of Tadasu's abnormal life, a life for which he bears great shame. He writes,

I am not writing out of a desire to have others read this. But even .. . if no one ever reads it, I shall have no regret.

Tadasu himself calls the work a "novel"—referring perhaps to an I-novel (shishosetsu). The tale concerns a man who is self-indulgent, preoccupied both by an obsession and by his resultant shame associated with the obsession. He is excessively introverted and sensitive with a tendency to distort reality. The formal manifestation of this sense of shame lies in the use of a subjective "I" or first person narrator.

Helen Merrill Lynd notes that the experience of shame cannot be expiated. It carries the weight of "I cannot have done this. But I have done it and I cannot undo it, because this is I." It is pervasive . . . ; its focus is not a separate act, but a revelation of the whole self. The thing that has been exposed is what I am. For this reason, the shame of Tadasu is not expiated by his confessional, but continues to his last words which indicates that his shame is ongoing.

Shame is central to Tadasu's behavior and attitudes about himself. Tadasu frequently uses the term shame in reference to his own sense of shame as well as to his parents' shamelessness. The most dramatic statement of his shame follows the third episode of breast feeding. He writes,

In an agony of shame, wondering how I could have harbored such insane feelings, I paced back and forth around the pond alone. But at the same time that I regretted my behavior and tortured myself for it, I felt that I wanted to do it—not once, but over and over. I knew that if I were placed in those circumstances again—if I were lured by her again that way—I would not have the will power to resist.

Tadasu's shame was dramatically revealed to him by acting out his long-felt incestuous desires. It led to his recognition of his total lack of self-control. He saw himself as unalterably "abnormal" without the desire or ability to change.

Tadasu's feelings of shame are related, in part, to his disappointed trust in his parents and their limited trust in him. Tadasu writes of his stepmother, "Did our sudden encounter give her the impulse to embarrass and upset me?" and "I hardly think Mother would have tried to tantalize me so shamelessly without his permission". Her shamelessness placed the burden of shame on Tadasu. As explained above in reference to jibun ga nai, a loss of self experienced as a result of parent's death creates a sense of shame in the one who has been abandoned. The father's inability to amae with Tadasu further confirmed the boy's feelings of inadequacy and shame. Later in life, Tadasu questions why his parents did not confide in him about the decision to send Takeshi away. For Tadasu, it is a sign of their mistrust. Tadasu often remarks that his parents think of him as a child, although he is already grown. This, too, confirms his feelings of shame.

Shame, then, as the emotional state resultant from frustrated amae, pervades the narrative world of this tale. Characterization reveals a confused, ambiguous portrayal of people and relationships. Point of view is limited to a subjective first person narrator using a confessional tone. The theme suggests the illusive nature of reality where people are caught in a confused world of dreams, sexuality, and death.

John Updike (essay date 1991)

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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 close we've smelled each other's farts!" When the cat gets into bed with him, "he would . . . stroke that area of the neck which cats most love to have fondled; and Lily would immediately respond with a satisfied purring. She might begin to bite at his finger, or gently claw him, or drool a bit—all were signs that she was excited."

In one of the two shorter stories bound in with this piece of feline erotica, "Professor Rado," we are not too startled when the taciturn professor, in a moment reminiscent of Proust or of Tanizaki's The Key, is seen through a window being caned by a lightly clad maidservant, but this just foreshadows the real voyeuristic treat, in which the professor is spied kneeling at the feet of a beautiful tall leper he has long admired from afar. Ecstatically he fits her deformed foot with an artificial toe, and she, her voice distorted by her diseased nose, tells him it doesn't hurt a bit. Masochism, O.K., and necrophilia, we've heard of that, but leprophilia?—it isn't even in the dictionary!

[In the introduction to his translation of A Cat, a Man, and Two Women, Paul McCarthy] offers in his introduction a helpful cultural observation: "Japanese society is characterized by quite clear-cut divisions between the public persona and the private life; between tatemae (what is outwardly expressed) and honne (what is actually thought and felt)." Voyeurism, the glimpse through a chink in tatemae into the depths of honne, recurs in Tanizaki, and a sense of mutual spying through the enshrouding forms of decorum permeates his stately masterpiece, The Makioka Sisters. His characters suggest potbellied stoves whose cast-iron exteriors conceal the fire that makes them hot. His stories have the propulsive fascination of hidden menace, and his characters keep deepening, pushing the story into new corners. Shinako, Shozo's rejected first wife, captures Lily in a spiteful maneuver but comes to love her much as her ex-husband did, and rapturously shares her bed with her. Lily, it should be said, is no simple indigenous cat, but "of a European breed," and "European cats are generally free from the stiff, squareshouldered look of Japanese cats; they have clean, chiclooking lines, like a beautiful woman with gently sloping shoulders." Thus Tanizaki, in 1935 on the verge of his six-year patriotic labor of translating The Tale of Genji into modern Japanese, gently burlesqued the infatuation with things Western that he had sympathetically dramatized in his novel of 1924, Naomi.

The cat story ends puzzlingly: Shozo, discovering that his former wife has reconstituted his loving relationship with Lily, flees, "as if pursued by something dreadful," just when a Western reader expects a happy reconciliation on the basis of a shared passion. Nor does the ending of the second shorter story, "The Little Kingdom," take us where we thought we were going. The reader, foreseeing a power struggle between a fifth-grade teacher, Kaijima, and a mysteriously magnetic student, Numakura, who organizes all the other students into a little kingdom of unquestioning allegiance, petty theft, and commerce in an invented currency, instead sees the poor instructor almost resistlessly succumb to the student's spell, as illness and poverty drag him and his family down. The students' little kingdom proves to be the only realm wherein he can acquire milk for his baby, and the bitter irony of this comes upon us without warning. In Tanizaki, the bizarre reaches out to possess reality; perverse sexual obsession is just his most usual instrument for demonstrating how precariously society's façades and structures contain the underlying honne.

Nobuko Miyama Ochner (review date 1993)

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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 long-deceased mother in an effort to learn about her background. The longing-for-mother theme is given an important twist in this novel, because Tsumura finds and falls in love with a cousin who resembles his mother, and eventually marries her. In other words, the image of the mother and that of the wife overlap—an important thematic link in the eleventh-century classic The Tale of Genji, in which the hero continually seeks the love of women resembling his dead mother. The influence of this classic tale by Murasaki Shikibu on Tanizaki is quite clear, for Tanizaki spent seven years (1935-1942) on translating the fifty-four chapters of The Tale of Genji into modern Japanese, not once but three times. (A direct result of Tanizaki's immersion in The Tale of Genji is his long novel The Makioka Sisters, 1943-1948, a nostalgic portrayal of the affluent Osaka merchant family in decline; this novel is often called the modern Tale of Genji.)

The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi is set in the sixteenth century, during the period of the so-called "Warring States," a time of constant warfare among samurai lords. In his first historical fiction, Tanizaki uses the device of a modern-day narrator gathering his material from diverse historical sources to tell the story of the unusual sexual life of the warlord. In the case of The Secret History, these sources are all fictitious, but the manner of their use gives the air of authenticity to the novel. This narrative technique is used also in other works (such as "A Portrait of Shunkin").

The story focuses on the sexual deviation of the hero, from its awakening in his boyhood to its grotesque development in his adulthood. As a young boy, he is sent to his father's overlord as hostage and experiences a siege by enemy forces. It was standard practice during the medieval period in Japan to take enemy heads as proof of one's conquest. The boy witnesses a group of women cleaning, dressing, and tagging severed heads of the enemy for inspection. He is mesmerized particularly by the faint, unconsciously cruel smile of a beautiful young woman as she looks upon the heads, and he wishes to become a severed head himself, to be handled and smiled at. The morbid, masochistic pleasure he experiences becomes the most intense when he sees a head without the nose. Evidently, warriors sliced off the noses of the enemies instead of their heads when they had too much to carry, to identify and claim their trophies later. The boy becomes obsessed with the noseless head, and when he sneaks into the enemy camp and kills the sleeping general, he takes the general's nose. The siege ends abruptly, and the cause of the general's shameful death is kept a secret. The boy reaches adulthood, is now called Terukatsu, and continues to serve the overlord. Some years later, Norishige, the son of the overlord, marries Lady Kikyō, the daughter of the dead enemy general. A series of shooting accidents occurs to Norishige, in which he eventually loses a part of his upper lip and an ear. It becomes clear to Terukatsu that someone is trying to shoot off Norishige's nose, and he senses the revenge of Lady Kikyō for her father's ignominious death. Terukatsu offers his services to the lady and becomes her accomplice. One night Norishige is attacked and his nose is sliced off. Terukatsu becomes the lady's lover and derives sexual stimulation from the sight of the comically pathetic noseless Norishige. Lady Kikyō's hidden malice and cruelty toward her husband are projections of Tanizaki's image of the Japanese woman of the feudal period—a woman who has a virtuous appearance yet harbors thoughts of an illicit love, hatred, cruelty, and so forth.

When Terukatsu becomes the lord of the province of Musashi and marries, he tries to recreate the sadistic pleasure by having a servant pose as a noseless head; however, his wife's refusal to participate in this game puts an end to his plan after the first attempt. His marriage thus turns out to be disappointing, so Terukatsu attacks Norishige's domain and captures his former overlord and lady, to try to regain Lady Kikyō's attention. However, the novel ends somewhat abruptly with Lady Kikyō turning into a virtuous and loving wife to Norishige and thus frustrating Terukatsu's scheme. The story is told through a mixture of narration and exposition, with restraint and humor. Much of the humor is generated by the "clown" figure of the harelipped and noseless Norishige, whose increasingly severe speech impediment is ably, if not with scientific accuracy, captured in English translation as, for instance: "I affeal hoo you hymhahy as a samurai" (I appeal to your sympathy as a samurai).

Arrowroot (the original title: Yoshino kuzu, or, Yoshino arrowroot) is set in the modern times of the 1930s. It is at once a simpler and a more complex work than The Secret History. It is simpler in terms of "plot": the writer-narrator visits Yoshino, an area rich in history and legends, in search of material for fiction, in the company of a friend named Tsumura, who searches for his dead mother's relatives there and finds a cousin, whom he marries. Abounding in scenic descriptions, the work may thus be described as a travel sketch. The novel is complex in terms of interlocking imagery, associations, and multiple layers of time.

The frame of the novel is the narrator's recollection of his trip to the mountains of Yoshino twenty years earlier, in the early 1910s. In addition to this return to the narrator's personal past, various literary associations and historical legends surrounding Yoshino also point to several time periods in the past. These include the narrator's memories of earlier trips to Yoshino as well as a Kabuki play associated with the location (dating back to the eighteenth century); the narrator's viewing of the drum Hatsune, said to be made with a fox skin—the drum which purportedly belonged to Lady Shizuka, a paramour of the tragic hero Yoshitsune (twelfth century) and who is depicted in both the Kabuki play and Nō plays (fourteenth century). In Tsumura's memory, his mother is associated with the music "The Cry of the Fox," which is in turn associated with the folktale-based story of the fox, Kuzunoha (Arrowroot Leaf), assuming the human form, marrying a man and giving birth to a child, yet having to return to the animal realm. The longing-for-mother theme is evident in this fox/mother story as well.

In addition to such intricate linking of literary allusions, the work is imbued with the special aura of the mountains of Yoshino, which served as the natural fortress and hiding place for the Southern Court during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when the imperial line split into two factions and maintained an uneasy rivalry, finally ending in the victory of the Northern Court. These multiple layers of time resonate with one another and give depth to the narrative.

One of the characteristics of Tanizaki's writings is richness of sensory details. An excellent example is seen in Arrowroot, when the narrator and his friend are offered ripe persimmons: "A large, conical persimmon with a pointed bottom, it had ripened to a deep, translucent red, and though swollen like a rubber bag, it was as beautiful as jade when held up to the light. . . . Tsumura and I each devoured two of the sweet, syrupy persimmons, reveling in the penetrating coolness from our gums to our intestines."

Anthony Hood Chambers (essay date 1994)

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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 years in the late 1920s and finally published in 1931 as Yoshino kuzu (Arrowroot). It was slow to take shape. Tanizaki had written fifty pages before he started over with a new setting (autumn instead of spring) and a new focus, a young woman making paper in the village of Kuzu. By December 1929, the story line had evolved into something resembling that of the final version, but progress was still slow. He wrote to his editor:

I have been having so much trouble writing that I have started over once again, this time in epistolary form. That is why I am behind schedule. . . .

This is the outline of the story. The main character's late mother in these letters was once a prostitute in Shimmachi. Even now, his mother's relatives are farmers in the mountains of Yoshino. He marries their daughter. To find the family, he takes a number of old redemption certificates and love letters from the storehouse and studies them.

The writing was interrupted early in 1930 by "complications" at home, which led to the sensational announcement in August that Tanizaki's wife Chiyo would divorce him and marry his friend Satō Haruo. In any case, Tanizaki was dissatisfied with what he had written so far. He confessed to his editor, "I have reread my 'Kuzu no ha' and am not impressed. I would like to rewrite it as a children's story and publish it in a magazine that caters to women or children." Instead, he continued his research, visiting Shinoda Forest and combing second-hand shops for courtesans' letters and apprenticeship papers. During a stay on Mount Yoshino in the fall of 1930, he reviewed primary sources on the history of Yoshino, hiked to the sites he mentions in the novella, and wrote most of the final version. The result is one of his most subtle and complex works.

Arrowroot has two important characters: Tsumura, a pampered, romantic youth from Osaka, and his friend, a skeptical Tokyo writer, the narrator. The narrator's initial motivation for accompanying Tsumura to Yoshino is a desire to learn more about "the secret history of the Southern Court," about which he wants to write a book. Tsumura, for his part, is driven there by a longing to recapture his lost childhood. As the narrator grows in sensitivity and understanding, he loses interest in his historical research and grasps the centrality of Tsumura's dream, so that the two quests gradually merge into one.

Tsumura's story emerges little by little, and the novella is half read before one grasps his centrality. His relationship with the narrator resembles that between the shite (protagonist) and the waki (side-man) of a nō play: the waki usually appears on stage first and fixes the attention of the audience, but his main function is to set the scene for the shite, provide a foil for him, and encourage him to tell his story. As the focus of Arrowroot shifts and narrows, the central question turns out to be, "Then what is the purpose of this trip?," as the narrator asks Tsumura at the beginning of the last chapter, fulfilling his role as waki by eliciting the heart of the story from the shite. Tsumura, about to unveil his last secret, replies, "Well, there is something I haven't told you about yet."

In addition to the waki-shite relationship, Arrow root adapts the jo, ha, and kyū (introduction, agitated development, quick close) structure and rhythm of the nō and other genres of Japanese performing arts. In a representative nō play, the waki makes his entrance in the jo and explains why he has come to the site of the drama. The shite enters during the first part of the ha and hints of his past in an emotional narration. In the second section of the ha, the waki and the shite discuss the history of the site; and in the third section of the ha, the shite relates past events at the location. The pace gradually quickens as the play moves from one section to another. These divisions correspond with Tanizaki's chapters. The jo consists of the narrator's commentary on the Heavenly King and his decision to accompany Tsumura to Yoshino in "The Heavenly King." The ha begins with the travel account that takes the two men from Nara to Natsumi in "Imoseyama." This lyrical chapter, studded with literary allusions, is a michiyuki—a poetic litany, common in Japanese theater, of the sights and impressions of a journey. The michiyuki helps suspend disbelief by lulling the reader into a world apart—from the immediate, everyday world of Tokyo, via the old capitals of Kyoto and Nara, to a timeless setting in the depths of the Yoshino mountains, a dream world where Tsumura can establish his own "reality" and unfold his mystery to increasingly receptive narrator and readers. The ha continues with the visit to the Ōtani house in "The Drum Hatsune" and Tsumura's disclosures in "The Cry of the Fox" and "Kuzu." In the kyū, "Shionoha," the narrator and Tsumura go to Kuzu together, the narrator hikes into the mountains, and finally the narrator is reunited with Tsumura and Owasa.

The narration flows from the secondary narrator (Tsumura), to the primary narrator, and finally to the reader. This degree of distancing is particularly effective in creating the narrative "shadows" that Tanizaki advocated, because the action is far enough removed to afford the reader's imagination room to grow. The shadows are deepened by the chronology: the narrator is recalling a trip already twenty years in the past, and Tsumura's reminiscences go back another twenty years. Chronological distancing also enhances the story's plausibility, as Itō Sei has pointed out: "The narrative begins with the actuality of the narrator—in other words, with the present—and works gradually back into the past. In the process, the sense of present reality is extended to a sense of reality in the tale of the past. It is the technique of a picture scroll that begins with the present and moves back in time as it is unrolled" [Tanizaki Jun'ichirō no bungaku ].

Tsumura's search for his mother's village is ordinary enough; but by placing it in rich geographical, historical, legendary, and literary contexts, Tsumura endows it with a splendor and universality that induce the narrator and the reader to participate in his world with him. Even a reader who is not already familiar with Yoshino lore will recognize the fundamental appeal of spring blossoms and autumn foliage; an ancient, exciting history; folkloric archetypes, such as "mysterious mountain recesses," "the sacred jewel hidden deep in a cave," and magical foxes; and, above all, a child's quest for his lost mother. Tsumura universalizes his story by cloaking it in these elements. The village of Kuzu becomes the prototype of all hometowns lost or forgotten in the rush of modernization; Tsumura's search for his mother embodies longings that everyone feels.

The associations that bring a setting alive are abundant in Yoshino. Recalling Arrowroot thirty-two years after its publication, Tanizaki contrasted Tokyo (the narrator's home) with Yoshino:

Cherry-blossom viewing in Tokyo is simply a matter of sitting in a tea room behind bamboo screens, eating dumplings, roast taro, and hard-boiled eggs, and drinking bottled Masamune. In the shadow of these flowers are no Yoshitsune, Wakaba-no-Naishi, Shizuka, Tadanobu, or Genkurō the fox, no Hatsune drum or Hiodoshi armor. Blossom viewing without these associations did not seem to me like blossom viewing at all. . . . There is no fantasy in the Tokyo blossoms. But when I went to see the famous blossom sites in western Japan I felt as though I might somewhere meet the phantom of Wakaba-no-Naishi or Lady Shizuka, and at times I even felt as if I had turned into a fox or into Gonta and was wandering about, lured [as on the stage] by the sound of a drum or a whistle.

References to the history of the Southern Court and the legendary Heavenly King dominate the introductory section of Arrowroot The narrator mentions the nō play Kuzu and the fourteenth-century chronicle Taiheiki and lists the books he has used in his research. The most important associations in the rest of the novella are with fox legends in the plays Yoshitsune senbonzakura (Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees) and Arrowroot Leaves, and in the song "Konkai" ("The Cry of the Fox").

The relatively short michiyuki, which follows the introductory section, is particularly rich in allusions. The most important allusion is to the fox Genkurō (a character in Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees), who is drawn to Minamoto Yoshitsune's mistress Shizuka and to her drum Hatsune, because his parents' skins have been used to make it. The subject of the fox and the drum is broached gradually. When Tsumura first mentions The Thousand Cherry Trees and Hatsune, the narrator pulls the narrative back to a factual, concrete level by quoting from the nō play Futari Shizuka (The Two Shizukas) and Yamato meisho zue (Famous Places in Yamato, Illustrated), and then only cautiously refers to Yoshitsune and Shizuka. The effect is to pace the emergence both of Tsumura as the central character and of the principal theme of the novella.

In the exposition section, extended allusions to The Thousand Cherry Trees, the fox Genkurō, Arrowroot Leaves, and "The Cry of the Fox" bring the fox theme to the center of attention. There is also an allusion to a celebrated ninth-century love poem:

Satsuki matsu hanatachibana no ka o kageba mukashi no hito no sode no ka zo suru
The orange blossoms that wait for early summer Bear the fragrance of the sleeves of the one of old.

(Kokinshū no. 139, anonymous)

This is the only allusion in the novella that is unrelated to Yoshino, which suggests that Tanizaki chose it especially for its thematic relevance. The allusion comes when Tsumura is thinking about his mother, and so contributes to a theme that has been developing with the fox allusions—that Tsumura's filial longing for his mother is also a romantic longing.

The Genkurō-Shizuka story has special significance for Tsumura because he believes that there are romantic overtones in the relationship between the fox and Shizuka. This is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Though the fox (in the form of Yoshitsune's retainer Tadanobu) and Lady Shizuka are in a servant-master relationship, the michiyuki of The Thousand Cherry Trees is choreographed to look like a lovers' journey. Tanizaki elaborated on this idea many years later:

Since it is the hand of a beautiful woman that holds the drum, there is no feeling of cruelty. Indeed, the child fox might well feel anger at the heartlessness of human beings; but if I, with my masochistic inclinations, were that child fox, I would on the contrary feel all the more affection for Shizuka and wish to serve her the more loyally.

According to Tsumura's interpretation, then, Genkurō the fox is romantically attracted to Shizuka because he associates Shizuka with the longing he feels for his mother; and the fox's situation becomes a metaphor for Tsumura's own. In his mind the concepts of "mother," "fox," "beautiful woman," and "lover" are intimately associated. In this context, Tsumura describes an aspect of his psychology that is frequently encountered in Tanizaki's male characters:

I am convinced that, from the first time I heard the song ["The Cry of the Fox"], my imagination saw more than just my mother. The figure I saw was my mother, I think, and at the same time, my wife. And so the image of my mother that I held in my little breast was not that of a matron, but that of an eternally young and beautiful woman.

One could hardly ask for a clearer statement of the fantasy that Tsumura shares with other Tanizaki men. The man is both child and husband; the woman, both mother and lover. As Tsumura says of Arrowroot Leaves, "the father and the son are of one mind in their love for the mother."

It is not quite enough, however, for Tsumura to put his longings in a universal context. Before the narrator can identify with them, he must set aside the modern rationality of a deracinated Tokyo writer and learn to appreciate legends and fantasies. He is more than just a waki, because his growing sensitivity is a central theme of Arrowroot.

At first the narrator sees no need to go to Yoshino at all: "I had completed my research on everything that could be investigated from a distance, and if Tsumura had not prodded me, I surely would never have set out for those mountain recesses. I had so much material that my imagination would take care of the rest, even without a visit to the site. In fact there are certain advantages to proceeding that way." Tsumura, on the other hand, stresses that there is more to Yoshino than the history of the Southern Court.

The narrator's attitude begins to change as soon as he reaches the Yoshino River. Gazing upstream from the bridge at Mutsuda toward Imoseyama (and toward Tsumura's ancestral village), he remembers having seen this view before as a child, his mother holding him, "young and impressionable, on her lap" and whispering in his ear. Visiting Yoshino again in his youth, he "leaned once more on the bridge railing and thought of my dead mother as I gazed upstream." A less romantic type than Tsumura, he has not dwelled on memories of his mother, but they have reasserted themselves nonetheless "at unexpected times," when he has recalled the view from the bridge "with a pang of nostalgia." In hiking upstream with Tsumura, then, the narrator, too, is pursuing memories of his mother, perhaps without realizing it.

Presently the narrator reverts to the skeptic. When Tsumura mentions Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees, the narrator thinks of Koremori and the famous Tsurube sushi-shop scene, which he dismisses as fiction, despite its importance to the residents of Shimoichi. Tsumura is more interested in the scenes that involve Shizuka's drum Hatsune than he is in the sushi scene, and he wants to visit a family in Natsumi that claims to possess the drum. Again the narrator is skeptical, even pedantic: there is no historical evidence that Shizuka was ever in Yoshino, he says, and the forebears of the Ōtani family were probably inspired by The Two Shizukas (which is set in Natsumi) to identify their drum as Shizuka's. As it turns out, the narrator is right—the drum appears not to be authentic. But Tsumura is undeterred. He is interested not in the literal facts, but in the idea—the tradition, the fantasy, the mystery—of Shizuka and the fox.

The Ōtani family also has a scroll that purports to be a history of Natsumi, but it, too, is dubious. Rather than helping to establish the true history of the region, the clumsy document ironically serves to remind the narrator of the importance of tradition and symbolism. The head of the Ōtani family believes that Shizuka left her drum there, and he believes in the scroll. The "truth" does not matter—the drum and the scroll symbolize the past glory of his family; they are the focal points of his respect for the past and they help him to find meaning in the present. Thus the narrator's faith in historical "fact" and his skepticism of tradition are weakened. History, as Tsumura has told him, is not everything; dreams about the past are important.

The journey up the river is a sensory delight. The narrator, accustomed to finding stimulation in books, finds it here in the "cold white" paper on the shōji, the "glossy, ripe coral surfaces" of persimmons glowing in the afternoon sun, the "sounds of a blacksmith's hammer and the sah-sah of a rice polisher," and especially in the ripe persimmons that he eats at the Ōtani house. Ultimately it is the persimmons that make the deepest impression on the narrator—"I filled my mouth with the Yoshino autumn," he recalls. In their rich vitality, they embody the non-cerebral world that he is learning to appreciate. Savoring Yoshino with all of his senses has reawakened this bookish writer, estranged in Tokyo from the Japanese heart-land, to the roots of his culture. He is ready now to listen to Tsumura's story.

Tsumura has clung to his dreams even when the facts justify skepticism. He has no clear memories of his mother but cherishes a vague image of her playing "The Cry of the Fox" on the koto. It does not matter that it was probably his grandmother, not his mother, whom he remembers. When he is shown a koto that belonged to his mother, the instrument excites his imagination, even though it may not be the koto he remembers. It is the fantasy that the koto stimulates that is important, not the precise identity of the koto or of the woman whom he remembers playing it. Similarly, Tsumura's fox-mother fantasies are stimulated by the discovery that his maternal grandfather actually worshipped a fox—a real fox—that lived near his house in Kuzu; but there is no fox when Tsumura arrives in Kuzu. Even Aunt Orito remembers little. She may even have forgotten her sister's name. The visit to Kuzu, in short, produces hardly any concrete information about Tsumura's mother: there is no fox, the koto is questionable, Orito's memory is unreliable. But none of this matters to Tsumura. On the contrary, the absence of facts is fuel for his fantasies.

Near the end of the novella the narrator sets out one last time in pursuit of facts, but his expedition deep into the Yoshino mountains beyond the village of Kuzu produces only fatigue and disappointment. He finds it impossible to learn the truth about the Heavenly King, despite his original confidence, and abandons his project. "Sannoko may be the site of legends," he concludes, "but not of history." As the narrator emerges from the mountains, leaving history behind, he sees Tsumura and Owasa crossing toward him on a suspension bridge. "The bridge swayed slightly under their weight and the sound [ko-n, ko-n] of their wooden sandals echoed in the valley." In Japanese convention, "ko-n, ko-n" is the sound of the fox's bark. With this haunting image, at once visual, aural, and romantic, the fox formerly venerated by Tsumura's grandfather comes back to life in the person of Tsumura's rediscovered "fox-mother," Owasa. Just as the persimmons upstage history and the senses eclipse the intellect, Tsumura's fantasies culminate in a marriage of archetypal happiness, while the narrator's research comes to nothing, except the story he has told.

Japan in the late 1940s was picking up the pieces, groping for a new identity under a foreign occupation, the nation's self-confidence shaken and its military tradition discredited. The Korean War, which helped to spark Japan's economic recovery, was in the future. Food was still being rationed; black markets were thriving. It was in these years of deprivation that Tanizaki emerged as the preeminent figure in Japanese letters with the complete publication of The Makioka Sisters, his receipt of the Order of Culture from the emperor in November, 1949, and the publication in 1949-1950 of Shōshō Shigemoto no haha (Captain Shigemoto's Mother)—his first piece of fiction after The Makioka Sisters. "This may be Mr. Tanizaki's greatest masterpiece," wrote Masamune Hakuch. "Shigemoto's Mother makes it clearer than ever that Mr. Tanizaki is a consummate writer" ["Kaisetsu," in Tanizaki's Shōshō Shigemoto no haha, 1953]. The critic Kamei Katsuichir wrote that Shigemoto's Mother "encompasses all the elements of Tanizaki's writing, it is their ultimate crystallization" ["Shōshō Shigemoto no haha oboegaki," Bungei, May, 1956].

Captain Shigemoto's Mother was the last novel Tanizaki wrote for newspaper serialization. He began negotiations with the Osaka Mainichi Shinbun after he had completed The Makioka Sisters in May 1948. At first he planned to serialize the sequel to The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi, postponed since 1933, but instead he decided on a novel set in the Heian court of the tenth century. He began writing Shigemoto's Mother as soon as he completed his move to an estate near the Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto in April, 1949, and completed it before serialization began in November. This was a remarkably short time for Tanizaki, who often lamented that he could write no more than two or three pages a day.

Tanizaki's interest in the Heian period was nothing new. His first published work, the play Tanjō (Birth, 1910), is based on eleventh-century sources and set in the Heian court, and a number of stories and plays that he wrote between 1911 and 1918 have Heian settings. Reminders of Heian culture also figure in several works from the early 1930s—Arrowroot, The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi, and The Reed Cutter. It was probably around this time that the idea for Shigemoto's Mother began to germinate. One of Tanizaki's principal sources for Shigemoto was discovered in 1931—Heichū monogatari, also known as Heichū nikki (Tales of Heichū, Diary of Heichū), a tenth-century work similar to other uta nikki or uta monogatari (poem-diaries or poem-tales) such as Ise monogatari and Yamato monogatari (Tales of Ise, Tales of Yamato). It was also around this time that Tanizaki told Sato Haruo he wanted to write a novel in the form of an uta nikki. In 1935 he began his first modern-Japanese translation of Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji), which was followed by The Makioka Sisters, with its many reminders of court culture. Just before Shigemoto's Mother he published "Fujitsubo," a translation of passages he had omitted from his first Genji; and right after completing Shigemoto he began his second Genji translation.

Before Shigemoto's Mother, Tanizaki had already offered imaginative, alternative "histories" in Arrowroot, A Tale of Chrysanthemums in Chaos, "A Blind Man's Tale," The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi, "A Portrait of Shunkin", Kikigakishō, and The Makioka Sisters. Each but the last of these takes the form of an historical novel, but, as Tanizaki admitted, they are largely the products of his imagination. The relationship of his material to actual events varies in these works, one extreme being represented by "A Blind Man's Tale," an imaginative elaboration on people and events that every Japanese pupil would have been familiar with, and the other extreme by The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi, which is pure fabrication. Tanizaki points out in his introduction to Chrysanthemums in Chaos that the tale takes place in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, a period that few people know anything about. "The author set his eye on this era," he writes, "not because he wanted to uncover unknown historical facts or characters, but because the age leaves free room for his imagination." "Tokugawa gesaku writers made Koremori the adopted son of a sushi-shop keeper," he continues. "I doubt that I will be able to muster that kind of audacity, but I hope that I can be uninhibited, even if it means that historians will scold me a little."

Captain Shigemoto's Mother differs from earlier Tanizaki works in its relationship to the historical background. "While striving to be faithful to historical facts," Tanizaki admitted, "I seek out the gaps in the historical record and there unfold my own world"; but he does not identify the "gaps" in the story of Shigemoto's mother, and his "own world" is so skillfully woven into the historical fabric that most readers will cross the line between documented and imaginative history without realizing that a line exists. In his preface to the 1951 edition of Shigemoto's Mother, Tanizaki explains, "For the most part this work is derived from classics of the Heian period. The author has named each of them and made it clear which sections are drawn from these sources. . . . The name of one fictional document—a 'source' fabricated by the author—is also included, however, and the passages relating to it are products of the author's imagination. This is already clear to those who know the name of the document, and the question has nothing to do with the literary value of this work. In consideration of the general reader's interest, therefore, the author has chosen not to identify the fictional source here."

All of the major characters—Shigemoto's mother (the central figure) and the men in orbit around her (her lover Heijū, her first husband Kunitsune, her second husband Shihei, her sons Shigemoto and Atsutada)—appear in authentic Heian texts, which are cited in the novel; but one of the "sources," Shigemoto no nikki (Shigemoto's Diary), is indeed fabricated. Most developments in the last four chapters of the novel—Shigemoto's encounters with his father Kunitsune and the reunion with his mother—are "based" on Shigemoto's diary and so are of Tanizaki's invention, while the events of the earlier chapters follow classical sources more or less faithfully. Heijū's theft of Jijū's toilet box, for example, is adapted closely from Konjaku monogatarishū (Tales of Times Now Past; twelfth century).

The fictitious Shigemoto's Diary is slipped in among authentic sources so that the transition is natural and plausible. The summary in Chapter 7 of the fate of Shihei and his progeny concludes with a discussion of Atsutada, Shihei's son by Shigemoto's mother; and Chapter 8, logically enough, proposes to tell what became of Kunitsune and his progeny. At the end of Chapter 7, the personality and love affairs of Shigemoto's half-brother Atsutada are described and a number of his poems are quoted; the discussion of Atsutada refers to no fewer than six classical sources and quotes six poems from Heian collections. This much attention might be excessive, since Atsutada himself never appears in the novel, but a great deal more is known about him than about Shigemoto—Atsutada serves as a relatively solid foundation upon which to fabricate Shigemoto. More important, the authentic classical citations at the end of Chapter 7 prepare the reader for the introduction of Shigemoto's Diary in Chapter 8. As Chapter 7 ends with examples of Atsutada's poetry, Chapter 8 begins with several of Shigemoto's, gleaned from Tales of Yamato and the Gosenshū (Later Selection of Poetry), both from the tenth century. "These references are commonly known," says the narrator, "but there is another, which is not so widely read, a manuscript in the collection of the Shōkokaku Library called Shigemoto's Diary." It hardly occurs to the reader to question the authenticity of this new source, when the narrator cites more than thirty authentic sources. The subsequent paraphrases of Shigemoto's Diary seem plausible precisely because earlier paraphrases of authentic sources are accurate, and because Shigemoto's Diary is presented in the same learned style. The reader is further beguiled by the fact that the first episode based on Shigemoto's Diary, in which Heijū writes a poem on Shigemoto's arm, can be partially verified in authentic sources. The episode has already been mentioned briefly in Chapter 6, where the source of the story (the headnote to Gosenshū no. 711) is quoted, and its reappearance in the context of Shigemoto's Diary helps prepare the reader to accept the purely fictional material that follows.

In fact, the headnote says simply "a child of the lady's"; the novel specifies that the child was Shigemoto. There is a good deal of fiction even in the first seven chapters of Shigemoto's Mother, the chapters based on authentic sources. Passages that appear to be straight exposition often embellish upon, or even deviate from, the sources. There is no evidence, for example, that either Shigemoto or his mother was still alive in 944, the year they are reunited in the novel. One fairly reliable source has Shigemoto dying in 931. In the world of the novel, however, Shigemoto cannot meet his mother until his half-brother Atsutada is dead. Atsutada is known to have died in 943, and so Shigemoto and his mother must be kept alive at least that long.

The clearest example of Tanizaki's adapting the historical past to his fictional world is Kunitsune's surrender of his wife to Shihei. Kunitsune—old, impotent, and therefore, he believes, unable to make his young wife happy—feels guilty for monopolizing her and yields her to his nephew Shihei. The episode is adapted from an account in Tales of Times Now Past, but in Tanizaki's hands it becomes another manifestation of the common Tanizaki motif in which a man yields a woman to a younger man. Often the man is unable to satisfy the woman sexually; the woman is usually, but not always, his wife. Citing a passage in Tanizaki Matsuko's memoirs, some commentators have assumed that the theme originated in Tanizaki's feelings for her; but it appears in his work as early the 1914 novella Jōtarō. Jōtarō, the title character, takes his former student and rival Shōji to see Otama, the woman they both love. Simultaneously attracted to both Shōji and Otama, Jōtarō grovels before them. "Many times he had tried to love this boy with the same passion as he would a woman and always failed. But now he became aware of an indescribable feeling of love and worship gradually overcoming the anger within him. The more strength and arrogance the youth [Shōji] displayed the greater was Jōtarō's masochistic feeling of joy in being overcome."

In this motif, then, the older man typically allows himself to be "overcome"—succeeded, superseded—by a younger man (or, in Quicksand, a woman) with whom he identifies and to whom he may be attracted. There is a wide range of examples. Kaname (in Some Prefer Nettles), having lost interest in his wife sexually, encourages her to have an affair. In Quicksand, Kakiuchi condones his wife's lesbian relationship with Mitsuko, to whom he, too, is attracted. Seribashi (in The Reed Cutter) teaches his son to love Oyū as he has loved her. The ailing professor in Kagi (The Key, 1956), believing that he is inadequate to his wife's sexual demands, encourages her relationship with the handsome young Kimura, both to assuage his sense of guilt and to enfiarne his jealousy and sex drive; and his wife, addressing her husband through her diary, observes that "[Kimura] is identified with you, you are part of him, the two of you are really one." The dying father in "The Bridge of Dreams" passes the baton, both psychological and carnal, to his son. Finally, the impotent old man of Fūten rōjin nikki (Diary of a Mad Old Man, 1961-1962) pushes his daughter-in-law, to whom he is powerfully attracted, into an affair with his nephew. The old man is explicit about the process by which he derives vicarious enjoyment: "I can be near a beautiful woman without arousing suspicion. And to make up for my own inability, I can get her involved with a handsome man, plunge the whole household into turmoil, and take pleasure in that. . . . Now that I can't enjoy the thrill myself any more, I can at least have the pleasure of watching someone else risk a love affair." In Shigemoto's Mother, Tanizaki shapes the episode from Tales of Times Now Past to fit the pattern of an older man yielding his wife to a younger, and Shihei becomes the first of Kunitsune's alter egos.

Judiciously chosen images accentuate the relationship between Kunitsune and his other alter ego, Shigemoto. The novel describes two memorable encounters between father and son. The first is set in Kunitsune's garden, where the old man teaches his son to recite verses by Po Chū-i that express his longing, and the second, at a riverbed burial ground where Kunitsune practices the Contemplation of Impurity in an attempt to forget his wife. Kunitsune's preoccupations, Chinese poetry and Buddhism, are foreign and conventionally masculine. Both encounters between father and son take place in autumn, the season of melancholy, decline, and impending death. The sensory imagery associated with Kunitsune is cold, harsh, and colorless: the morning after giving away his wife, he wakes up cold; Shigemoto is chilled by the cold ground under his feet and by the dew on his collar as he follows his father to the burial ground; and the cold, white moonlight that ruthlessly illuminates the corpses looks like frost on the ground—a simile that recalls a well-known verse by Li Po:

The moon shines brightly before my bed—
I took it for frost on the ground.
Raising my head I gaze at the moon;
Bowing my head I think of my home.

The imagery reinforces the foreign associations that have already been established for Kunitsune. References to Buddhist treatises and setsuwa collections give the passage a cerebral quality that is in keeping with Kunitsune and his attempts to escape his grief and so contributes to the effect of the image cluster.

The old man reminds one of the priest in Ueda Akinari's Aozukin (The Blue Hood), who goes mad with grief and devours the corpse of a beloved acolyte, then tries to free himself from his obsession by meditating on a couplet from a Tang religious poem. Kunitsune emerges from the burial ground a complex figure: grotesque yet appealing; cerebral yet emotional; distant, but sympathetic because he is so humanly weak. Through the imagery deployed around him, he is relentlessly associated with harsh light, foreign poetry and religion, cold, decline, decay, and death.

Kunitsune's Buddhist practices offer Shigemoto one way to overcome the loss of his mother. The imagery, as Shigemoto follows his father under the clear, cold moon, their shadows sharp against the white ground, echoes imagery in "Longing for Mother," The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi, and The Reed Cutter. In a dream, the narrator of "Longing for Mother" searches for his mother through just such a moonlit landscape. As a boy, the man in the reeds in The Reed Cutter has followed his father on long walks in the moonlight to Oyū's villa, where they peer at her through a hedge. Hōshimaru, in The Secret History, twice moves furtively through bright moonlight: first, when he follows an old woman on a cold, winter night to the storehouse where he sees the scene that will dominate his fantasy life; and second, when he slips out of the castle a few nights later to try to enact his fantasy for the first time: "It was about two o'clock in the morning when the boy started down the path. The moon that had cast its pale glow on his nightly visits to the attic rested now on the ridge of Mount Ojika and inscribed his shadow sharply on the ground. He held a thin veil over his head so that he would look like a woman fleeing the castle; as he walked he saw its tremulous shadow float across the ground like a jellyfish." The imagery in the burial-ground scene suggests that Shigemoto, like these other characters, is approaching a liminal experience, perhaps the catalyst for an obsession. Crossing a bridge over a stream (an image repeated in "The Bridge of Dreams") on the way to the burial ground, Kunitsune and Shigemoto enter a world apart, and "[t]he sight of his father kneeling like a solitary shadow in these surroundings made Shigemoto feel that he had been drawn into a weird dream world." Shigemoto seems to be on the brink of discovering "in the innermost recesses of his heart," as Hōshi-maru does, "a deep well of a different constitution, beyond the reach of his self-discipline." In a different novel, Shigemoto might have become a necrophiliac. But the dream that Kunitsune offers is the wrong dream at the wrong time—Shigemoto "was summoned back willy-nilly to the world of reality by the putrid smell that assaulted his nostrils." As he listens to his father's explanation of the Contemplation of Impurity, Shigemoto wants to cry out, "Father, please don't make Mother into something dirty." Hōshimaru goes back to the storehouse night after night, but one such night is enough for Shigemoto; he never accompanies his father to the burial mounds again.

Shigemoto's reunion with his mother in the next chapter contrasts sharply with the burial-ground scene. The latter has an intellectual tone, but the reunion is lyrical and, though the story originates with Tanizaki, almost every detail has precedents in Heian literature. The setting, at the western foot of Mount Hiei, is rich in literary associations. The full moon softened by the spring mist is the oborozuki of Heian poetry and of the Genji, not the ominous, cold moon of Kunitsune's autumn. It shines warmly on cherry blossoms and on the yamabuki, two of the favorite flowers of court poets, and under the cherry tree stands a nun veiled in white. The result is to associate Shigemoto's mother with the familiar and the traditional—native poetry, spring haze, cherry blossoms, the lingering fragrance of incense, soft, reassuring shadows, and the promise of life held by spring and by motherhood.

The image of a beautiful woman under a tree echoes countless Japanese works from ancient times to The Makioka Sisters. The familiar poem by ōtomo no Yakamochi (718-785) is an early example:

Haru no sono kurenai niou momo no hana shitateru michi ni idetatsu otome

A garden in spring—blossoming in fragrant pink
The flowers of the peach color the path beneath them where now steps forth a maiden.

(Man'yoshū XIX:4139)

Tanizaki's fiction routinely associates cherry blossoms with motherhood and continuity. The narrator of Arrowroot, for example, recalls his mother showing him the blossoms at Yoshino, and the Makiokas' annual visits to the blossoms at the Heian Shrine reinforce their ties with the past and give order to their lives. The close association of the cherry tree with Shigemoto's mother is unmistakable. When Shigemoto sees her from a distance, standing in the moonlight under the blossoms, he mistakes her at first for a drooping, flower-laden branch. When he realizes that the figure is human, he imagines that she is the fairy of the uncannily beautiful tree. His mother does not simply appear: she emerges from the blossoms as though created from them by some wonderful alchemy.

The image of a woman under a tree has Buddhist associations as well, because of the tradition that Maya gave birth to Siddhartha under a tree, and so is doubly appropriate for Shigemoto's mother, who has become a Buddhist nun. The theme of Buddhism is common to both the burial-ground scene and the reunion; but Kunitsune's Buddhism is ascetic, harsh, and cerebral, while Shigemoto's mother's is a gentler, more compassionate, more domesticated—in a word, more maternal—form. The full moon, a common symbol of Buddhist enlightenment, is a spring moon here; the full moons of "Longing for Mother," The Secret History, The Reed Cutter, and the burial ground are autumnal. Even her incense has both Buddhist and secular, even romantic, connotations. A famous love poem, already cited in connection with Arrowroot, comes to mind when Mother's incense reminds Shigemoto of the past.

Satsuki matsu hanatachibana no ka o kageba mukashi no hito no sode no ka zo suru
The orange blossoms that wait for early summer Bear the fragrance of the sleeves of the one of old.

(Kokinshū no. 139, anonymous)

The narrative gradually prepares the reader to accept Shigemoto's mother as an ideal figure capable of embodying both the maternal and the Buddhist. Her full name is never given; she is always "principal wife" (kita no kata), "the Ariwara lady," "Shigemoto's mother," or simply "mother." Her face is described as "mysterious," "beautiful," and "small," but individual traits are omitted. Shigemoto cannot see her face clearly when he visits her as a young child, and she is already described in transcendent terms—"It was like peering reverently at an image of the Buddha ensconced deep in a shrine, and he never had a full, satisfying look." She takes no action and rarely speaks.

Classical sources, however, reveal more about the lady and her family than the novel does. The narrator provides detailed information on her son Atsutada, but neglects to say that her brother Motokata was (like Atsutada) one of the Thirty-six Sages of Poetry, and that her elder sister is mentioned in Tales of Yamato and Gosenshū. The narrator also suppresses a report that Shigemoto's mother was "flirtatious, and she was not at all pleased at finding herself married to an elderly husband."

The idealization of Shigemoto's mother is enhanced by the points of view from which she is described—those of the men who love her and who are least likely to be objective. When Kunitsune peers at her, wondering what feelings lie hidden in her heart, he finds her face "mysterious" and "enigmatic." To the child Shigemoto, she is at first a sweet fragrance, then a beautiful face wreathed in soft spring light. After their separation, Shigemoto believes that she is too remote for him to approach—almost a being of another world. When he finally does meet her after forty years and looks up at her face, it is "blurred by the light of the moon filtering through the cherry blossoms; sweet and small, it looked as though it were framed by a halo" (emphasis added). The events of the last four chapters, based on Shigemoto's Diary, are seen through a child's eyes, and the most memorable pictures of both Kunitsune and his wife are sketched by Shigemoto from his childhood memories. A child's eye being an effective filter on events, all but a few essential details are blurred, while those that are remembered are endowed with the mystery, the beauty, or the horror most likely to impress a child. Shigemoto's fragmentary childhood memories are, in turn, filtered through the intelligence of the narrator, who selects and interprets. To Kunitsune and Shigemoto, then, Shigemoto's mother is not an individual woman with distinctive traits, but an idealization of womanhood and motherhood.

In their longing for Shigemoto's mother, father and son are one. The same trio—a dead or dying father, a beloved wife-mother, and a young son who eagerly assumes his father's role in adoring her—appears inThe Reed Cutter and "The Bridge of Dreams" as well. On the one hand, Kunitsune has qualities of a child—"the eighty-year-old Major Counselor wanted to wail, like a child calling for his mother" when he realizes that his wife is gone; and he is scolded like a child by Shigemoto's nurse. On the other hand, Shigemoto is Kunitsune's emotional heir. He perpetuates his father's longings for many years after his father's death, and when he is reunited with his mother at the end of the novel, he is both his mother's son and his father's surrogate. This is one reason the reunion scene is so powerful.

In longing for Mother, then, Shigemoto is Kunitsune's alter ego, but father and son respond differently to the lady's departure. Kunitsune turns to drink, Chinese poetry, and Buddhist sūtras to help him forget his wife, and tries to neutralize and purge his love by forcing himself to think of her as a decomposing corpse, but his attempts to forget her—or to turn her into something dirty, as Shigemoto puts it—fail. Shigemoto idealizes his mother and thereby avoids his father's misery:

"Mother," to him, was nothing more than the memory of a tearful face that he had glimpsed in his fifth year and the sensory awareness of her fragrant incense. For forty years, memory and awareness were cherished, gradually beautified into an ideal, and purified, until they had become something vastly different from the reality.

Even after all obstacles have disappeared, Shigemoto lets years go by before he visits her, because he prefers his beautiful memories.

It seems likely that Shigemoto wanted to go on forever adoring his mother just as he had seen her in his childhood. He had been angry with his father, deploring the desecration of his mother's image when the old Counselor practiced the Contemplation of Impurity, and during forty years of separation he had cherished an idealized version of his mother, which he had constructed from the image that lingered vaguely in his memory. What would she look like now, forty years later, having left the world after so many changes and become a servant of the Buddha? The mother Shigemoto remembered was an aristocratic woman of twenty or twenty-one, with long hair and full cheeks, but his mother the nun, living alone in a hut at Nishi-Sakamoto, was an old woman past sixty years of age. The thought must naturally have caused Shigemoto to shrink from facing cold reality. It may have seemed far better to embrace forever the image of the past, savoring his memories of her gentle voice, the sweet fragrance of her incense, and the sensation of her brush caressing his arm, rather than to drink rashly from the cup of disillusionment.

Shigemoto's approach is the opposite of the holy men so skilled in the Contemplation of Impurity that "a living beauty will come to look revolting, not only in the subjective view of the ascetic himself but in the eyes of onlookers as well"; instead, Shigemoto's imagination turns an elderly nun into a beautiful young woman. Like Sasuke (in "A Portrait of Shunkin"), he is able to render time and age irrelevant: he clings to an idealization of his mother, rather than trying to "erase her lovely image from the depths of his heart," as his father does, or seeking to interact with the woman herself. He admires Atsutada fondly from a distance because his half-brother resembles their mother. Even when Shigemoto finally does meet his mother again, he sees not the face of an old woman who has taken the tonsure, but a face "blurred by the light of the moon filtering through the cherry blossoms" that looks "as though it were framed by a halo," and so he is able to maintain his idealized image. Shigemoto himself ceases to be a middle-aged man: "in an instant he felt as though he had become a child of five or six," and "like a child secure in his mother's love, he wiped his tears again and again with her sleeve." Shigemoto's solution is far more gentle than Sasuke's, but finally he is like Sasuke in preferring a private, idealized version in place of the woman herself.

The apotheosis of Shigemoto's mother has precedents in Tanizaki's work but is nevertheless unusually explicit and complete. Shunkin is likened to "the Buddha Amida, coming to lead a devout believer to the Pure Land," but Shigemoto's mother actually becomes a religious figure. When Shigemoto asks her if she is the mother of the late Middle Counselor (Atsutada), she replies, "I was as you say, before I left the world [i.e., before taking Buddhist vows]." Having "left the family" (shukke), in the standard Japanese expression, and become a nun, she is no longer Atsutada's or Shigemoto's mother. She has become even more than a nun. An ethereal, indistinct figure illuminated by the full moon and standing under a blossoming cherry tree, she represents the simultaneous realization of Eternal Mother and of Buddhist enlightenment.


Jun'ichirō Tanizaki Long Fiction Analysis


Tanizaki, Jun'ichirō (Vol. 14)