Naomi Summary

Naomi is a 1925 novel by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki about a man named Joji who embarks on a tumultuous relationship with a young woman named Naomi.

  • Joji, twenty-eight, meets fifteen-year-old Naomi when she is working as a cafe hostess and takes her in, paying for her education.
  • The two secretly marry, but Joji later learns that Naomi has been unfaithful to him with multiple young men and has developed a reputation for promiscuity.
  • Naomi leaves at Joji’s behest, but Joji, still obsessed with her, eventually takes Naomi back, promising to give her anything she wants.

Summary

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

 Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s 1925 novel Naomi details the tumultuous affair between Joji Kawai, a twenty-eight-year-old engineer, and Naomi, the fifteen-year-old object of his affection. Initially, the novel was first released serially, and the chaotic turns of the pair’s complex relationship unfolded monthly, published chapter by chapter for the bulk of 1924 and 1925. 

Naomi begins with Joji’s chance encounter with the titular character, Naomi, a fifteen-year-old girl working as a hostess at a local cafe he frequents. Joji finds himself drawn to her Western-sounding name and appearance, and he decides that, despite her humble background and minimal means, she seems intelligent and virtuous. Enamored, Joji embarks on an unconventional courtship. He invites Naomi to dinners and to the movies. Eventually, he asks her to serve as his maid; in exchange, he will pay for her English and music lessons and educate her so she can grow into a “fine young woman.”

Happy with this arrangement, Naomi agrees. With the permission of her relatively impoverished family, the pair move into a Western-style home and live there as “friends.” However, the relationship slowly changes: Naomi calls Joji “Papa” while Joji appears to be falling in love with the younger woman. He indulges her every whim, including new Western clothes and Western dance lessons, and seems infatuated with her physical appearance. The pair soon marry, but the unconventional dynamic of their relationship and its vast age difference forces them to keep the true nature of their relationship a secret from their families and colleagues.

Years pass and Naomi grows up, maturing in a luxurious lifestyle much unlike that of her youth. She continues her classes but begins to develop friendships with the male pupils. Joji, uncertain about these relationships, grows jealous and deeply suspicious. Despite Naomi’s assurances of chastity and fidelity, Joji does not trust her. He soon uncovers the truth of her relationships with the various male friends in her life and discovers that she has had numerous affairs. Even worse, Naomi does not regret her transgressions. She apologizes half-heartedly but continues as she had before Joji discovered her secret, double life.

However, as Naomi becomes more modern and more Westernized, she becomes more and more manipulative and deceitful. Joji is horrified when he learns how many men she has had relations with and that they call her horrible nicknames as a result of her willingness. Finally, one day, Joji throws her out, and though he feels relief initially, that relief quickly turns into regret. Naomi frequently comes back in order to pick up small items she left behind, and it becomes clear to Joji that she is manipulating him again. Despite Naomi’s unsubtle tactics, her manipulation works: Joji is drawn back in. He will now do anything to have her come back to him because he is obsessed with her skin, which is now whiter, and her physical appearance, which appears more Western. Ultimately, she agrees to come back as long as he gives her plenty of money, buys her anything she asks for, and never asks questions about the men whose company she keeps. He knows that he will now do anything to keep her in whatever capacity he can, so he keeps his promise to allow her ultimate freedom.

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