The Japanese author, Junichiro Tanizaki (1886−1965), has suggested that Japanese aesthetics evolved within a culture acutely sensitive and receptive to shadows*. In his 1933 essay, ‘In Praise of Shadows’, Tanizaki suggests that this notion can be partly attributed to Japanese architecture. The low, sprawling roofs of traditional homes and temples shape the light in a very unique way. The rooms within are set a modest distance from the eaves, resulting in consistent illumination all year round. The shadows become more prominent the deeper you proceed into the recesses. It is in this seemingly eternal semi-darkness that materials have been explored, manipulated and refined to become objects that are inseparable from Japanese culture.
‘We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows’
- Junichiro Tanizaki.
We in the west light our spaces in a very different yet thoroughly comprehensive manner. At the flick of a switch we unceremoniously push light into every section of a room, thoroughly eradicating the merest hint of gloom. Sought after architecture adopts sweeping windows and skylights to capture and distribute the sunshine. It is suggested that Westerners are drawn toward things of an overtly shinny nature. I cannot help but liken this sentiment to imagining myself as a magpie. We value the clearest diamond and would never dream of serving our guests dinner on tarnished silver or brass. We like clarity and luminance. As a collective, we are not very comfortable with darkness.
It seems that the Japanese have traditionally been captivated by the subtle and transient qualities of the world around them. In a darkened room ones senses are heightened. The power of sight is diluted. One pays careful attention to the taste, sound, temperature and smell of a space. They begin to notice things that are previously undetected. The shimmery heat rising from hot soup, flashes of gold reflecting off an embodied kimono. Beauty for the Japanese is most prevalent in the experiences afforded by shadow.
*I must point out that this is a crude paraphrasing and the text has been interpreted for personal reflection, learning and sharing. I thoroughly encourage you to pickup a copy of the original as nothing else will do it justice. My aim is to make readers aware of this engaging resource.