Praised Shadows

Jade Arroyo

Published in 1933, Japanese novelist Junichiro Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows is an essay about the Asian aesthetic and its appreciation of nuance. He argued that there is a puritanical beauty and grace in ordinary, everyday qualities (shadows, calmness, silence), but wrote of how the influence of modernity and the West’s desire for the bright and the loud were devouring this ethos.

Just before my first visit to Japan, I happened to read this book. Eventually, my whole trip revolved around it. I wanted to see what Tanizaki was talking about: the filtering of light, the flowing grain patterns of wood, the glistening of lacquerware in candlelight. But times have changed—Japan now has a thin but perennial occidental patina. Those subtleties were almost impossible to find, only felt or imagined in fleeting moments.

This is what I saw.

Text & Photography by Jade Arroyo