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Tanizaki Jun'ichirō

Tanizaki Jun'ichirō
Born 24 July 1886(1886-07-24)
Tokyo Japan
Died 30 July 1965 (aged 79)
Yugawara, Kanagawa, Japan
Occupation Writer
Genres fiction, drama, essays, silent film scenarios

Jun'ichirō Tanizaki (谷崎 潤一郎 Tanizaki Jun'ichirō?, 24 July 1886 – 30 July 1965) was a Japanese author, one of the major writers of modern Japanese literature, and perhaps the most popular Japanese novelist after Natsume Sōseki. Some of his works present a rather shocking world of sexuality and destructive erotic obsessions; others, less sensational, subtly portray the dynamics of family life in the context of the rapid changes in 20th-century Japanese society. Frequently his stories are narrated in the context of a search for cultural identity in which constructions of "the West" and "Japanese tradition" are juxtaposed. The results are complex, ironic, demure, and provocative.



Tanizaki (left) as a student of the First Higher School, and its Head Master Nitobe Inazō (right), in 1908

Early life

Tanizaki was born to a well-off merchant class family in the Ningyocho area of Nihonbashi, Tokyo, where his father owned a printing press, which had been established by his grandfather. In his Yōshō Jidai (Childhood Years, 1956) Tanizaki admitted to having had a pampered childhood. His family's finances declined dramatically as he grew older until he was forced to reside in another household as a tutor. Tanizaki attended the Literature Department of Tokyo Imperial University but was forced to drop out in 1911 because of his inability to pay for tuition.

Early literary career

Tanizaki began his literary career in 1909. His first work, a one-act stage play, was published in a literary magazine which he helped found. In his early years Tanizaki became infatuated with the West and all things modern. In 1922 he went so far as to move to Yokohama, which had a large expatriate population, living briefly in a Western-style house and leading a decidedly bohemian lifestyle. This outlook is reflected in some of his early writings.

Tanizaki's name first became widely known with the publication of the short story Shisei (The Tattooer) in 1910. In the story, a tattoo artist inscribes a giant spider on the body of a beautiful young woman. Afterwards, the woman's beauty takes on a demonic, compelling power, in which eroticism is combined with sado-masochism. The femme-fatale is a theme repeated in many of Tanizaki's early works, including Kirin (1910), Shonen ("The Children", 1911), Himitsu ("The Secret," 1911), and Akuma ("Devil", 1912).

Tanizaki in 1913, shortly after his literary debut.

Tanizaki's other works published in the Taishō period include Shindo (1916) and Oni no men (1916), which are partly autobiographical. Tanizaki married in 1915, but it was an unhappy marriage and in time he encouraged a relationship between his first wife, Chiyoko, and his friend and fellow writer Sato Haruo. The psychological stress of this situation is reflected in some of his early works, including the stage play Aisureba koso (Because I Love Her, 1921) and his novel Kami to hito no aida (Between Men and the Gods, 1924). Nevertheless, even though some of Tanizaki's writings seem to have been inspired by persons and events in his life, his works are far less autobiographical than those of most of his contemporaries in Japan.

He had a brief career in Japanese silent cinema working as a script writer for the Taikatsu film studio. He was a supporter of the Pure Film Movement and was instrumental in bringing modernist themes to Japanese film.[1] He wrote the scripts for the films Amateur Club (1922) and A Serpent's Lust (1923) (based on the story of the same title by Ueda Akinari, which was, in part, the inspiration for Mizoguchi Kenji's 1953 masterpiece Ugetsu monogatari). Some have argued that Tanizaki's relation to cinema is important to understanding his overall career.[2]

Period in Kyoto

Tanizaki's old residence "Ishōan" in Kobe, where he wrote the earlier part of Sasameyuki in 1943.

Tanizaki's reputation began to take off when he moved to Kyoto after the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake. The loss of Tokyo's historic buildings and neighborhoods in the quake triggered a change in his enthusiasms, as he redirected his youthful love for the imagined West and modernity into a renewed interest in Japanese aesthetics and culture, particularly the culture of the Kansai region comprising Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto. His first novel after the earthquake, and his first truly successful novel, was Chijin no ai (Naomi, 1924-25), which is a tragicomic exploration of class, sexual obsession, and cultural identity. Inspired by the Osaka dialect, he wrote Manji (Quicksand, 1928–1929), in which he explored lesbianism, among other themes. This was followed by the classic Tade kuu mushi (Some Prefer Nettles, 1928–29), which depicts the gradual self-discovery of a Tokyo man living near Osaka, in relation to Western-influenced modernization and Japanese tradition. Yoshinokuzu (Arrowroot, 1931) alludes to Bunraku and kabuki theater and other traditional forms even as it adapts a European narrative-within-a-narrative technique. His experimentation with narrative styles continued with Ashikari (The Reed Cutter, 1932), Shunkinsho (A Portrait of Shunkin, 1933), and many other works that combine traditional aesthetics with Tanizaki's particular obsessions.

His renewed interest in classical Japanese literature culminated in his multiple translations into modern Japanese of the eleventh-century classic The Tale of Genji and in his masterpiece Sasameyuki (A Light Snowfall, published in English as The Makioka Sisters, 1943–1948), a detailed characterization of four daughters of a wealthy Osaka merchant family who see their way of life slipping away in the early years of World War II. The Makiokas live a remarkably cosmopolitan life, with European neighbours and friends without suffering the cultural-identity crises common to earlier Tanizaki characters.

Tanizaki's handwritten tanka poem of 1963. "The heart of mine is only one, it cannot be known by anybody but myself."

Postwar period

After World War II Tanizaki again emerged into literary prominence, winning a host of awards, and was until his death regarded as Japan's greatest contemporary author. He was awarded the Order of Culture by the Japanese government in 1949 and in 1964 was elected to honorary membership in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the first Japanese writer to be so honoured.

His first major post-war work was Shôshō Shigemoto no haha (Captain Shigemoto's Mother, 1949–1950), with a moving restatement of the common Tanizaki theme of a son's longing for his mother. The novel also introduces the issue of sexuality in old age, which would reappear in Tanizaki’s later works, such as Kagi (The Key, 1956). Kagi is a lurid psychological novel, in which an aging professor arranges for his wife to commit adultery in order to boost his own sagging sexual desires.

Tanizaki's characters are often driven by obsessive erotic desires. In one of his last novels, Futen Rojin Nikki (Diary of a Mad Old Man, 1961–1962), the aged diarist is struck down by a stroke brought on by an excess of sexual excitement. He records both his past desires and his current efforts to bribe his daughter-in-law to provide sexual titilation in return for Western baubles.

Tanizaki died of a heart attack in Yugawara, Kanagawa, south-west of Tokyo, on 30 July 1965, shortly after celebrating his 79th birthday.


Many of Tanizaki's works are highly sensual, a few particularly centered on eroticism, and virtually all are laced with wit and ironic sophistication. Though he is remembered primarily for his novels and short stories, he also wrote poetry, drama, and essays.


Selected works

Year Japanese Title English Title Notes
1910 刺青
The Tattooer
1913 恐怖
1918 金と銀
Kin to Gin
Gold and Silver
1919 富美子の足
Fumiko no ashi
Fumiko's Legs
The Thief
1922 青い花
Aoi hana
1924 痴人の愛
Chijin no Ai
Naomi aka A Fool's Love
1926 友田と松永の話
Tomoda to Matsunaga no hanashi

Quicksand 卍(Manji)
film adaptation (1964)
film adaptation (1983)
film adaptation (2006)
1929 蓼喰ふ蟲
Tade kuu mushi
Some Prefer Nettles
1931 吉野葛
Yoshino kuzu
1932 蘆刈
The Reed Cutter
1933 春琴抄
A Portrait of Shunkin Film adaptation
Opera adaptation
In'ei Raisan
In Praise of Shadows Essay on aesthetics
1935 武州公秘話
Bushukō Hiwa
The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi
1936 猫と庄造と二人の女
Neko to Shōzō to Futari no Onna
A Cat, A Man, and Two Women
The Makioka Sisters Film adaptation
1949 少将滋幹の母
Shōshō Shigemoto no haha
Captain Shigemoto's Mother
The Key Film adaptation
1957 幼少時代
Yōshō Jidai
Childhood Years: A Memoir
1961 瘋癲老人日記
Fūten Rōjin Nikki
Diary of a Mad Old Man Film adaptation

Some works published in English

  • Naomi. Trans. Anthony Chambers. Vintage Press (2001). ISBN 0375724745
  • The Key & Diary of a Mad Old Man. Trans. Howard Hibbert. Vintage Press (2004). ISBN 1400079004
  • Seven Japanese Tales Trans. Howard Hibbett. Vintage Press (1963). ISBN 0679761071
  • The Gourmet Club Trans. Anthony Chambers and Paul McCarthy. Kodansha International (2001). ISBN 4770029721
  • The Makioka Sisters. Trans. Edward Seidensticker. Vintage Press (1995). ISBN 0679761640
  • Some Prefer Nettles. Trans. Edward Seidensticker. Vintage Press (1995). ISBN 0679752692
  • Quicksand. Trans. Howard Hibbett. Vintage Press (1995). ISBN 0679760229
  • A Cat, a Man, and Two Women. Trans. Paul McCarthy. Kodansha International (1992). ISBN 4770016050
  • The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi and Arrowroot. Trans. Anthony Chambers. Vintage Press (2003). ISBN 0375719318
  • Childhood Years: A Memoir. Trans. Paul McCarthy. Kodansha International.
  • The Reed Cutter and Captain Shigemoto's Mother. Trans. Anthony Chambers. Knopf, 1993.
  • In Praise of Shadows. Trans. Edward Seidensticker and Thomas Harper. Leete's Island Books, 1977.

See also


  1. ^ See Bernardi.
  2. ^ See Lamarre.
Plaque marking the site of the birthplace of Tanizaki Jun'ichiro in Ningyocho, Tokyo

Further reading

  • Bernardi, Joanne (2001). Writing in Light: The Silent Scenario and the Japanese Pure Film Movement. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0814329268. 
  • Boscaro, Adriana, et al., eds. Tanizaki in Western Languages: A Bibliography of Translations and Studies. University of Michigan Press (1999). ISBN 0939512998
  • Boscaro, Adriana and Anthony Chambers, eds. A Tanizaki Feast: The International Symposium in Venice. University of Michigan Press (1994). ISBN 0939512904
  • Chambers, Anthony, The Secret Window: Ideal Worlds in Tanizaki's Fiction. Harvard University Asia Centre (1994). ISBN 0674796748
  • Gessel, Van C. Three Modern Novelists. Kodansha International (1994). ISBN 4770016522
  • Ito, Ken Kenneth. Visions of Desire: Tanizaki's Fictional Worlds. Stanford University Press (1991). ISBN 0804718695
  • Keene, Donald. Dawn to the West. Columbia University Press (1998). ISBN 0231114354.
  • Lamarre, Thomas (2005). Shadows on the Screen: Tanizaki Junʾichirō on Cinema and "Oriental" Aesthetics. Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan. ISBN 1929280327. 

External links


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