IN PRAISE OF THE SHADOW: DISCOVERING BEAUTY THROUGH THE SHADOW
In our contemporary lives, we seek to bring natural light into our interiors, and when this is not possible, artificial light makes up for the lack. In Japan, traditional architecture is the complete opposite of this concept, which is no doubt one of the reasons why these precepts are so fascinating.
The main aim is to block out natural light, using deep canopies, verandas and shōji, the traditional sliding partitions covered in washi paper. The light entering the room is therefore only indirect, diffused, attenuated, precarious, transformed by the 'obstacles' it encounters along the way.
The phenomenon is accentuated by the walls, made of earth and painted in neutral colours so that the light doesn't reflect off them. These mysteries of shadow bring a meditative quality to the environment, "we feel that the air, in these places, contains a thickness of silence, that an eternally unalterable serenity reigns over this darkness".
As well as (re)reading the essential 'In Praise of the Shadow', a very interesting report is available (in English/Japanese with French subtitles) on the NHK World website. It draws fascinating parallels between Tanizaki's book and contemporary architecture (with an interview with Tadao Ando), while recalling the principles set out by the author (it can be found here)
IN PRAISE OF THE SHADOW: WEAVING IN THE WEFT OF THE NIGHT
Some of the most beautiful passages in the book are those dedicated to the impact of these plays of light and shadow on urushi lacquer objects painted with makie gold powder. The gleam is not the immediate effect sought, but on the contrary the idea that "darkness is the essential condition for appreciating the beauty of a lacquer", thanks to the deep reflections, "weaving on the weft of the night like a damask made of these drawings with gold powder". The object must retain an element of mystery, right down to the food it contains, for example miso soup, which will not be fully revealed at first glance as it might be in a ceramic piece.
If you'd like to find out more about Japanese urushi lacquer and Junichirō Tanizaki's appreciation of it, you can also read the article we wrote on the subject. (to be found here).