In Praise of Shadows and the Decline of Culture

“We also have a cultural phenomenon: the emergence of a global culture, or of cultural globalization.”
Peter L. Berger

Recently, I finished reading In Praise of Shadows (1980) by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki. I found the essay to be beautifully written and I urge you all to read it. Tanizaki presents to us the importance of shadows to the traditional Japanese aesthetic. Through using examples, he expresses the increasing loss of darkness and shadows from the daily lives of the people. He believes that shadow is an essential part of beauty and it is an intrinsic part of Japanese aesthetics and that it affects not only buildings but also objects such as gold. After reading the essay, I was transformed and saw the world in a whole new way. I started appreciating the beauty of traditional objects in their natural setting and realise that modern technology is not always good. 


I always valued gold as one of the most important metal throughout the world, as it is often associated with jewellery, dental, electronics and others. Tanizaki was able to present gold in a completely different way. Before there were electric lights, shadows were always important to the traditional Japanese aesthetic. Nowadays, most objects are created under the assumption that there would always be light to rely on, hence Tanizaki criticises our society for this. Objects were once created to utilise the shadows to become beautiful. Tanizaki mentions “for gold, in these dim rooms, must have served the function of a reflector.” (Tanizaki, 22-23) Who would have thought that gold would be used to reflect light? Through using gold, Tanizaki was able to connect it to the importance of shadow. He uses a “piece of black lacquerware, decorated perhaps with flecks of silver and gold” (Tanizaki, 13) and suggests that under the modern lighting, it would seem “unsettlingly garish and altogether vulgar.” (Tanizaki, 13) While if it was displayed under a small amount of light, the object would be viewed differently and seem somewhat “somber, refined, dignified.” (Tanizaki, 14) The small subtleties of life was captured and we can see the appreciation of the subtlety of gold to create luminescence to the existing shadows. 

Throughout the essay, one would see that Tanizaki seems to be critiquing the Western way as compared to the Japanese way, however, I prefer to not view this explicitly and instead look beneath the layers. I imagine him to be mentioning about the loss of one’s own culture as he provides his opinion on the progress of human beings as “never has there been an age that people have been satisfied with.” (Tanizaki, 39). As we further modernise, it is creating an increasingly large gap between the young and old, the male and female and ultimately between the rich and poor. 

I am one of the many people that fear that globalisation would inevitably lead to the loss of culture. It is evident that culture is ever-changing, it moves slowly to the point that we do not realise it. However, I believe globalisation has hastened the process, to the point where we can actually see it now. The majority of the world watches Hollywood movies, eats Western foods and listens to Western music. One might not notice, but through this, we are having our perceptions shaped by global companies. There has been a widening, intensifying and acceleration of the interconnectedness of the world. I’ll have to admit it, the idea of that seriously scares me. With how globally connected we are right now, I worry that one day Pangaea might exist again (although that is highly unlikely), but who knows! There have been so many surprises in history. 

I feel like cities are becoming more and more alike, most things that are culturally significant are now becoming a minority. One could go to another foreign country and still see familiarity, so much culture has already been lost. Fast food restaurants now are overbearing those who offer traditional food. Nearly everyone in the world now dresses in the same stereotypical fashion, created by those global big brands. 

However, if one does not follow globalisation, then they would be left behind from the others and forced to suffer their fate. What would one choose? Culture retention or globalisation? Or is a third way possible? 


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