Jun'ichirō Tanizaki  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Junichirō Tanizaki (24 July 188630 July 1965) was a Japanese author who was one of the major writers of modern Japanese literature, and remains perhaps the most popular Japanese novelist after Natsume Sōseki. His works often dealt a rather shocking world of women and destructive erotic obsessions, yet finding beauty in very traditional Japanese values. He is known for such novels as Quicksand, in which he explored the theme of lesbianism; and Diary of a Mad Old Man which was adapted for film twice.


Some works published in English


Early life

Tanizaki was born to a well-off merchant class family in the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo, where his father owned a printing press, which had been established by his grandfather. Tanizaki admitted to having a pampered childhood in his autobiographical "Yosho Jidai ("The Childhood Years"). His family's finances declined dramatically as he grew older until, he was forced to reside in another household as an apprentice. Tanizaki attended the Literature Department of Tokyo Imperial University, but dropped out in 1910 due to lack of money, and due to a scandal involving a maid from the household where he was apprenticed.

Early literary career

Tanizaki began his literary career in 1909 his first work, a one-act stage play, which was published in a literary magazine which he helped found. In his early years Tanizaki became infatuated with the West and all things modern. He moved from Tokyo to Yokohama, which had a large expatriate population, living briefly in a Western-style house and leading a decidedly bohemian lifestyle. This bohemian outlook is very strong in his earlier writings.

Tanizaki's name became known with the publication of the short story Shisei(The Tattooer) in 1910, which was strongly influenced by Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde. In the story, a tattoo artist inscribes a giant spider (the symbol of evil) on the body of a beautiful young woman. Afterwards, the woman's beauty takes on more of a demonic, compelling power, in which eroticism is combined with masochism. The femme-fatale was a theme repeated in many of Tanizaki’s early works, including Kirin ("Giraffe", 1910), Shonen ("Youth", 1910), and Akuma ("Devil", 1912).

Tanizaki's other works in the Taisho period include Shindo (1916) and Oni no men (1916), which are partly autobiographical. Tanizaki married in 1915; however, his first marriage was in fact a love triangle between himself, his wife Chiyoko, and fellow writer Sato Haruo. The psychological stress of a relationship between two men and one woman is found in his early works, include the stage play Aisureba koso ("If Indeed One Loves", 1921), his first novel, Kami to hito no aida ("Between Men and the Gods", 1924) and in Chijin no ai ("A Fool's Love", 1924-25).

He had a brief career in Japanese silent cinema, working as a script writer for the Jun Eiga Ka, or 'pure cinema movement' where he was instrumental in bringing modernist themes to Japanese film. He wrote the scripts for the films Amateur Club (1922) and Lasciviousness of the Viper (1923) (the inspiration for Mizoguchi Kenji's Ugetsu Monogatari.

Period in Kyoto

Tanizaki's reputation really 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 West and modernity with a passion for traditional Japanese aesthetics and culture, particularly the culture of the Kansai region comprising Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto. Inspired by the Kansai dialect, he wrote Manji ("Swastika", 1931), in which he explored the theme of lesbianism. This was followed by the classic Tade ku mushi (Some Prefer Nettles, 1928-29), showing how Tokyo's modern culture was superficial compared with Japan’s ancient cultural currents. In Yoshinokuzu ("The Arrowroot of Yoshino", 1931), he turned towards classical Japanese literature and story-telling techniques.

The change in his attitudes can be seen 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), a tale about four daughters of a waning Osaka merchant family. His characters often reflect his own turning away from Western modernism in favor of traditional Japanese aesthetics, with the hero of Naomi, for example, being seduced by Westernized women and led to his destruction, while Kaname in Some Prefer Nettles is torn between an affair with a traditional Japanese woman and his wife, who pursues an extramarital affair of her own with a modern man.

Though his early novels paint a rich atmosphere of 1920s Tokyo and Osaka, during the 1930s Tanizaki turned away from contemporary affairs to write about Japan's feudal past, perhaps as a reaction to the growing mood of militarism in society and politics.

Postwar period

After World War II Tanizaki again emerged into literary prominence, winning a host of awards and until his death regarded as Japan's greatest living author. He was awarded the Order of Culture by the Japanese government in 1949.

His first major post-war work was Shūshō Shigemoto no haha (Captain Shigemoto's Mother, 1949-1950), with the theme of love between mother and son. The novel also introduced 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 his final novels, Futen Rojin Nikki (Diary of a Mad Old Man, 1962) an aged diarist is struck down by a stroke caused 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 favors in return for Western baubles.

Tanizaki died of a heart attack in Yugawara, Kanagawa, south of Tokyo, on 30 July 1965.


Most 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. He was, above all, a masterful storyteller.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Jun'ichirō Tanizaki" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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