Authors: Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Japanese novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Itansha no kanashimi, 1917

Chijin no ai, 1924-1925 (serial), 1925 (book; Naomi, 1985)

Kōjin, 1926

Tade kuu mushi, 1928-1929 (serial), 1936 (book; Some Prefer Nettles, 1955)

Manji, 1928-1930

Bushūkō hiwa, 1931-1932 (serial), 1935 (book; The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi, 1982)

Sasameyuki, 1943-1948 (serial), 1949 (book; The Makioka Sisters, 1957)

Shōshō Shigemoto no haha, 1950 (The Mother of Captain Shigemoto, 1956)

Kagi, 1956 (The Key, 1960)

Fūten rōjin nikki, 1961-1962 (serial), 1962 (novella; Diary of a Mad Old Man, 1965)

Short Fiction:

“Kirin,” 1910

“Shisei,” 1910 (“The Tattooer,” 1963)

“Shōnen,” 1910

“Hōkan,” 1911

“Akuma,” 1912

“Kyōfu,” 1913 (“Terror,” 1963)

“Otsuya goroshi,” 1913

“Haha o kouru ki,” 1919 (“Longing for Mother,” 1980)

“Watakushi,” 1921 (“The Thief,” 1963)

“Aoi Hano,” 1922 (“Aguri,” 1963)

“Mōmoku monogatari,” 1931 (“ABlind Man’s Tale,” 1963)

“Ashikari,” 1932 (English translation, 1936)

“Shunkinshō,” 1933 (“A Portrait of Shunkin,” 1936)

Hyofu, 1950

“Yume no ukihashi,” 1959 (“The Bridge of Dreams,” 1963)

Yume no ukihashi, 1960

Kokumin no bungaku, 1964

Tanizaki Jun’ichirō shu, 1970

Seven Japanese Tales, 1981

The Gourmet Club: A Sextet, 2001 (Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy, translators)


Aisureba koso, pb. 1921

Okumi to Gohei, pb. 1922

Shirogitsune no yu, pb. 1923 (The White Fox, 1930)

Mumyō to Aizen, pb. 1924

Shinzei, pb. 1949


Bunsho no dukohon, 1934

“In’ei raisan,” 1934 (“In Praise of Shadows,” 1955)

Kyō no yume, Ōsaka no yume, 1950

Yōshōjidai, 1957 (Childhood Years: A Memoir, 1988)


Genji monogatari, 1936-1941, 1951-1954 (of Murasaki Shikibu’s medieval Genji monogatari)


Tanizaki Jun’ichirō zenshu, 1930 (12 volumes)

Tanizaki Jun’ichirō zenshu, 1966-1970 (28 volumes)


Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (tahn-ee-zahk-ee) explored Japanese traditionalism and the male infatuation with dominant women in a wide-ranging body of work embracing novels, novellas, short stories, plays, and essays. He was the son of the struggling owner of a printing establishment and spent his childhood growing up in the Nihonbashi section of Tokyo. His mother was quite attractive, and the young Tanizaki, as later autobiographical statements attest, was enthralled by her beauty. He was a handsome youth, often bullied by his classmates. In primary school, his precociousness was recognized by a teacher who guided him in exploring the Japanese and Chinese classics, giving him an early appreciation of traditions and literary aesthetics. At the First Municipal High School in Tokyo, he was an outstanding student and went on to study in the Japanese literature department at Tokyo Imperial University, where he joined the student literary magazine Shinshichū (new thought tides). Because he could not pay his university fees, he did not finish his degree studies, choosing instead to pursue writing as a career.{$I[AN]9810000809}{$I[A]Tanizaki, Jun’ichir{omacr}[Tanizaki, Junichiro]}{$I[geo]JAPAN;Tanizaki, Jun’ichir{omacr}[Tanizaki, Junichiro]}{$I[tim]1886;Tanizaki, Jun’ichir{omacr}[Tanizaki, Junichiro]}

His first substantial works were two plays published in 1910, but it was “The Tattooer,” an erotic short story describing the coming to life of a spider etched on the back of a drugged courtesan and the enraptured entrapment of the tattooer in the transformed beauty of his “victim,” that launched his literary career. In 1911 this Poe-like creation and other works won for Tanizaki the praise of Nagai Kafū, a writer-critic whom Tanizaki admired and who characterized Tanizaki as a fellow struggler against the prevailing naturalist school of writing and its emphasis on describing reactions to real-life situations. Many of his early works–“Shōnen” (children), “Akuma” (demon), and “Kyōfu” (terror)–reflecting fin de siècle influences of Charles Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, and Edgar Allan Poe and his personal infatuation with the hedonistic macabre, are characterized by “diabolism” (akumashugi), his preoccupation with the perverse and deviant.

Tanizaki was married for the first time in 1915; the marriage, which ended in divorce in 1930, was complicated by a liaison between his wife and his friend the writer Haruo Sato and by Tanizaki’s fascination for his sister-in-law Seiko. The writer’s involved personal life received autobiographical treatment in Itansha no kanashimi (sorrows of a heretic), about a gifted writer and the sadistic carnal attentions of his prostitute lover, and “Longing for Mother,” published a year after his mother died, concerning the narrator’s dream quest for his departed mother. These and other stories, serialized in magazines and newspapers, developed Tanizaki’s fixation on women characters representative of the idealized mother or the domineering sexual siren ministering to the lustful desires of emotionally repressed men. Other important writings from this period include an autobiographical novel, a two-act play set in Edo, and a rare political novel, perhaps inspired by the Russian Revolution. Tanizaki also wrote plays in the early 1920’s, exploring the theme of guilt and happiness involving two men competing for the love of one woman, and dallied with filmmaking. Important short stories from this period include “The Thief” and “Aguri.”

On September 1, 1923, the great Kantō earthquake devastated the Tokyo-Yokohama region, prompting Tanizaki to move to the Osaka region. This move interrupted the writing of Naomi, a long work (reminiscent of Pygmalion) about the effort to change a Japanese bar girl into a sophisticated woman capable of mingling in refined circles with foreigners. For some years, Tanizaki had been intrigued by the West, considering Europe to be a more vibrant civilization than the Orient. Though his early stories explored dissolute Japanese themes shrouded in the native past, he had, nevertheless, an admiration for things Western, as seen in Naomi.

He continued a flirtation with a Western lifestyle while residing near the port city of Kobe with its large foreign enclave, but gradually he discovered in the more traditional ways of the Kansai region (especially as characterized by the softspoken women of the area) an appreciation for vestiges of a fading past which rekindled childhood memories of what was no longer available in a Tokyo being rebuilt into a modern city. This interest in the customs, language, and style of the Osaka-Kyoto-Nara region became manifest in his writings, particularly the serialized novels Manji and Some Prefer Nettles. The former explored the intertwined relationship of two men and two women who relate to shared events from their different perspectives. Tanizaki had the dialogue translated into the Kansai dialect to give the story a sense of location. Some Prefer Nettles went beyond the contemporary localism of Manji to mark a complete return to the author’s nativist roots. Kaname, the main character, in the midst of a failing marriage complicated by a Eurasian prostitute who merely satisfies him and a wife, Misako, who is leaving him for her lover, becomes captivated by the harmonious traditional relationship between his father-in-law and his young mistress, Ohisa. In exploring what is lacking in his own “modern” relationships and discovering what his in-law has in his, Kaname comes to an appreciation of old Japan.

Tanizaki married a young Kansai woman in 1931, but he soon became infatuated with Matsuko Morita (who became his third and last wife), the wife of a wealthy merchant, who inspired him to write “A Blind Man’s Tale” and The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi. Other important works from this time are “Ashikari” and “A Portrait of Shunkin.” These writings reflected what Tanizaki described in his 1934 essay “In Praise of Shadows” as a preference for the traditional aesthetic over glaring modernism.

The Makioka Sisters, a novel chronicling the history of a declining Osaka family in the prewar years, was banned by the wartime military authorities for its acceptance of Westernisms. When the book was fully published in the late 1940’s, it won several awards and reestablished Tanizaki’s reputation. Tanizaki returned to Heian Japan for inspiration in The Mother of Captain Shigemoto to reconstruct fictitiously the perverse romance of a famous courtier and her lover. The story of an aged professor’s sexual dalliances related in his and his wife’s diaries in The Key, published in the Chūō Kōron journal, was a huge success. “The Bridge of Dreams” once again delved into the theme of mother fixation. Diary of a Mad Old Man, a humorous account of love in old age, was his last major work.

Analyses of Tanizaki’s literary career usually focus on the transitions in his life and the resulting effects on his writings. The decadent fascination with fetishes, sadism, excreta, and other perversities found in his early fiction are attributed to personal sexual ambivalances stemming from his childhood maternal fixation and adult marriage problems, expressed in a writing style liberated by exposure to Western writers. With his move to the Kansai region and ensuing disenchantment with occidental modernity, Tanizaki is said to have turned to the Japanese past as a new source of exoticism. During this middle period, he eschewed current events, returning to the classical and medieval ages for inspiration. With the completion of The Makioka Sisters, he turned to the recent but disappearing past while accepting the modernity of the times. His postwar writings were freed from an obsession with the past, and his lifelong exploration of sensual idealism was resuscitated in his final works.

The shifts from occidentalism to orientalism or from diabolism to classicism that many see in Tanizaki’s oeuvre are debatable. What transcends these speculations is the indisputable quality of literary craftsmanship shown in Tanizaki’s mastery of language and sensory detail (smells, tastes, sounds, colors) employed in an exploration of the hedonistically decadent. Weak men sexually enraptured by demoniac femmes fatales and haunting mother figures provide the motifs for delving into tradition and history. In 1927 the novelist Ryūnosuke Akutagawa criticized Tanizaki for his fixation on the fanciful and depraved at the cost of artistic value. Tanizaki rejected this critique, defending the “architectural beauty” of his writings. Indeed, despite the infatuation with prurient elements, his fiction captures an elemental Japaneseness expressed in an aesthetic of sensuality indelibly stamped with the author’s personality.

BibliographyChambers, Anthony Hood. The Secret Window: Ideal Worlds in Tanizaki’s Fiction. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994. Chapters on “ideal worlds,” “A Portrait of Shunkin,” and “The Bridge of Dreams.” Includes notes and bibliography.Gessel, Van C. Three Modern Novelists: Soseki, Tanizaki, Kawabata. New York: Kodansha International, 1993. Concentrates on Tanizaki’s handling of the theme of modernism. With detailed notes but no bibliography.Golley, Gregory L. “Tanizaki Junichiro: The Art of Subversion and the Subversion of Art.” The Journal of Japanese Studies 21 (Summer, 1995): 365-404. Examines the “return to Japan” inaugurated by Tanizaki’s Some Prefer Nettles. Discusses themes and images in the work and suggests that Tanizaki’s traditionalist fiction both championed and undermined the idea of an essential Japanese traditional culture.Ito, Ken K. Visions of Desire: Tanizaki’s Fictional Worlds. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1991. Chapters on his handling of the “Orient” and the “West,” on his treatment of the past, “The Vision of the Blind,” “Fair Dreams of Hanshin,” “Writing as Power,” and “A Mad Old Man’s World.” Includes notes, bibliography, and a section on names and sources.Keene, Donald. Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era, Fiction. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984. A massive study of the fiction produced since the Japanese “Enlightenment” in the nineteenth century. Chapter 20, pages 720-785, is devoted exclusively to Tanizaki, and he is mentioned in the introduction and in several other chapters in association with other writers and literary movements.Keene, Donald. Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era, Poetry, Drama, Criticism. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984. A companion volume to the entry cited above. Tanizaki’s writing for the stage is discussed in “Part Three: The Modern Drama,” and he is also mentioned in passing in “Part Two: Poetry in New Forms” and “Part Four: Modern Criticism.”Keene, Donald. Japanese Literature: An Introduction for Western Readers. New York: Grove Press, 1955. Unlike the comprehensive treatments cited above, this is a brief introduction to Japanese literature, designed for the neophyte reader. Tanizaki is only touched upon in the introduction and chapter 4, “The Japanese Novel,” but is discussed throughout chapter 5, “Japanese Literature Under Western Influence.”Lippit, Noriko Miuta. Reality and Fiction in Modern Japanese Literature. White Plains, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1980. Considers the struggle of several Japanese writers to define the function of art and literature both socially and personally. Sections on Tanizaki deal with his aesthetic preference for fantasy and complex structure, with a comparison to Edgar Allan Poe. Notes.Rubin, Jay. Injurious to Public Morals: Writers and the Meiji State. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1984. In this unusual approach, the author tackles censorship in Japan and analyzes the relationship between writers and the government. The sections on Tanizaki, an apolitical period writer, suggest ways censorship affected his early career. Contains interesting discussions of the bans on his short stories. Chronology, notes, a bibliography, and an index.Suzuki, Tomi. Narrating the Self: Fictions of Japanese Modernity. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1996. See especially the epilogue, “Tanizaki’s Speaking Subject and the Creation of Tradition.” Includes notes and bibliography.Thornbury, Barbara E. “Kagura, Chaban, and the Awaji Puppet Theatre: A Literary View of Japan’s Performing Arts.” Theatre Survey 35 (May, 1994): 55-64. Discusses the traditional performing works of Tanizaki Jun’ichiro and Uno Chiyo; claims that for both authors the traditional performing arts were a connection between the present and past, an important element in Japan’s cultural identity–and one that could be lost.Ueda, Makoto. “Tanizaki Jun’ichirō.” In Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1976. Discusses Tanizaki as one of the eight major writers who make up the bulk of modern Japanese fiction familiar to Western readers. Provides an introduction to major literary theories underlying Japanese novels and stories. Supplemented by source notes, a bibliography, and an index.Yamanouchi, Hisaaki. The Search for Authenticity in Modern Japanese Literature. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1978. Discusses twelve modern Japanese writers, analyzing the ways each dealt with the difficult personal, social, and intellectual questions in art. The sections on Tanizaki focus on the concept of eternal womanhood in his works. Includes notes, a bibliography, and an index.
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