I’ve been yearning for shadows since June 21st when the world took a tumble towards autumn, trailing crayon-bright, midsummer color and loud solstice revels. Parched by the bleached Scandinavian cottages and austere, no-tint white rooms that are everywhere online, I’m craving soothing darkness and a place to sequester in silence. This stark, in-your-face, white duvet bedroom suddenly hurts my eyes…and my soul. I want more yin, less yang.
Seeking solace, I turned to Japan, and a meditative book of essays, In Praise of Shadows,” by novelist Jun’ichiro Tanizaki. He expresses his nostalgia for the shadowy beauty once so characteristic of traditional Japanese houses, now fallen victim to rapid modernization.
“I would call back this world of shadows we are losing…I would have the eaves deep and the walls dark… I would strip away useless decoration… so that we may be allowed at least one mansion where we can turn off the electric lights and see what it is like without them.”
Tanizaki writes of a culture and aesthetic radically different from ours. In Japanese homes:
What first strikes the eye is the massive roof of tile or thatch and the heavy darkness that hangs beneath the eaves. Even at midday cavernous darkness spreads over all beneath the roof’s edge, making entryway, doors, walls, and pillars all but invisible…
In making for ourselves a place to live, we first spread a parasol to throw a shadow on the earth, and in the pale light of the shadow we put together a house. There are of course roofs on Western houses too, but they are less to keep off the sun than to keep off the wind and the dew; even from without it is apparent that they are built to create as few shadows as possible and to expose the interior to as much light as possible…
“If the roof of a Japanese house is a parasol, the roof of a Western house is no more than a cap, with as small a visor as possible so as to allow the sunlight to penetrate directly beneath the eaves.”
“There are no doubt all sorts of reasons—climate, building materials—for the deep Japanese eaves. The fact that we did not use glass, concrete, and bricks, for instance, made a low roof necessary to keep off the driving wind and rain. A light room would no doubt have been more convenient for us, too, than a dark room. The quality that we call beauty, however, must always grow from the realities of life, and our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms, presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty’s end.”
There is a sublime sense of peace present in these spare, shadowy interiors.
The quality that we call beauty, however, must always grow from the realities of life.
The weatherman announced a high of 91 degrees today.
It’s time to take a look around and see how I can create more shadowy places in my home, not only to tone down the temperature outside, but also the decibel level of everyday life. Is this something that might enhance your life as well?
*Photos from The Living Traditions of Old Kyoto