Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows, an essay on Japanese aesthetics, is aimed to help us understand the spirit which pervades all aspects of culture:
Tanizaki explains that the Japanese, and to some extent the Chinese, aesthetic is tempered by an appreciation for shadows. Our Western culture is obsessed with light. We prefer mirror finished shiny metals, unmarred surfaces, immaculately polished wood finishes and profuse bright light. By contrast, the Japanese aesthetic prefers cloudy, weathered, worn, aged and patinaed surfaces and shadowy rooms. It is this preference which affects their selection and application of materials.
I’m a listener of what people appreciate as context for everyday life. Upon first traveling New Zealand more than ten years ago, I was struck by their overwhelming appreciation for light. A tour of each friends’ home began not with room-by-room architecture, but of where the light entered each room. New Yorkers, conversely, are aware more about size and proximity — to transport, to convenience, to one another. San Franciscans appreciate weather patterns with masterful expertise. Upon entering a home, I’m forever curious about which appreciation category will be revealed. I’ve yet to hear about shadows.