Literary Arcadia Literature and other things

Naomi in Westernized Japan

In Junichiro Tanizaki’s Naomi, an older shy engineer becomes enamored with a fifteen-year-old cafe hostess.  Joji is attracted to Naomi because of her “Western” appearance and name, which to him represents a freedom that he feels he cannot find in traditional Japanese society.  He sees her as precocious, bright albeit uneducated, and free of the trappings of the rigid social order Joji wants to escape from.

Joji begins by thinking he should educate Naomi and takes her under his wing, having her take lessons and setting up a sort of idealized “play-house” where they can live together.  It was a bit off-putting at first for me- the whole older man taking a young girl and molding her into his ideal, so maybe if she turns out how he wants he will marry her (to be fair Joji never takes advantage of Naomi’s dependence on him – in fact his is really paranoid about not doing that).  Later Joji becomes obsessed by Naomi’s beauty and budding sexuality, as she becomes increasingly spoiled and manipulative.  As the novel progresses it becomes increasingly scandalous (and addicting!).

The collision of the two very different desires of Joji and Naomi is analogous with the collision of Western styles and influences versus the traditional Japanese.  Tanizaki, in his various works, repeatedly returns to the theme of West vs. Japanese.  It seems it is his personal obsession, to observe the changes in Japan, and to document them.  For more on this read one of my personal favorites, In Praise of Shadows.

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