, Research Paper
9 November 1999
Existence in a World Divided
Lurking in the ?mystery of the Orient?(Tanizaki 20) lies the images and beauty created by shadows. It is this traditional essence which is being replaced and forgotten as westernized culture and morality sprout their roots in the Japanese society. Tanizaki?s specifically examines this idea of clashing cultures in the essay In the Praise of Shadows, and indirectly and symbolically reveals this concept through the characters in Some Prefer Nettles. In Tanizaki?s novel Some Prefer Nettles Kaname and his relations with individuals and his surroundings reveal the clashing worlds in which he exists; clashing worlds which persuade individuals to appreciate and value the domestic world or the imported one.
Initially Kaname appears to have lost the sight and significance of the shadows that are absent in his life, revealing his intrigue and encouragement for the integration of the Westernized world. As his story reveals a personal confession about the women in his life, it also describes a cultural conflict. Kaname?s relationship with Misako is a rather ?modern marriage? in which they stay together out of mere convenience and also out of their own personal weaknesses. Their marriage seems a model of what is acceptable in the United States. ?They say that in the U.S. adultery is a common thing…most often it?s not the kind where the husband and wife are deceiving each other, but the kind where each one recognizes and ignores it? (108). Their marriage assumes a westernized standard which Kaname wishes was more acceptable in the Japanese society.
Kaname?s struggle to determine what kind of woman he wants in his life reveals his obsession with women and standards from outside the traditional Japanese society. The roots of his desire and intrigue of foreign women originally stems from the glamorized ?…Occidental view of women? (37). Worshiping a Greek goddess, or the Virgin mother appeals to Kaname. Feeling that women created during the Edo period were less compelling to knell before, he prefers the glamorized Hollywood actress. This embedded desire for an imported lifestyle is once again revealed through his relations with the ?assumed? American/European, Louise. ?the idea of her Western birth…had drawn him to her with special fascination…he found something of his longing for Europe satisfied in his relations with Louise (170). The underlying force that continues to persuade Kaname back into Louise?s bedroom alludes to the persuading impact of the western world and his desire to obtain a place in that world.
Kaname?s immediate environment and the customs that accompany it also reveal the persuading allure of the Westernized world prevalent in parts of Japan. The clashing worlds of Tokyo and Osaka contrast one another, depicting the different lifestyles and worlds that Kaname must choose between. Tokyo represents the ?city of foreign fads and of journalism, and of an intelligentsia created by the two…Tokyo is the capital of the nation, and Tokyo?s shallowness is having its effect on every one of the arts? (xi). Having been born and raised in Tokyo, Kaname expresses a negative feeling regarding the Osakan people. He admits that there is an apparent ?brashness, impudence, forwardness, a complete lack of tact…? (34) that the Osakan merchants personify. Osaka creates a feeling of the traditional essence of Japan through the description of the people and the customs which are a part of the lifestyle being carried on. The puppet theater, although not attracting the large crowds that it had previously, still plays a significant role in continuing customs–using traditional and less elaborate forms, costumes, and artists. It is once Kaname surrenders himself to Osaka and the merchants culture that his underlying desire to understand and be a part of the more traditional side of his society emerges.
As Kaname is pulled by the enticement of the ?old world,? the shadows in his life deepen and he touches an internal and external home recreated since his childhood. His previous desire for westernized cultural components (imposed upon him) begin to fade, and what he wants and appreciates is reexamined. He suddenly seems to become fixated on the ?doll like? O-hisa who embodies the traditional roles and attitudes of subservient women. Kaname finds a connection with the father ?s ideal world and ideal woman. ?A sensitive woman, a woman with ideas, can only get more troublesome and less likable with the years…one does better to fall in love with the sort of woman one can cherish as a doll? (153). Kaname wants to follow the example set forth by the old man, and once in the old man?s house, Kaname symbolically emerges himself into the traditional clove bath. Over time and by degrees, Kaname resumes traditional attitudes and tastes, and in the end eventually connects with the old fashioned mistress– abandoning the modern world entirely.
Kaname?s character symbolically represents the clashing cultural worlds in which Japan is divided and clouded by. Initially he identifies with and supports the incorporation of Westernized culture into the original customs and the future of Japan. But the understanding of the western world?s impact, having lured many away from a reasonable and original rate of development and tradition, has in turn created the drastic cultural splits within Japan. Symbolically, Kaname?s interactions and interpretations of women, and the environment in which he exists, represent the paradoxical relationships between the West and Japan.