Jun’ichirô Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows (1933) describes a theory of aesthetics based on shadows. He suggests that, contrary to Western ideas of highly visible space, ambiguity and darkness are distinct characteristics of Japanese interiors. Kazuo Nakajima describes this condition as the blending of social practices and interior elements in indeterminate spaces of the vernacular Japanese home, and suggests the decline of such interiors has threatened the psychological stability of Japan since Western engagement, from the Meiji restoration of 1868.
Almost as affirmation of Nakajima’s fears, the same year Tanizaki’s essay was originally published in Japan, the Art Deco Residence of Prince Asaka was completed in Minato-ku, Tokyo. Now a house museum, this assemblage of interiors is credited room-by-room to either the French interior designer Henri Rapin or the Japanese Construction Bureau of the Imperial Household, confirming for Nakajima a division between Western and Japanese concepts of space.
This paper questions Nakajima’s dualist reading of the Residence’s interiors by unpacking the complexities of Western engagement in the Japanese interior from the Meiji restoration until the 1930s. Additionally, this paper examines parallel concepts of interior space that directly influenced the Residences conception, from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris and the 1920s Culture Life movement in Japan. From these historic and contextual examinations, this paper demonstrates a fundamental shift from the concept of space in the Japanese interior described by Tanizaki and Nakajima. It suggests that Western engagement displaced how value was attributed in the interior, from things that were unseen to things that were seen.