Jun’ichiro Tanizaki: Some Prefer Nettles

Jun’ichiro Tanizaki
Some Prefer Nettles
Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker
(1995, Vintage International, 202 pages)

Tanizaki (1886-1965), one of the most famous of all Japanese novelists, is probably best known for his big novel The Makioka Sisters (1943-48). Another of his classics is Tade kuu mushi or Some Prefer Nettles, published in 1928, in which he takes on a subject that became somewhat of an obsession for him – the conflict between tradition and modernization in Japan.

As Edward Seidensticker, the translator of this volume and one of the deans of English translation from the Japanese, points out in his Introduction, Tanizaki’s dark, sometimes erotically-charged early works, much influenced by Poe, were labeled “demoniac” in Japan. The Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 was apparently a turning point for Tanizaki and his career. That famous quake, which killed over 100,000 and devastated Tokyo, Yokohama, and nearby regions, also destroyed numerous old buildings and neighborhoods, provoking Tanizaki to a kind of nostalgia for Japan’s fragile, quickly disappearing past. Places like Osaka and Kyoto, where the traditional arts continued to flourish, became opposed in Tanizaki’s art – in Some Prefer Nettles and a number of other novels – to cities like Tokyo that were more forward-looking. Read more