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Naomi_(novel)

Naomi (novel)

is a Japanese novel with a Pygmalion theme by major writer of modern Japanese literature, Jun'ichirō Tanizaki (1886–1965). Tanizaki started writing it in 1924. The newspaper published it in serial format, but stopped halfway due to public outcry from the older generation. The periodical published the remaining chapters. Various Japanese and United States publishers have published the novel in book form since 1947.

Narrated in the first person by the protagonist, a salaryman named Joji, the novel is written in easy Japanese. It follows Joji's attempt to groom a Eurasian-looking girl, the titular Naomi, into a Westernised woman. Naomi is a significant work due to its depiction of Japanese culture during the era it was written. It is a comic commentary on Japanese fascination with the West. The progressive view of women as portrayed by Naomi in a new Japanese society created controversy between the avant-garde youth, and the older traditional generation. More important than the novel itself, the public outcry against Naomi showed a cultural clash as Japan moved from its old ways to a society influenced by Western culture.

Plot introduction

Before Jun'ichirō Tanizaki wrote Naomi, he lived in Yokohama, a fashionable part of Tokyo, full of Western influence. However, he was forced to move after 1923 Great Kantō earthquake devastated much of Yokohama. Fires broke out and destroyed major parts of Tokyo. The earthquake caused extensive damage, and many occupants of Tokyo and other major cities had to relocate. Tanizaki moved to Osaka where he spent the rest of his life writing works of fiction. Tanizaki won the Imperial Cultural Prize, the highest honor awarded to artists in Japan, for his various works of literature. He was nominated for a Nobel Prize for his lifetime achievements before his death in 1965.

Tanizaki wrote Naomi, in his early years, during the Japanese Industrial Revolution when Western influences took root in Japan, contrary to the Meiji period when Western ideas were first introduced. During this time Japan was transitioning from a Third World nation to a large world power. The novel reflects the perspective of a man shifting between modern and traditional Japan, and the conflicts associated with the era.

During the Revolution, a woman’s role in society was drastically changing. In the early stages of the Meiji Restoration, women were limited to working in textile factories. These factories provided dormitories for the workers who sent back their wages to their families in the countryside. However, during the Revolution, women started to take on other jobs as more population moved into the cities. The shift from country living to modern urban living, along with a growing adoption of Western culture created a new niche in society for women. The arrival of Western fashion and cosmetics spawned numerous job opportunities. Women became sales associates in department stores, or worked in service related jobs (in Naomi’s case as a café waitress). This lifestyle transition from country to city allowed many women to become independent of their families and employers. The act of these women beginning to choose their own men created more shock than their career independence. They lived on their own without being a subordinate to any men (including fathers and husbands). Cultural critiques began to pick up on this new class of women and the magazine Female coined the term modan garu (modern girl), or moga, to describe them. Tanizaki’s character Naomi, a 15 year old girl living on her own in the city, is a perfect example of a modern girl. Modern girls can be described as being independent, not bound by traditions or conventions, lacking Japanese grace but having tons of vitality, and holding apolitical views (not caring about women's suffrage).

Plot summary

Naomis story is focused around a man’s obsession for a modern girl. The main character, Joji, is a well educated Japanese man who is a middle management white collar worker in the city, and comes from a wealthy landlord family. Joji wishes to break away from his traditional Japanese culture, and becomes immersed in the strange new Western culture which was beginning to form in Japan. The physical representation of everything Western is embodied in a young girl named Naomi. He sees Naomi for the first time in a café and realizes everyone adores her. He decides he will raise her to be his glamorous Western wife such as Mary Pickford, a famous United States actress of the silent film era. Naomi herself does not look like a traditional Japanese girl; she was born with very Western features. Many say she looks Eurasian which is very exotic to Joji. Joji takes it upon himself to educate the girl who turns out to be a very willing pupil. He pays for her English education, and though she has no skill in it, she possesses beautiful pronunciation. Joji provides a home and funds Naomi’s activities such as going to the theatre and reading magazines. Joji does his best to try and foster independence and Western thought into Naomi. This backfires dramatically as she gets older.

Joji begins the novel being the dominator. However, as time progresses and his obsession takes hold, Naomi's manipulation puts her in a position of power over him. Slowly Joji turns power over to Naomi, conceding to everything she desires. Even though they are married, Joji sleeps in a separate bedroom and Naomi has frequent visitors. Joji is also required to leave the home for a set number of hours everyday. The book ends with Naomi having complete control of Joji's life, yet Joji is satisfied as long as his obsession with her is satiated. In one sense, this novel is a symbol of Western domination over traditional Japan. However, a case can be made that it is a celebration of Japanese culture, and a warning to not let Western culture spoil original Japanese traditions.

Main characters

Joji — The protagonist; a well educated man from a wealthy landlord family. He wishes to break from tradition, and moves to the city to become more Westernized. He meets Naomi when she was 15, and takes her under his wing to educate her. He becomes obsessed with the young girl and gives her everything she desires. Later he marries Naomi and becomes dominated by her.

Naomi — The antagonist; she is a beautiful young girl with many Western features including her name. She is uneducated but embodies Western culture. Naomi enjoys Western activities like visiting the theatre or looking at the pictures in Western magazines. She is the perfect example of a modern girl with little inhibitions and very sexually aggressive. Naomi is extremely manipulative and manages to take control of her relationship with Joji, beginning as a subordinate to becoming a dominatrix.

Symbolism in Naomi

Tanizaki's writing is wrought with symbolisms involving Japanese relations with foreign powers. Joji's name awkwardly sounds a lot like the common name George in English, representing Joji's wish to be Westernized but retaining his traditional Japanese culture. Naomi on the other hand is fluidly translated between English and Japanese. In the first chapter, Joji narrates Naomi is written with three Chinese characters, however it sounds Western so throughout the rest of the novel he would write her name in katakana, the Japanese alphabet reserved for writing out and sounding out foreign words.

A dramatic irony occurs when readers learn though Joji's knowledge of English is excellent, his accent prevents him from being truly mastering English. Conversely, Naomi pronounces English very well, but cannot string together a coherent sentence. Naomi also loves superficiality and is passionate about Western theatre and culture. An example of how Naomi loves Western culture but does not truly belong is her purchases of Western magazines, but can only look at the pictures because she is unable to read English. Tanizaki portrays the traditional Japanese man being seduced by the siren’s song of Western culture only to be trapped by it. His story is a celebration of Japanese culture by showing the dangers Western culture can pose to Japanese traditions.

Tanizaki’s writing is applauded by literary critics for his ability to turn a sexy café waitress with Eurasian features into a manipulative succubus. He shows the irony of both sexual and cultural conquest, and sums it up in the opening paragraph of his book: "As Japan grows increasingly cosmopolitan, Japanese and foreigners are eagerly mingling with one another; all sorts of new doctrines and philosophies are being introduced; and both men and women are adopting up-to-date Western fashions". Tanizaki shows how Western culture could seem incredible but can not be a replacement of Japanese traditions.

Controversy

The story of Naomi is fraught with controversy. When Osaka Morning News published it in 1924, opposite reactions to the novel arose from two different demographics. The younger generation embraced and lived by the modern girl role model Naomi provided. Naomi was the source of the term modan garu, and told the story of many independent young women in the Japan's cities. The aggressive sexuality and manipulation portrayed by Naomi shocked the older generation of Japanese citizens, who deemed the story was too obscene and risqué to be published. The Osaka Morning News pulled the story due to the extensive pressure put on them by their readers. However, due to the popularity of the story, the magazine Female picked up the story from Tanizaki and published the remaining parts of the novel.

Cultural impact

The release of Naomi aroused young women of the time to engage in a cultural revolution. There was a boom of moga; working class women who work and choose men for themselves, not for the sake of their families. Traditionally, young girls who wish to work lived in factory dormitories and send their wages home to their family. Mogas worked to maintain their fashionable lifestyle, living in the city and being independent. They were a hot topic in 1920s Japan. The media would discuss their characteristics, characterizing them in various ways; one media group suggested modern girls were independent, non-traditional girls; another suggested modern girls spoke more like men. All groups agreed modern girls were very Westernized women who refused to recognize gender and class boundaries. The modern girls movement in Japan was strikingly similar to the flapper movement in the United States in the same period.

The other class explicitly shown in Naomi is the middle management, white collar class males. In the story, Joji is known to be a skilled educated worker from a well off landlord family. He is the embodiment of a new class of Japanese salarymen. After the Meiji Restoration, the educated males moved into the cities to attend universities and become white collar business workers as opposed to the farmers, artisans, and merchants of the past. Joji is unusual because he belongs to an upper level management. In the novel, he seldom works hard, only going into the office for a few hours each day. In contrast, the average salaryman works long working hours with little prestige, and with little hope of climbing the corporate hierarchy.

Film adaptations

Naomi has been cinematized several times, the first instance is Yasuzo Masamura’s adaptation of Chijin no Ai ("A Fool’s Love") in 1967. This version starred Michiyo Ookusu as Naomi, and Shoichi Ozawa as Joji. It had taken many years for the Japanese to obtain filming equipment although theaters were widely available to watch Western films. The most recent novel to film adaptation was in 1993 by director Toshiki Sato.

Publication history

  • 1924, Japan, Osaka Morning News, March 1924, serialization (first half)
  • 1924, Japan, Female magazine, 1924, serialization (second half)
  • 1947, Japan, Shinchōsha ISBN 4-101-00501-X, November 1947, paperback
  • 1952, Japan, Kadokawa Shoten ISBN 4-041-00503-5, January 1952, paperback
  • 1985, Japan, Chūōkōron Shinsha ISBN 4-122-01185-X, January 1985, paperback
  • 1985, United States, Knopf ISBN 0-394-53663-0, September 12, 1985, hardcover
  • 2001, England, Vintage Books ISBN 0-375-72474-5, April 10, 2001, paperback

See also

References

External links

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