Correction: I think Jos Vos was referring to this essay (originally posted as a comment) by Leopold Adelgonde Hauspie III, and not to the one linked in the entry below. Sorry for the confusion. -Sally Suzuki, BMSW Media Director
Writer Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎 (1886-1965) is mostly perceived as a born lotus-eater: a man utterly devoted to the fulfillment of his desires. The chief object of his – quite earthly – desires was food and women, both of which he kept pursuing throughout his life, and let the characters in his literary work pursue as well. Especially the pursuit of a masochistic-natured erotic gratification formed the central drive for both himself and his fictional heroes. In the beginning of his career his penchant for sensual pleasure and decadence had been so intense and consuming that he even earned the epithet of ‘diabolist.’ Many events in his personal life flagrantly illustrate his selfishness and ‘immorality.’ Shortly after his first marriage, for example, he fell in love with the wayward younger sister of his wife, still a minor, upon which he sent his wife and newborn daughter to live in his parents’ home in order to be alone with her sister. Another example, of much later in his life, is when he made his third wife abort the child he had begot with her, under the argument that a child would destroy his much cherished ‘artistically inspiring’ environment (he lived together with four women: his wife, her two younger sisters, and his wife’s daughter from an earlier marriage). Likewise, from the first to the last of his works, in a career spanning more than half a century, his heroes are the slaves of their passions, such as Seikichi of the famous early short story Shisei 刺青 (‘The Tattooer,’ 1910) or the aged Utsugi of Fūten rōjin nikki 瘋癲老人日記 (‘Diary of a Mad Old Man,’ 1962).
It is hard to imagine a man more thoroughly controlled by bonnō 煩悩, the
earthly passions that according to Buddhist theory lead to entanglement and obstruct the path to enlightenment, than Tanizaki. So, one would be inclined to presume that Tanizaki was, of necessity, at completely opposite ends with Buddhism. How, one naturally thinks, could a man as sybaritic and self-indulgent like him ever be interested in the ascetic and abstemious way of life held high by Buddhism, and why would he even think of using Buddhist texts and doctrines as materials for his fiction? In this paper, I would like to verify whether these assumptions are true, or if there might be an unexpected Buddhist facet to this remarkable writer.
Tanizaki and Buddhism
To trace back Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s religious outlook, it might be useful to have a glance at the religious life of his grandfather on his mother’s side, Tanizaki Kyūemon. From Yōshō jidai 幼少時代 (‘Childhood Years,’ 1956), Tanizaki’s memoirs of his early childhood, we learn that his grandfather had converted himself late in his life to the Russian Orthodox Church, and had kept an icon of the Virgin Mary in the house. This eventually led up to the awkward situation at his deathbed when both a Buddhist Nichiren priest – the sect of which his family had been adherents for many generations – and an Orthodox priest arrived, upon which a heated discussion flared up as to how the old man should be buried. Because Kyūemon had been the only one in the family to convert to this new faith, and had even kept his conversion a secret from his wife, in the end it was Buddhism that prevailed, and Kyūemon was interred according to Nichiren rites at the Jigenji 慈眼寺 cemetery in Fukagawa (which was later moved to its present location in Somei). Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, who was only two at the time of his grandfather’s death, had no direct recollections of these events, but the thoughts he said he had at the sight of the image of Mary, which was kept enshrined there throughout his youth, are very revealing:
… [W]hen I looked at the image of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Christ, there was a solemnness different from my emotions when I stood before the family Buddhist altar, as Grandmother and the others recited the sutras morning and evening. Gazing with inexpressible reverence into the Virgin Mother’s eyes, so full of tenderness and mercy, I felt I never wanted to leave her side. I understood something of my grandfather’s feeling as he prayed before this image of the Western goddess. There was a certain strangeness about it all, yet I sensed that someday I too might well do as he had done. (Tanizaki 1988: 19-20; Paul McCarthy’s translation)
The Christian faith of his grandfather is reduced here to the worshipping of a ‘Western goddess.’ In the eyes of the young Tanizaki, joining the hands in supplication before this exotic female figure was something infinitely more exiting than the dreary spectacle of grandma chanting sutras before the Buddhist altar. In this description, it seems like almost no distinction is made between religious fervor and a yearning for the exotic and female beauty. This appraisal of his grandfather’s faith, as we will see, will share certain crucial characteristics with his later assessment of Buddhism.
Probably the first reference to Buddhist matters in Tanizaki’s published fiction we find in his early short story Himitsu (‘The Secret,’ 1911). In this story, an extravagant young man who secretly goes out every night in female attire is seeking a hideaway in the center of Tokyo to stay low during daytime. He finds this in a Shingon monastery behind the Honganji Temple in Asakusa. But this young man’s choice for a monastery has little to do with religious feelings. What he seeks is something completely different. To adorn the walls of his room, he lends some old Buddhist paintings of hell and paradise, Mount Sumeru, and a Lying Buddha from the head priest, intent at creating a mysterious, exotic atmosphere:
A steady thread of mauve smoke rose calmly from the incense burner in the alcove and filled the bright, warm room with its fragrance. … The room presented a mesmerizing spectacle on clear days, when the rays of the noontime sun struck the shōji with full force. From the old paintings that covered the surrounding walls, brilliantly colored Buddhas, arhats, bhiksu, bhiksuni, upāsaka, upāsikā, elephants, lions, and unicorns swam out into the abundant light to join a host of living figures from the countless books thrown open on the floor – on manslaughter, anesthesia, narcotics, witchcraft, religion – merging with the incense smoke and looming dimly over me as I lay on a small scarlet rug, gazing with the glassy eyes of a savage, conjuring up hallucinations, day after day. (Tanizaki 2001: 53; translated by Anthony H. Chambers)
As becomes clear from this flowery excerpt, Tanizaki’s early works were characterized by a decadent brand of tambi shugi 耽美主義, or aestheticism, and it is obvious that his use of the setting of the monastery and rooms with Buddhist paintings has much less to do with religion than with his intention to create an outlandish, intoxicating ambience. As an ingredient of this exotic ambience, religion is hardly distinguishable from “manslaughter, anesthesia, narcotics,” or “witchcraft.”
Three works from the early phase of Tanizaki’s career have a setting that is through and through Buddhist, with monks, or people closely involved with monastic life, as major characters. The first, Hōjōji monogatari 法成寺物語 (‘A Tale of the Hōjōji Temple,’ 1916), is a play about the famous Heian sculptor of Buddhist statues Jōchō 定朝, who is commissioned by regent Fujiwara no Michinaga to make a statue of the Amida Buddha. However, this play, said to be influenced by Oscar Wilde’s Salome, is above all about intricate love relations and the function and significance of art, rather than about Buddhism itself. The same sort of thing can be said about Genzō Sanzō 玄奘三蔵 (‘Xuanzang, Monk of the Three Treasuries,’ 1917), a short story on the famous Chinese monk Xuanzang who went to India to study Buddhism and collect Sanskrit Buddhist scriptures. This story too, as was the case with Himitsu, has a ‘Buddhist’ setting purely for the exotic effect of it. In this period, Tanizaki wrote many stories set in ancient China, a distant Japanese past, or even imagined lands, which he peopled with sorcerers, mermaids, fairies, and the like. Also, his choice for Xuanzang as his protagonist might have been inspired by the popular Chinese Ming novel Xiyouji 西遊記 (‘Journey to the West’), which also bursts with fantastical elements originating from Chinese folklore – a story he new very well, as he had bought the book with his saved pocket money as a child (Tanizaki 1956: 187). Best proof of all this is that in Genzō Sanzō, Xuanzang not once on his journey meets a Buddhist monk or comes across a Buddhist scripture. Instead, he encounters a variety of (non-Buddhist) mute ascetics, fakirs on nail beds and other eccentrics. Genzō Sanzō also treats the question of poetry. When Xuanzang is watching an exceptionally beautifully voiced Hindu nun chanting verses of the Ramayana, he is informed by another spectator that, “one who is born in a foreign country and cannot appreciate the special flavor of the Indian language, however much he may know about the mercy of the Buddha, cannot hope to gauge the depth of poetic expression. … Of all human speech, poetry is closest to the gods.” (Tanizaki 1917: 349; my translation) Through this bystander, Tanizaki seems intent on championing poetry over religion.
Of special interest to this paper is the next story with a fully Buddhist setting, Futari no chigo 二人の稚児 (‘Two Acolytes,’ 1918). All principle characters are related to Buddhism – mainly the two acolytes of the title and an eminent Buddhist monk – and find themselves in a thoroughly Buddhist environment, namely Mount Hiei, the location of the head temple of the Tendai sect. As the two acolytes have been raised there from early childhood, they have no clear memory of the world outside of the mountain. “Their greatest source of unease,” it is said, “was the fact of never having actually seen the creature they called “a woman” – some sort of human being that lived in the outside world and was held to be the source of almost every calamity.” (Tanizaki 2001: 74; McCarthy’s translation) Since they are not allowed to descend from the mountain, they have only the instructions of their master and the sutras to rely on for information on this puzzling creature. Letting the two boys consult the scriptures on the subject of women, Tanizaki displays quite some expertise in the Buddhist canon, citing from as much as five different sources that deal with women, i.e. the Utenōkyō 優填王経 (‘Sutra of King Udayana’), the Chidoron 智度論 (‘Treatise on the Perfection of Wisdom’), the Nehangyō 涅槃経 (‘Nirvana Sutra’), the Hōshakukyō 寶積経 (‘Great Treasure Store of Sutras’), and the Yuishikiron 唯識論 (‘Treatise on Consciousness Only’) (Tanizaki 1918: 313-14; 2001: 75-76).
Tanizaki’s somewhat surprising erudition in the Buddhist scriptures – there is still much more Buddhist terminology in the story, apart from the above five quotes – might have something to do with his education. In his four years at the higher elementary school, which in the old school system took from the age of ten to fourteen, he had a teacher, called Inaba, with a broad interest in a range of subjects. This Inaba-sensei let him read all kinds of works from Plato and Schopenhauer to classical Chinese poetry, but his biggest interest seems to have lain in Buddhist texts, especially of Zen philosophy. Among the books Inaba-sensei used to carry with him, Tanizaki mentions Kūkai’s Sangōshiiki 三教指帰 (‘Paradigm for the Three Religions’) and Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō 正法眼蔵 (‘Treasury of the True Dharma Eye’). Acknowledging Tanizaki’s literary talent, Inaba-sensei had always given the boy special attention, seeing him also outside of the classroom and lending him many books. All this even inspired the young Tanizaki to write a piece called Ikkyū Zenji 一休禅師 (‘Monk Ikkyū,’ 1897), which appeared in the school magazine he issued monthly with his friends. As Tanizaki declared that no teacher had ever influenced him more than Inaba-sensei, the knowledge on Buddhism he displayed in his later works may well have originated from his readings back then (Tanizaki 1956: 86, 214-16).
But let us return to the story of the two acolytes. To solve the enigma of ‘women,’ one of the boys decides to break the rules and descends the mountain, promising to his friend that he will be back before evening. It eventually takes half a year before his friend hears from him again, when a messenger comes to pass a letter. The messenger explains that his friend now passes his days in pleasure, loved not only by a wife but also by “a crowd of courtesans more beautiful than the twenty-five bodhisattvas.” (Tanizaki 2001: 85) After the letter describes in a few words what has happened to him during all those months, it goes on to tell about the outside world:
The truth is, the outside world is not a dream, not an illusion. It’s a sheer delight – in fact a paradise, the Western Pure Land here on earth. I have no use any more for the doctrine of “Three Thousand Phenomena in a Single Thought” or for the meditation on “The Perfect Interpenetration of the Three Truths.” Believe me, the joy of being just a common layman involved with the passions is infinitely preferable to being an ascetic practicing the “Perfect and Sudden Way” to enlightenmment [sic]. I urge you to change your way of thinking and come down from the mountain at once. (Tanizaki 2001: 87)
One is inclined to think this a perfect summary of Tanizaki’s own look on life. The acolyte who is still on the mountain, however, does not let himself be persuaded by his friend’s letter and decides to stay on the mountain to continue his ascetic training, swearing he will become a monk as eminent as his master one day. The story of the two acolytes might be very much related to Tanizaki’s own experiences in his youth. In Yōshō jidai, his childhood memoirs, he writes:
Though sensei was interested in literature, his real intent seems to have lain with the classical Way of Sages, and he aspired to educate me in a Confucian or Buddhist way. However, in the end I had to disappoint him. All in all, my fascination for philosophy, ethics and religion had just been something temporary, borrowed from sensei. (Tanizaki 1956: 229; my translation)
As Chambers (Tanizaki 2001: 10) also points out, although Tanizaki had eventually ‘gone down the mountain’ to taste from the pleasures of life, just like the other boy, maybe this story can be seen as a kind of tribute to the part of himself that might have chosen the other path.
As if he wanted to close that chapter for good, Futari no chigo was his last original work with an all-Buddhist setting. In 1929, however, Tanizaki rewrote a medieval otogizōshi tale called Sannin hōshi 三人法師 (‘Three Monks’). It is the somewhat grisly story of three monks on Mount Kōya confessing to each other the events that had brought them to becoming a monk. Tanizaki said he did this adaptation merely to practice the classically-inspired literary style of the many historical works he was to write thereafter. Yet the monks of the story may have given him inspiration on a personal level as well, as two years later, he would spend four months on Mount Kōya himself, to write on the novel Mōmoku monogatari (‘A Blind Man’s Tale,’ 1931). There, he stayed in the Taiunin 泰雲院, an annex to the Shinnōin Temple 親王院 (Nomura 1972: 351). Until now we have seen that Tanizaki, having been taught in childhood on Buddhist scriptures and from time to time including Buddhist elements in his fiction, was not as much on opposite ends with Buddhism as one would expect from a genuine lotus-eater like him. But even more remarkable is that he voluntarily retreated on this holy mountain for as long as four months. It was not the first time that he did such a thing, however. In the summer of 1925, too, he had stayed for about two months in the Saijūin Temple 西住院 in Kyoto (Nomura 1972: 299). To be able to devote himself wholeheartedly to his writings, he had been staying alone in hotels and inns from the beginning of his career, so presumably, temples likewise were ideal places for him to concentrate. As we can glean from Nomura Shōgo’s biography of Tanizaki, thereafter he would still stay many more times in temples, among which are the Jizōin 地蔵院, a convent adherent to the Jingoji 神護寺 in Kyoto, the Shōnenji 正念寺 in Osaka, and the Shinjōin 真乗院, a temple adherent to the Nanzenji 南禅寺 in Kyoto (1972: 370-71, 395, 438).
His retreat on Mount Kōya has often been called a ‘working honeymoon,’ since less than a month earlier he had married his second wife Furukawa Tomiko. However, as Nomura points out, his real motivation likely was not so fancy. Pressed by serious debts, he had been obliged to sell his house, and it appears that his stay on the mountain was more of a necessity. (1972: 351-52) Be this as it may, while he was on the mountain, Tanizaki devoted his time not only to writing, but also took the opportunity to learn more about esoteric Buddhism from a Shingon monk of the Shinnōin Temple called Mizuhara Gyōei 水原尭栄 (1890-1965). No doubt the secrecy and mystery associated with esoteric Buddhism greatly appealed to his rich imagination and taste for the unusual. It induced him also to write, besides the long novel he had been planning from before, a fantastical story and an essay, using materials he had come across on the mountain. The short story, Kakukai-shōnin Tengu ni naru koto 覚海上人天狗になる事 (‘On Eminent Monk Kakukai’s Becoming Tengu,’ 1931), is based on a local legend that said that the monk Kakukai (1142-1223) had metamorphosed into the long-nosed mythical creature Tengu, and had eventually flown away into the skies. The very short essay Tengu no hone 天狗の骨 (‘Tengu’s Bones,’ 1931), then, centers upon a skull of unknown origin (but said to be that of Tengu) which Tanizaki had chanced upon in the Zōfukuin Temple 増幅院.
But Tanizaki’s interest in Shingon Buddhism was by no means restricted to such bizarre stories. On the contrary, the environment of Mt. Kōya appears to have provoked his religious awareness in no small degree. According to his wife Tomiko, he often visited sanctuaries like the Okunoin 奥之院, the Daimon 大門, the Shinbessho-entsūji 真別処円通寺, and the Shinnōin. Describing the deliciousness of monk Mizuhara Gyōei’s shōjin ryōri (vegetarian meals), she writes: “It made even non-Buddhists reverently join their hands, exclaiming “Namu Shinnō-sama, Namu Shinnō-sama,” but Jun’ichirō was actually quite devout. He was being initiated in the Eighteen Paths and burnt incense and formed mudrās every day, convinced as he was that he would become a daikoji 大居士 [distinguished lay practitioner] before long.” (Nomura 1973: 108; my translation) His younger brother Shūhei also remarks:
My brother apparently visited [Mizuhara Gyōei] to hear his expositions on Buddhism. Eventually, he even began to go there to study sutra recitation himself. Whatever my brother took on to do, he did it with incredible enthusiasm. So it happened more than once that when he had been writing until late at night, he took the opportunity to attend the morning recitations at five at the Shin'nōin. In the end even Tomiko began to study the sutras. (Nomura 1972: 352; my translation)
But Tanizaki was a man of many whims, and just like it had been with his passion for the guitar, his plans to go live overseas, his screenplay writing, and so many other things, his zealous ‘lotus-seeking’ proved to be only short-lived. When September came and it got a bit chilly on the mountain, Tanizaki quickly decided to return to the ‘floating world’ again.
Thereafter, short references to Buddhist matters continued to appear from time to time in his work, in many of which faces or other body parts (especially feet) of
characters are likened to Buddhas or bodhisattvas. An especially interesting reference we find in the novel Ashikari 蘆刈 (‘The Reed Cutter,’ 1932). Building on an existing trope from the nō theater, the narrator, sitting on a sand bar in the Yodo River, associates the courtesans that used to frequent those river banks long ago with Fugen Bodhisattva (or Samantabhadra). “Would it be impossible to raise them to the surface of this stream for a time,” he muses, “like bubbles forming on the water – these women who likened themselves to avatars of Samantabhadra and were even revered by a venerable sage?” (Chambers 1994: 43) With this ‘venerable sage,’ as Chambers indicates, Tanizaki was referring to the poet-monk Saigyō 西行 (1118-1190), about whom a legend went that he had met a certain courtesan, Hanaurushi, who was assumed to be an avatar of Fugen Bodhisattva. (Chambers 1994: 44-45) Incidentally, the very same association is also made in Futari no chigo, when the boy who left Mount Hiei for the earthly delights of the outside world tries to explain in his letter what sort of beings ‘women’ are:
It is hard to convey the gentleness and beauty of women, either in words or pictures. To what shall I compare them?… Just yesterday I embarked at Yodo harbor and went to a place called Eguchi where from the houses along the riverbank came a throng of courtesans paddling their little boats toward us. It seemed like Seishi Bodhisattva’s descent from Paradise, or an apparition of the Willow Kannon: I was filled with joy and gratitude! (Tanizaki 2001: 88-89)
Underpinning these associations, no doubt, is the sense that sexual ecstasy and religious ecstasy are not all together different. To Tanizaki and his male protagonists, the veneration of feminine beauty is something akin to a religious experience.
Another fascinating reference to a Buddhist matter appears in the novel Shōshō Shigemoto no haha 少将滋幹の母 (‘Captain Shigemoto’s Mother,’ 1950). In this work, the practice of fujōkan 不浄観, or ‘contemplation of impurity,’ is described. Of this and other topics in Tendai Buddhism Tanizaki learned from the monk Yamaguchi Kōen 山口光円 (1891-1972) of the Manshuin Temple 曼殊院 in Kyoto (Nomura 1973: 164). The fujōkan practice means watching the decomposition of a dead body, in order to realize to the full the impermanence of this earthly existence. Shōshō Shigemoto no haha contains the grisly scene of the old Major Counselor Kunitsune going out in the middle of the night to gaze at corpses on a bank of the Kamo River. He does this in the hope that he would be able to forget about his beautiful young wife, who has been taken away by the mighty Minister of the Left Fujiwara Shihei. In the end, however, his austere efforts remain fruitless. Once more, Tanizaki makes the obsession for a beautiful woman prevail over ascetic practices, and seems to be saying that only true beauty is everlasting.
In his excellent commentary on seven of Tanizaki’s major fictional works, Anthony Chambers sums up many examples of male protagonists who regard the woman they love with religious reverence and liken them with Buddhas or bodhisattvas, or both – concretely, in Chijin no ai (‘Naomi,’ 1925), Manji (‘Quicksand,’ 1930), Shunkinshō (‘A Portrait of Shunkin,’ 1933), and Shōshō Shigemoto no haha (‘Captain Shigemoto’s Mother,’ 1950) (Chambers 46-47, 58, 65, 102-105). The apotheosis of this woman worship, however, appears in a work that he did not discuss – Tanizaki’s second to last full-blown novel, Fūten rōjin nikki (‘Diary of a Mad Old Man,’ 1962). The owner of the diary is Utsugi, a man of advanced age who is already planning the arrangements for after his death. First, he dreams of having the image of Satsuko, his daughter-in-law and the object of his desire, carved into the headstone of his grave in the form of a bodhisattva. That way, Utsugi muses, he could “sleep eternally under the image of my Satsuko Bodhissatva, under the stone image of Satsuko wearing a crown, with jeweled streamers dangling on her breast, with her heavenly robe fluttering in the wind” (Ito 1991: 264; Hibbett’s translation). But eventually the old man abandons this plan in favor of another one that even more enthralls him. Like Tanizaki himself not only a masochist but also a first-rate foot fetishist, Utsugi conceives the idea of having Satsuko’s footprints carved out in a grave marker, in the manner of a Buddha’s footprint stone. Completely carried away with this alluring fantasy, he writes: “At the very thought of those Buddha’s Footprints modeled after her own feet she would hear my bones wailing under the stone. Between sobs, I would scream: “It hurts! It hurts! … Even though it hurts, I’m happy – I’ve never been more happy, I’m much, much happier than when I was alive! … Trample harder! Harder!” (Ito 1991: 266) Lying under Satsuko’s feet, the masochistic desires that had steered Utsugi when he was alive would become eternalized, and there was nothing more he could hope for.
Needless to say, it is not a great stretch to compare Utsugi’s fantasies with those of Tanizaki himself – not in the least because the location where they both wanted to be buried was identical as well, namely at the Hōnenji Temple 法然寺, along the Philosophers’ Path in Kyoto. Although this is a nice and quiet place, the choice for this Pure Land temple was not a matter of course, as Tanizaki’s ancestors were all buried at a Nichiren temple in Tokyo. According to Nomura, Tanizaki had declared he had chosen the place purely because he liked it, and would not even have minded becoming a Pure Land convert if necessary (1972: 475). This demonstrates that he was not at all married to one or the other sect. Nor did he dwell on his posthumous name. After part of his ashes was interred at the cemetery of the family temple in Somei, Nomura writes, a priest in Tokyo (who was an old friend of him) had given him a second posthumous name, but in the end the temple in Tokyo was forced to give that name up (1973: 241-42).
Just like the ‘mad old man’ of his novel had intended (but eventually failed) to do, Tanizaki had prepared the headstone for his grave by himself; and not only for his and his wife Matsuko’s grave, but also for the grave of Matsuko’s younger sister Shigeko and her husband Watanabe Akira, which was situated just to the left of theirs, within the same lot (Chiba 1994: 9, 278). The stone of the Watanabe’s carries the Chinese character kū 空, the one of the Tanizaki’s jaku 寂, together forming the compound kūjaku 空寂, which means ‘void’ or ‘emptiness.’ It is hard to tell with certainty why Tanizaki chose this word with such heavy Buddhist connotations, but a look at Jōtarō 饒太郎 (1914), an early novella of him, might provide a clue. It is said that the title character, writer Jōtarō, had until then:
…written his novels just by repeating that ‘The world is empty,’ over and over again. That was the only thing he had to say. To put it more precisely: ‘The world is a beautiful void’ – this formed the cornerstone of all his novels. It was a childish, simple, extremely lazy philosophy. Nevertheless he was an artist, so he naturally craved a certain ‘beauty.’ … But his so-called ‘beauty’ belonged exclusively to the world of the senses, the erotic… (Tanizaki 1914: 358-59; my translation)
The worldview that Tanizaki ascribes to his alter ego Jōtarō here shares with Buddhist thought a certain resignation about the present world, yet it withholds one thing, and one thing only, that is worth being entangled to, and that is sensual beauty. This is what makes life worth living for Tanizaki. But when eventually death comes along to make an end to the ability to experience this beauty, all that remains is void.
At a certain point, the old man of Fūten rōjin nikki confides to his diary: “Anyway, I don’t believe in gods or Buddhas. All those different religions, I don’t see the use of it. Should there exist a God or a Buddha, for me it would surely be Satsuko, and no one else.” (Cited in Chiba 1994: 286; my translation) His momentary infatuation with esoteric Buddhism on Mount Kōya notwithstanding, it seems unlikely that Tanizaki’s own look on life would have been very divergent from Utsugi’s. In the final analysis, he had obviously been more of a lotus-eater than a lotus-seeker. Yet this does not mean that he was not interested in Buddhism. He had assiduously studied Zen, Shingon and Tendai Buddhism at various points in his life, and throughout his long and fruitful career, he effectively deployed this fairly broad knowledge to incorporate a variety of Buddhist imagery into his fiction. And in the very last days of his life, when he probably already felt the shadow of death looming over him, he apparently had plans to write one last novel with Buddhist content. His wife Matsuko recounts how after a period of serious illness, almost miraculously, Tanizaki was suddenly full of energy again, and eager to write on top of that:
From early in the morning he shut himself up in his study and sat there holding the heavy Bukkyō Daijiten 仏教大辞典 (‘The Great Dictionary of Buddhism’) in his painful, stroke-stricken hands. His desk was buried under solid tomes like the three volumes of Monk Nishiari Bokuzan’s 西有穆山禅師 Dōgen Zenji no Shōbōgenzō keiteki 道元禅師の正法眼蔵啓迪 [A Guide to Monk Dōgen’s Treasury of the True Dharma Eye], Sawaki Kōdō’s 沢木興道Dōgenzen no Shinzui 道元禅の神髄 [The Essence of Dōgen’s Zen], and Ifukube Takahiko’s 伊福部隆彦 Shōbōgenzō shinkō 正法眼蔵新講 [A New Perspective on the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye]. Wasn’t it here that that gaze began, I wonder – those wide open eyes, trying to fathom the truth of death? (Tanizaki Matsuko 1979: 108; my translation)
Unfortunately, Tanizaki died before he could even begin to write the novel he had in mind. On his desk, a few notes were found with Buddhist-sounding names of characters and other jottings, but we will never know what story might have resulted from these. The only thing that is sure is that Tanizaki, lotus-eater in heart and soul though he was, also had a tinge of a lotus-seeker inside of him until his final moments on earth.
Anthony Hood Chambers. The Secret Window: Ideal Worlds in Tanizaki’s Fiction. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994.
Chiba Shunji 千葉俊二. Tanizaki Jun’ichirō: Kitsune to Mazohizumu 谷崎潤一郎：狐とマゾヒズム [Tanizaki Jun’ichirō: foxes and masochism]. Tokyo: Ozawa shoten, 1994.
Ken K. Ito. Visions of Desire: Tanizaki’s Fictional Worlds. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991.
Nomura Shōgo 野村尚吾. Denki Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 伝記 谷崎潤一郎 [The life of Tanizaki Jun’ichirō]. Tokyo: Rokkō Shuppan, 1972.
Nomura Shōgo 野村尚吾. Tanizaki Jun’ichirō: fūdo to bungaku 谷崎潤一郎：風土と文学 [Tanizaki Jun’ichirō: localities and literature]. Tokyo: Chūōkōronsha, 1973.
Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎. “Jōtarō” 饒太郎. Orig. pub. in Chūō kōron 中央公論 (September 1914); repr. in vol.2 of Tanizaki Jun’ichirō zenshū 谷崎潤一郎全集. Tokyo: Chūōkōronsha, 1966, pp.353-461.
Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎. “Genzō Sanzō” 玄奘三蔵 [Xuanzang, monk of the Three Treasuries]. Orig. pub. in Chūō kōron 中央公論 (April 1917); repr. in vol.4 of Tanizaki Jun’ichirō zenshū 谷崎潤一郎全集. Tokyo: Chūōkōronsha, 1967, pp.329-57.
Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎. “Futari no chigo” 二人の稚児 [Two acolytes]. Orig. pub. in Chūō kōron 中央公論 (April 1918); repr. in vol.5 of Tanizaki Jun’ichirō zenshū 谷崎潤一郎全集. Tokyo: Chūōkōronsha, 1967, pp.307-35.
Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎. “Yōshō jidai” 幼少時代 [Childhood years]. Orig. pub. in Bungei shunjū 文芸春秋 (April 1955 - March 1956); repr. in vol.17 of Tanizaki Jun’ichirō zenshū 谷崎潤一郎全集. Tokyo: Chūōkōronsha, 1968, pp.41-253.
Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎. Tanizaki Jun’ichirō zenshū 谷崎潤一郎全集 [The complete works of Tanizaki Jun’ichirō]. Tokyo: Chūōkōronsha, 1966-70.
Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎. Childhood Years. Translation of Yōshō jidai 幼少時代 by Paul McCarthy. Tokyo: Kōdansha International, 1988.
Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎. The Gourmet Club: a Sextet. (Translation of six Tanizaki stories by Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy.) Tokyo: Kōdansha International, 2001.
Tanizaki Matsuko 1979
Tanizaki Matsuko 谷崎松子. Ishōan no yume 倚松庵の夢 [Dreams of the Ishōan]. Tokyo: Chūōkōron shinsha, 1979.