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October 12, 2010

A businessman finds a 15 year old girl working in a cafe, takes her to live with him, teaches her, bathes her, buys her tons of clothes and marries her. What part of that tripped you up? The 15 year old? The bathing? Yeah, me too.

Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki is the third book on my brother’s Japanese Literature syllabus. Joji, the creeper who discovers Naomi in the cafe, narrates the novel. He’s so head-over-heels crazy in love with her that as the novel progresses, the reader sees that Naomi is manipulative and greedy, but Joji, who can rarely and barely see Naomi’s faults, can’t break away.

Aside from the fact that Naomi is only 15 when Joji falls in love with her and brings her to his home to live, there are some really interesting themes in the novel. I found it really compelling that as Naomi sinks deeper and deeper into selfishness and greed, she becomes more and more “Western.” At first, she simply likes western clothes, food, and ideas but eventually she begins to not only act more western, but she also physically appears western. At the climax of the novel, Joji actually mistakes her for a western woman and marvels at the “whiteness” of her skin. I’m not sure what Tanizaki thought of Western culture and influence himself, but I would assume he felt it had a poor impact on Japan and its people.

While my brother and I were discussing the novel after his class, he noted the interesting concept of animals in the book. Joji often compares Naomi to a beautiful and exotic bird, but when Joji and Naomi eventually separate, Joji describes himself as a caged animal.

My brother really liked Naomi and, although it wasn’t my all-time favorite, I liked it best of the Japanese novels we’ve read so far in the class. My brother is considering doing his mid-term paper on the novel, so it’ll be fun to see what other themes and ideas he pulls from Tanizaki’s work.

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