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Naomi (novel)

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Wikipedia article

is a Japanese novel by Japanese writer Jun'ichir Tanizaki (1886–1965). Writing of the novel began in 1924, and from March to June, published the first several chapters of the serial. Four months later, the periodical started to publish the remaining chapters. Various Japanese and United States publishers have compiled the chapters and published them as a book since 1947.

Narrated in the first person by the protagonist, a salaryman named Jji, the novel follows his attempt to groom a Eurasian-looking girl, the titular Naomi, to be a Westernized woman. 'Naomi' is a significant work in its comic depiction of Japanese culture of the era and its fascination with the West. The clash between older and newer generations over the more progressive depictions of women, such as Naomi, has been viewed as a clash over Japan's transition into the modern period.

Plot summary

'Naomi's story is focused around a man's obsession for a 'modan garu' or modern girl. The main character, Jji, is a well-educated Japanese man who is an electrical engineer in the city, and comes from a wealthy landlord family. Jji wishes to break away from his traditional Japanese culture, and becomes immersed in the strange new Westernized culture which was beginning to form in Japan. The physical representation of everything Western is embodied in a young girl named Naomi. Jji sees Naomi for the first time in a caf and instantly falls for her exotic "Eurasian" looks, Western-sounding name, and sophisticated mannerisms. Like the story of the prepubescent Murasaki in the classic novel 'The Tale of Genji', Jji decides he will raise Naomi, a fifteen-year-old bar hostess, to be his perfect woman: in this case he will forge her into a glamorous Western girl like Mary Pickford, a famous Canadian actress of the silent film era.

Jji moves Naomi into his home and begins his efforts to make her a perfect Western wife. She turns out to be a very willing pupil. He pays for her English education, and though she has little grammar skills in it, she possesses beautiful pronunciation. He funds her Western activities, including her love of the theatre, dancing and magazines. During the early part of the novel Jji makes no sexual advances on Naomi, preferring instead to groom her according to his desires and observe her from a distance. However, his plan to foster Western ideals such as independence in her backfires dramatically as she gets older.

Jji 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 Jji turns power over to Naomi, conceding to everything she desires. He buys a new house for them, and though they are married, Jji sleeps in a separate bedroom, while Naomi entertains Western visitors in another room. The book ends with Naomi having complete control of Jji's life, though he claims he is satisfied as long as his obsession with her is satiated.

Main characters

'Jji' — The protagonist; a well-educated 28-year-old 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 ('moga') with little inhibitions and very sexually aggressive. Naomi is extremely manipulative and manages to take control of her relationship with Jji, beginning as a subordinate to becoming a dominatrix.


Before Jun'ichir Tanizaki wrote 'Naomi', he lived in Yokohama, a city near to Tokyo and full of Western influence. However, he was forced to move after 1923 Great Kant 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 an unindustrialized nation to a industrialized, economic super-power. The novel reflects the perspective of a man shifting between modern and traditional Japan, and the conflicts associated with the era.

According to Anthony H. Chambers in his Introduction to the First Vintage International Edition of the book, the character Naomi was based upon Tanizaki's sister-in-law who had learned to dance from a Western friend and who inspired his interest in dancing.

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 Naomis case as a caf 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). Tanizaki's character Naomi, a 15-year-old girl living on her own in the city, is a perfect example of this new class of women. Culture critics picked up Tanizaki's term 'modan garu', from the English "modern girl", to describe this new class of women. "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).


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

A dramatic irony occurs when readers learn that although Joji's knowledge of English is excellent, his accent prevents him from 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, despite being able only to look at the pictures due to her inability 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.Fowler; pp. 117

Tanizaki's writing is applauded by literary critics for his ability to turn a sexy caf 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".


'Naomi' met with controversy upon its publication. When 'Osaka Morning News' published it in 1924, opposite reactions to the novel arose from two different demographics. The younger generation embraced the 'modan garu' lifestyle embodied by Naomi, who provided a role model for independent young women in the Japan's cities. However, the character's aggressive sexuality and manipulation portrayed shocked the older generation of Japanese, who deemed the story was too obscene and risqu 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, Jji 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. Jji 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, a notable example being Yasuzo Masamuras adaptation of 'Chijin no Ai' ('A Fools Love') in 1967. The most recent novel to film adaptation was in 1993 by director Toshiki Sat.

Publication history

* 1924, Japan, 'Osaka Morning News', March 1924, serialization (first half)

* 1924, Japan, 'Female' magazine, 1924, serialization (second half)

* 1947, Japan, Shinchsha ISBN 4-10-100501-X, November 1947, paperback

* 1952, Japan, Kadokawa Shoten ISBN 4-04-100503-5, January 1952, paperback

* 1985, Japan, Chkron Shinsha ISBN 4-12-201185-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


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