Perceptions of the Shadowy World
Text and illustrations by Vinayak Bharne
modern illumination could represent the brilliance of the
sun, then traditional Japanese illumination could be said to
symbolize the tranquility of the moon. For part of the beauty
of traditional Japanese space lay in that soft, diffused
light that engulfed it with a subdued ambiguity. It was
this dim illumination that generated a gloomy "shadowy
world"1 to compliment the soft textures
of the tatami and the shoji.2
But in today's Japan, such associations are forsaken entities,
the surreal luminescence where darkness and light were mutually
indistinguishable, having been gradually displaced by the
glare of the incandescent bulb. This essay revives and
reiterates the indescribable tranquility of the traditional
"shadowy world" of Japan, where one would sit in the dim
light, basking in the faint glow of the shoji, lost in
meditation, calmness, and repose.
From Japanese mythology stems the concept of yami
("darkness")--a unique notion of space. Literally, yami
implies a mystery, a feeling of something hidden in space.
The ancient Japanese believed darkness to be the realm of
the dead. The spirits of their ancestors dwelled in this
world of darkness. Through the tradition of ancestor worship,
a visit into darkness evoked in the visitor a sense of
being in a sacred space. In the fourteenth century essay
Tsure-Zure Gusa, a Japanese priest emphasized that
night was the best time to go to worship at the temples.
In darkness was emptiness--the void. When this concept
of the void was translated into architectural space, it
manifested itself as an austere room, devoid of all
furniture, that was bathed not in light, but in darkness
and shadows--nothing else.