In 1933, when Junichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965) published his short but landmark essay "In Praise of Shadows," it could hardly be seen as anything other than a riposte to the "enlightening" agenda of the great cultural critic Fukuzawa Yukichi of the preceding Meiji Era (1868-1912).

Fukuzawa (1835-1901) had sought to sweep away the anachronistic practices of the medieval Confucian mindset and bathe Japan in the warm rays of European enlightenment, ensuring that the nation could resist the imperial incursions of predatory Western powers.

But Tanizaki laid his finger on exactly the precious aspects of traditional Japanese culture that were in danger of being destroyed in the name of "enlightenment" — and not just in the metaphorical sense.