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Following Junichiro Tanizaki, One of Japan’s Greatest Writers

For book lovers, combining this love with exploring Japan can be a challenge. But some places have a rich literary history that makes this connection easy. Kobe and its neighbor Ashiya have contributed quite a bit to the literary culture of Japan.

Many successful Japanese writers connected to this area, including Haruki Murakami, but best known to local residents is Junichiro Tanizaki, whose most famous novel, Sasameyuki (The Makioka Sisters, or literally, “A Light Snow”), is set in both Ashiya and Kobe. Two of Tanizaki’s former residences and a museum celebrating literature and writers connected to Kobe will be a surprising treat for both fans of Tanizaki’s works and book lovers.

These destinations are small and easily explored in less than an hour, so they can all be experienced in a day of literary adventure.

1. Junichiro Tanizaki Memorial Museum of Literature

Photo: WikiCommons/663highland
Start your day by learning more about this prolific writer at the Junichiro Tanizaki Memorial Museum of Literature

This small museum next to the Ashiya City Library was one of the residences of Tanizaki during his time living in the Kansai region. After the Great Kanto Earthquake, he moved to Ashiya, where he spent most of the rest of his life.

The museum collection consists of manuscripts in Tanizaki’s writing, kimono, pictures of his wife and other personal relics. Visitors get a good overview of Tanizaki’s life and work through these objects, bulletins and videos.

Photo: Whitney Hubbell
Enjoy a stroll through the tranquil atmosphere of the house’s traditional garden.

The museum hosts special exhibits connected to the writer. When I visited, the special exhibition displayed artwork by local artists inspired by the works of Tanizaki. Recently, there has been a special exhibit centered on the popular anime Bungo Stray Dogs, which includes Tanizaki as a character.

There is also a wide selection of his books is on sale. And if you have been inspired to do some writing, you can also buy letter sets modeled on the writer’s favorite writing paper.

12-15 Isecho, Ashiya, Hyogo – Map

Admission: ¥300

Nearest station: Hanshin Ashiya

Nearest bus stop: Midoricho

2. The Ishoan House

Photo: Whitney Hubbell
While not technically a museum, visitors can still learn about Tanizaki and his works.

Ishoan is another former residence of Tanizaki. It is a beautifully preserved Japanese-style house situated by the Sumiyoshi River worth visiting. The home is cozy and takes in a lot of natural light, so it is a very calming environment to explore and be transported to the Showa era.

During Tanizaki’s time living in the house, it stood in a different location about 150 meters downstream but was moved due to road maintenance. Since then, the house has been reconstructed to reflect Tanizaki’s time, with almost the entire home and garden open to visitors.

Photo: Whitney Hubbell
The house has been reconstructed to look like it did during Tanizaki’s time there.

Tanizaki only lived in this house for seven years between 1936 and 1943. Still, it was during this time living in this house with his wife Matsuko and her sisters that inspired Tanizaki to write his most famous work. Pictures of Tanizaki are displayed, and many of the writer’s books and other reference books are on display and available for reading.

1−6−50 Sumiyoshi Higashimachi, Higashinada Ward, Kobe, Hyogo – Map

Admission: Free

Nearest station: Uozaki Station

Nearest bus stop: Higashinada Yakushozen

3. Kobe City Museum of Literature

Photo: Whitney Hubbell
The museum also contains a map of important literary sites in Kobe.

North of Nada station and past the Yokoo Tadanori Museum of Contemporary Art, you might see an attractive red brick chapel atop a small hill. This chapel is now the Kobe City Museum of Literature, which showcases the history of the literary scene in Kobe.

The museum opened in 2006, but the building was originally a chapel. The construction was funded by foreign missionaries and is the birthplace of Kwansei Gakuin University.

Photo: Whitney Hubbell
Art depicting Tanizaki’s literary works.

The exhibit is centered around writers connected to Kobe through their life or works. The small sections dedicated to each featured writer include glass cases that contain various relics of the writers, like letters, newspaper articles, old copies of their books, and even fountain pens and pipes.

The writers, which include Tanizaki but also Shusaku Endo and others, are organized in chronological order so that visitors can see the writers’ progression from the Meiji period to the present day.

From the writers’ lives and works, visitors can also view old photos and learn about the history of Kobe, including events and movements like the Meiji restoration, Hanshinkan Modernism and the Great Hanshin Earthquake. Occasionally, special exhibits and literary workshops are held at the museum.

3-1-2 Ojicho, Nada Ward, Kobe, Hyogo – Map

Admission: Free

Nearest station: Shin-Kobe

Nearest bus stop: Kamitsutsui 1-chome

Are you a fan of Junichiro Tanizaki? What are some other literary destinations you know of in Japan? Let us know in the comments!

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