IB DP Language A Language and Literature – sample text analysis – essay

Source: Extract from Junichiro Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows (Leete’s Island Books, 1977)

Before you read the “spoiler” bullet points below take a careful look at the text. Imagine it is a text you are using for one of your DP Language A Language and Literature assessments: the individual oral, the HL essay, or Paper 1 and analyze it accordingly. (This text would not be appropriate for Paper 2).

Note: This text was originally published in Japanese. Check the guidelines in the Subject Guide for the using texts in translation in DP Language A and Literature assessments.

“Every time I am shown to an old, dimly lit, and, I would add, impeccably clean toilet in a Nara or Kyoto temple, I am impressed with the singular virtues of Japanese architecture. The parlor may have its charms, but the Japanese toilet is truly a place of spiritual repose. It always stands apart from the main building, at the end of a corridor, in a grove fragrant with leaves and moss. No words can describe that sensation as one sits in the dim light, basking in the faint glow reflected from the shoji, lost in meditation or gazing out at the garden. The novelist Natsume Sōseki counted his morning trips to the toilet a great pleasure, “a physiological delight” he called it. And surely there could be no better place to savor this pleasure than a Japanese toilet where, surrounded by tranquil walls and finely grained wood, one looks out upon blue skies and green leaves.

As I have said there are certain prerequisites: a degree of dimness, absolute cleanliness, and quiet so complete one can hear the hum of a mosquito. I love to listen from such a toilet to the sound of softly falling rain, especially if it is a toilet of the Kantō region, with its long, narrow windows at floor level; there one can listen with such a sense of intimacy to the raindrops falling from the eaves and the trees, seeping into the earth as they wash over the base of a stone lantern and freshen the moss about the stepping stones. And the toilet is the perfect place to listen to the chirping of insects or the song of the birds, to view the moon, or to enjoy any of those poignant moments that mark the change of the seasons. Here, I suspect, is where haiku poets over the ages have come by a great many of their ideas. Indeed one could with some justice claim that of all the elements of Japanese architecture, the toilet is the most aesthetic. Our forebears, making poetry of everything in their lives, transformed what by rights should be the most unsanitary room in the house into a place of unsurpassed elegance, replete with fond associations with the beauties of nature. Compared to Westerners, who regard the toilet as utterly unclean and avoid even the mention of it in polite conversation, we are far more sensible and certainly in better taste. The Japanese toilet is, I must admit, a bit inconvenient to get to in the middle of the night, set apart from the main building as it is; and in winter there is always a danger that one might catch cold. But as the poet Saitō Ryoku has said, “elegance is frigid.” Better that the place be as chilly as the out-of-doors; the steamy heat of a Western-style toilet in a hotel is the most unpleasant.”

Some elements of the text to consider:

  • How this essay differs from more formal / academic essays
  • The first person perspective
  • The unusual choice of topic (toilets) and the way that Japanese toilets are described
  • The frequency use of descriptive language throughout the text
  • The fairly long paragraphs and the complexity of many of the sentences
  • The way in which westerners are compared to Japanese in the second paragraph

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