Sabi is beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs.
In addition to contrasting light and dark, Tanizaki further considers the layered tones of various kinds of shadows and their power to reflect low sheen materials like gold embroidery, patina and cloudy crystals. In addition, he distinguishes between the values of gleam and shine.
The essay acts as a classic description of the collision between the shadows of traditional Japanese interiors and the dazzling light of the modern age.
“These [Japanese] women were in no way reticent about powdering themselves. Every bit of exposed flesh—even their backs and arms—they covered in a thick coat of white. Still they could not efface the darkness that lay below their skin. It was as plainly visible as dirt at the bottom of a pool of pure water. Between the fingers, around the nostrils, along the spine—about these places especially, dark, almost dirty, shadows gathered. But the skin of Westerners, even those of darker complexion, had a limpid glow. Now here were they tainted by this gray shadow. From the tops of their heads to the tips of their fingers the whiteness was pure and unadulterated. Thus it is that when one of us goes among a group of Westerners it is like a grimy stain on a sheet of white paper. The sight offends even our own eyes and leaves none too pleasant a feeling.