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The Tale of Genji

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The Tale of Genji offers the reader an understanding of another period of Japanese history that is often overshadowed by the stories of medieval period. It gives the contemporary reader a good glimpse of what Heian society considered as the ideal man and woman and their complicated and intertwined relationships. First, I will discuss the ideal qualities of a Heian woman and their relationship with men as described in the novel. Then, I will discuss the description of Genji and the possible implications behind those descriptions.

In chapter 2 of The Tale of Genji, Tō no Chūjō, the Chief Left Equerry, the Fujiwara Aide of Ceremonies, and Genji have a discussion about the ideal woman and the various types of women they have encountered. According to Tō no Chūjō, the ideal woman is from the middle ranking because they are not overly pampered or shrouded in mystery like the women of high ranking. An important skill that a Heian woman should possess is the ability to compose good poetry in beautiful flowing handwriting. The Chief Equerry remarks that looks are of little value because, “as long as a girl has looks and youth enough, she avoids anything that might soil her name” (24). This implies that the more beautiful the woman the more she would try to conceal herself and play games with her admirer. They later tell each other of their own experiences regarding the flaws of certain women they encountered. The first woman the Chief Equerry mentions was a woman who was devoted yet extremely jealous and the second woman was graceful and smart but she was secretly seeing another man. After these two stories, he warns To no Chūjō and Genji about “easy and pliant women” because “any slip of hers can make her husband look a fool” (33). Tō n...

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Shining Genji: the name was imposing, but not so its bearer's many deplorable lapses; and considering how quiet he kept his wanton ways, lest in reaching the ears of posterity the earn him unwelcome fame, whoever broadcast his secrets to all the world was a terrible gossip (18.)

Like every Heian man, Genji is sensitive to the mono no aware of things.

However, it is hard not to see this description of Genji and his conduct as a social criticism of the typical aristocrat and his many love affairs. Many of the inexcusable things that Genji does are often overlooked. This includes forcefully entering Utsusemi’s room, kidnapping Murasaki after her father, Prince Hyōbu, told him he could not have her, and having an affair with his father’s consort.

Works Cited

Murasaki Shikibu. The Tale of Genji: Abridged. Trans. Royall Tyler. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.
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