The Ideal of a Man and Woman of the Heian court Based on the Tale of Genji

The Ideal of a Man and Woman of the Heian court Based on the Tale of Genji

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In this modern day and age, the epitome of manliness, at least to the Western world, includes a few main things – masculinity, or physical strength, mental acuity, and being an emotional rock – one who is emotionally stable and almost stoic, capable of comforting and lending strength. The modern epitome of womanliness is one encompassing sensuousness, gentility, emotion, cunning, and more and more often, strength of mind. This plays in stark contrast with the Japanese Heian-era notions of the ideal man and woman as portrayed in Murasaki Shikibu's Tale of Genji. When assessing these ideals, one must also take into account the fact that this novel describes the somewhat atypical Japanese Heian court life as opposed to the daily life of commoners.
When assessing Tale of Genji and attempting to understand the ideal qualities of a man or woman of the time, one must also take into account the author and the audience she writes for, as well as what should be considered a miniscule amount of background knowledge on the Heian era of Japan. Murasaki Shikibu was a gentlewoman in the services of the Empress Akiko (or Shoshi, as she is sometimes called) during the reign of Emperor Ichijou, taken into service for her remarkable literary prowess. The Heian court life was thus constantly revolving around our Murasaki, and allowed her to write what is arguably the most accurate literary depiction of itself and its inhabitants available to the public. The novel was written for the yokibito, or women of the aristocracy.
According to The Tale of Genji,the ideal Heian court gentleman was a man of many talents, one of political power and prestige, and as it seems in the novel, one of considerably good looks and emotion. If one takes a quick look at...


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...tween lovers. Women were mild, yielding, and soft, and men were emotional, diligent and passionate in character. Both men and women of high class seemed to have been educated in the musical arts, particularly in playing the koto, and the art of dance. Essentially, Murasaki Shikibu's depiction of Heian court life in Genji Monogatari was one of distinction, elegance, aesthetic appreciation, literacy, passion, and emotion, most highly exemplified in ideal male form by Prince Genji, and in ideal female form by Fujitsubo. These two characters present the most accurate representations of model Heian court nobles, and truly illustrate to readers not only the beauty present in the Heian court, but of the flaws and trials present as well, presenting a wonderful contrast to the ideal views of men and women in modern Western society, and insight into ancient Japanese culture.

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