The Cultural Significance of The Tale of Genji Essay

The Cultural Significance of The Tale of Genji Essay

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The Cultural Significance of The Tale of Genji


The Tale of Genji is one of the most important stories of ancient Japanese literature. Japanese scholar Sin Ohno said that there is no literature written during the Heian Era which is written in as precise language as The Tale of Genji. The author, Murasaki Shikibu, is a woman. In this tale, we can see the concept towards marriage of women during her period.

During the Nara Era, and some time before, the concept of marriage was totally different from the concept we know today. It is called "Tsuma Toi Kon." "Tsuma" means wife; "Toi" means to visit; "Kon" means marriage. In order to explain the marriage during this era, I will present an example of the typical interactions between men and women.

When a man meets woman, somewhere like market where many people gather, the man would ask her address and name if he is interested in her. Asking for the name also avoids misunderstanding; asking for the address is so he can visit her. Visiting her is like marriage in today's sense. If the woman is interested in the man, she would tell her address and name. The man would visit the woman's house in the evening and call her name from outside. He might play a musical instrument like a flute, or harp, or sing songs to get her attention. Men sometimes visited women without calling or playing any music. Whether the woman accepts the man is up to the woman to decide. If the woman is interested, she would invite him in. Men and women generally worked during the day time; the men visited women only at night time. In earlier eras, the family built a sub-house beside the main house and invited the men into the sub-house. However, the men did not stay in the sub-house. Men visited at night and...


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...robably tried to create a figure who had ability to support several different women. Even though what Genji did was allowed in ancient society, it is definitely not acceptable today. In The Tale of Genji a man would sometimes play a harp or a flute to get a woman's attention. Considering the appearance of traditional marriage, those men are following the traditional ways of marriage. Marriage during the Heian Era is a little different from the Nara Era. They still pracitced what was still recognized as "visiting marriage," but the family formally accepted the man as groom. However, men still stopped visiting when they lost interest in the women. This is like Hikaru Genji, who did not like Lady Aoi very much, so he seldom visited her. "Visiting marriage" had many problems. In some cases, men visited several different women at a time. There were laws to restrict the m

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