Murasaki-shikibu, Genji monogatari,
Tale of Genji (1008)
(adapted from Kumiko Sato's web
The Tale of Genji is a
looooong romance consisting of three parts. In the first and second
parts, Genji is the protagonist, but the third part is set after his
death. Genji was born from Kiritsubo-no-Koyi (Kiritsubo means her
rresidential room name, and koyi is her rank title), who was one of
the Emperor's wives. She was the most beloved of the emperor
Kiritsubo in spite of her low rank. She dies soon after Genji was
born. The emperor Kiritsubo welcomes a new wife in place of Koyi,
Fujitsubo. Genji has strong affection toward her, which later grows
into passionate love. Genji becomes a beautiful, talented young man,
always competing with his best friend, To-no-Chujo. They are stars
in the imperial residence area. While having affairs with many
women, Genji always longs for his prohibited love, his absent mother
figure, Fujitsubo. They had consummated their love once in secret,
which results in her pregnancy. So here is an interesting plot
development which, although fictional, casts serious doubt about the
"sacred, inviolable" nature of the Japanese monarchy because the
emperor who ascends the throne later in the story is believed by the
world to be Genjis brother but he is really his son!
Genji has really very many affairs with
other women as well, in order to console his longing for Fujitsubo.
Aoi-no-ue: his official wife, who has too much pride to express her
emotion and thus alienates herself from Genji.
Rokujo-no-miyasundokoro is a high-rank woman, who is much older than
Genji but falls in love with him so passionately that her jelousy
turns into an evil spirit and kills Aoi, his wife! Yugao is a low
rank woman whom Genji accidentaly meets in the common people's area.
Yugao is a fragile flower who dies in a haunted house.
Sue-tsumu-hana is a fairly homely young woman, who has no sense of
art in poetry nor love. Genji comes to help her (mainly financially)
out of sympathy. Oborozukiyo is a fashionable girl who loves
adventurous love and has affairs with Genji the night before she
marries the new emperor! There is a famous chapter called "Amayo no
shinasadame," or "Discussion on a Rainy Night,"which is a discussion
among aa number of the young men at court on a rainy day over what
kind of woman is desirable.
Because of illness, Genji spends
some days in the mountains, where he finds a beautiful girl raised at
the temple he visits. He decides to take her, Murasaki-no-ue, back
to his residence and teaches her music, drawing, poetry, etc., in
order to make her an ideal woman. They marry (or Genji raped this
11-12 year-old girl, to be precise). As she grows up, Murasaki
learns to love Genji, and they come to love each other very deeply.
Genji is quite successful in his career, but when a new emperor comes
to the throne, he moves to Akashi in exile. He meets Akashi-no-ue
there. When an emperor on Genji's side comes to sit on the throne,
he returns to Kyoto, and becomes Sa-daijin (Minister of the Left)
while his best friend becomes the Minister of the Right. When
Murasaki dies, Genji's life loses meaning and he retreats into the
way of the Buddha, and dies soon thereafter.
Part III centers on Kaoru and
Niou-miya. Kaoru was born between Genji and his immature wife,
San-no-miya, but his true father is Kashiwagi, a son of Genji's best
friend. Niou-miya belongs to the right wing, while Kaoru is on
Genji's side, i.e., the left wing. The episodes that come after this
seem to be a playing out of what Genji and To-no-Chujo have already
done. The last 10 chapters, known as the "Uji chapters" because much
of the setting shifts to outside of Kyoto, to a place caled Uji where
a the Uji river figures prominently in the narrative.
Genji monogatari was quite popular
among people in the court, and we can know from several diaries
written by women of the aristcratic class that young ladies were
crazy about Genji monogatari. Although the work written in the early
11th-century makes us think that it is a serious literary work, it is
actually almost equivalent to popular TV melodramas (like Beverly
Hills 90120?) or film (like Titanic?) in our own age. The name,
Genji, can still be found everywhere in Japanese pop culture as well
as its academic studies. I have read Genji monogatari in the
original classic Japanese, translation in modern Japanese, manga
(esp. girls' comics), and in the anime
The romance of Genji seems to still
excite fantasy of love. The elements of popular romance (esp.
melodrama) can be found in Genji monogatari, such as tactics of love,
jelousy, centimentalism, suicide, class difference of lovers,
misunderstanding, separation, all kinds of trouble in love. The
most eminent difference from our age, however, is women's deep
pessimism caused by polygamy, which leads them to the immerse in
Buddhism. Since Genji, the most handsome guy in high rank, has many,
many women, his wives and concubines incessantly suffer from the
emotion of jelousy, which burns out their own life in the end. The
Rokujo Lady, for example turns into an evil spirit and possess some
of Genji's women. This theme of jealousy and rage turning itno spirit
possession is seized upon by Enchi Fumiko in her Novel, Masks.
Murasaki herself longs to be a nun, leaving all the worries of love
behind. Jealousy is a significant motif in women's writings in this
period. A high-ranking Fujiwara spouse expresses her concerns in the
famous Kagero Diary [aka The Gossamer Years]
were also about her husband's concubines and his cold treatment of
her. Wives were confined within a residence, and simply had to wait
for the husband's visit (A man of high rank usually did not bring
their women to his residence. Wives stayed in their parents'
residence and her husband was supposed to visit her at certain
frequency). A man, on the other hand, was allowed to have more
concubines, as his rank was higher. Although there were no iron
grills to keep women inside, women of high rank were wearing that
kind of kimono which weighs about a third to half of their own
weight: quite naturally, even standing up was a hard move for them.
Because of this heavy dress which is too hot in summer, and poisonous
make-up (they used lead to blacken teeth), they died at the age of
around 30 years old. In this harsh condition, jelousy devours
women's psyche. Lady Rokujo's transformation into a jealous fiend
effectively indicates that one of the only ways for a woman to
express her emotions in this oppresive society is to become a monster
in the realm of the fantastic.
There are political and literary
backgrounds to be pointed out in relation to Sei Shonagon's
no soshi [or The Pillow