Hase-Hime Monogatori and the Japanese “Model Woman”
“The Story of Princess Hase” is a folktale from Old Japan that recounts the early life of a Japanese girl, named Hase, born to the Fujiwara nobility. When the girl reaches the age of five her mother dies and soon after her father Prince Toyonari remarries. His new wife, Princess Terute, is so cruel towards her stepdaughter that she attempts to murder her twice: she personally tries to poison the girl and also commands that Hase-Hime1 be taken into the mountains where she is to be killed. The servant responsible pretends to obey his Mistress but in fact stays with his wife in the mountains taking care of Hase-Hime. Prince Toyonari searches for his daughter to no avail although they are eventually reunited during a hunting expedition. The evil stepmother, upon hearing this, flees and the Fujiwara family lives happily ever after.
Through an appealing narrative centering on Hase-Hime’s early life, one is exposed to a multitude of socio-cultural aspects pertaining to female model behavior as perceived in the culture of old Japan. Hase-Hime’s rearing to be obedient, diligent, and patient, along with her artistic preoccupations catalogue the fundamentals of feminine decorum, an ideal Japanese women were trained to aspire to. This essay not only investigates the traditional Japanese feminine ethos but also resolves the oxymoron which arises from the possible authority such a woman could bear, and provides information for the origins of the influences formulating the image of a Japanese “model woman.”
Women in Japan have often been presented in Western media as very feminine, demure and quite subservient. This recurrent theme is also encountered in “The Story of Hase-Hime” in the advice of the bed-ridden mother and the actions of the heroine. The audience catches a glimpse of a heart-rending scene of Hase-Hime standing beside her mother’s deathbed.
Princess Murasaki’s last words to her daughter are delivered with a rare mixture of tenderness and perspicacity; her legacy seems almost too onerous for the tender shoulders of a five-year old girl:
Do your best not to give trouble to your nurse or any other of your family…. be obedient and filial to both [your stepmother] and your father. Remember when you are grown up to be submissive to those who are your superiors, and to be kind to all those who are under you. Don’t forget this. I die with the hope that you will grow up a model woman (“The Story of Princess Hase” 73).
Hase-Hime heeds her mother’s advice and assumes a very stoic attitude towards her abusive step-mother: “But Hase-Hime bore every unkindness with patience, and even waited upon her stepmother kindly and obeyed her in every way and never gave any trouble, just as she had been trained by her own good mother” (“Princess Hase” 73). The above examples illustrate how central was patience and obedience to a Japanese girl’s upbringing. She is imbued with...