Men And Women Of The Heian Court

2060 words - 8 pages

During the Heian period, which lasted from 794 to 1185, literature is characterized as being in the forms of monogatari (tale) and nikki (diary). Many of the monogatari and nikki that were written were created by women, who wrote using kana syllabry. One of the most distinguished pieces of monogatari is Murasaki Shikibu’s Genji Monogatari or also known as The Tale of Genji. According to Nancy Hume, “most literary men of the Heian period avoided using the Japanese language or creating resembling fiction. This meant that the literature of the supreme period of Japanese civilization was left by default to the women, who were at liberty both to write in Japanese and to express themselves in the genre of fiction” (Hume 115).
The Tale of Genji is about an almost perfect man in the court and has many affairs with not only women, but with men as well. While reading The Tale of Genji, the reader may wonder how the noble men in the court could have so many affairs and visit many women throughout the city without worrying about political matters. At the time The Tale of Genji had been written, the nobles of the Heian court did not “need to occupy themselves with warfare or administration or economic planning,” and instead, “devoted themselves entirely to the cult of beauty” (Hume 117). Through Genji’s interactions with his friends and his lovers, the reader is able to picture the ideal woman and the ideal man of the imperial court during the Heian period as portrayed by Murasaki Shikibu.
As Murasaki Shikibu wrote The Tale of Genji, she describes her image of the ideal woman through her characters. The tale actually begins by stating an important aspect that a woman needed during the Heian period. At the beginning, Genji’s mother is described as a woman who lacks influential support from her father, who was a Grand Counselor, but passed away and causes the daughter to have a low rank in society. In the second chapter, “Hahakigi” (The Broom Tree), Genji’s friends engage in a debate on what characteristics make up the ideal woman for a man that is in the court and to run his household or in other words to be his wife. The discussion starts off between Genji and his friend Tō no Chūjō. According to Tō no Chūjō, a perfect woman is one who seems promising, writes in kana, is skilled in poetry, and is provided with rank by her father. However, Tō no Chūjō also mentions that the more particular a man’s standards are or the more he insists upon a certain quality, the harder it will be for him to find the perfect woman. Tō no Chūjō also makes it seem rare to find a perfect woman because he mentions the flaws that a woman may have. For example, a woman with rank may have her gentlewomen “disguise her weaknesses and advertise whatever passable qualities she may have so as to present them in the best light,” thereby disappointing the man after he learns what flaws she may have (Shikibu 20). In The Tale of Genji, Genji and Tō no Chūjō are men of...

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