The Ideal Of A Man And Woman Of The Heian Court Based On The Tale Of Genji

1498 words - 6 pages

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 the protagonist, Prince Genji, one can almost immediately discern a few of these distinguishable characteristics which were praised and/or made prominent in the course of the novel. These characteristics include his “shining” good lucks, considered to be almost other-worldly, artistic prowess (in literature, calligraphy, music, etc.), high intelligence, and passionate love affairs. In the novel, his voice alone was a distinguishing feature, as when he was pursuing Murasaki via her gentlewoman, “overwhelming her with the youthful grace of his voice.” (p.98) Another thing to note would be the lack of masculine descriptives when characterizing Genji. As opposed to modern Western ideal view of an attractive male, one of masculinity and physical strength, Genji is characterized as being “beautiful,” and “devastatingly handsome.” It could almost conjure up references for modern Japanese soushoku danshi for me. Contrary to modern ideals that stress physical excellence above all (at least in the media and generally), people of the Heian court valued artistic prowess just as much, if not more. This can be seen in the great stress that is placed on Genji's knowledge of the literary arts, most notably his poetry (particularly when...

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