The ideal of a man and the ideal of a woman of the Heian court differs significantly from what people of our modern society might consider ideal, but that is to be expected as our modern society has had much time to be exposed to and affected by the influences of many different cultures' viewpoints. In comparison, the Heian court was a more closed society, so back then, the notions of what was acceptable and unacceptable and the standards to which men and women were measured were more defined. Genji monogatari suggests the standards to which the sexes should be measured and gives examples of people who meet the standards.
It goes without saying that Genji, the hero of the tale, is the perfect man. Throughout the tale, every character, whether they liked Genji or not, in some way or another admitted to or acknowledged his high caliber. In the Heian court, the most significant qualities of a man were his beauty, elegance, and manner of treating women.
Even just after Genji's birth, his father the emperor was astonished by Genji's beauty. If one were to flip to a random page of the tale, he or she would have a pretty decent chance of landing on a page that mentions Genji's beauty. He was so beautiful that it did not matter what manner of garb he was dressed in or whether or not he had just rolled out of his sleeping place; no matter the circumstances, his appearance was perfect. When Genji went into self-exile, he was forced by the situation of no longer having a rank to wear plain, unpatterned clothes, but even then, he was still attractive.
Genji's elegance knew no bounds; he was good at everything from composing poetry, to playing instruments, to dancing and singing, and even as far as painting. With his poetry, he was able to bring people to tears and woo almost any woman. Genji was very proper in his etiquette when it came to composing poetry. He obeyed, among others, the convention of sending poems to women after staying the night with them.
Genji was a prodigy when it came to the playing the kin, and he could even play the sō no koto. Judging by the way that he was portrayed, I would not be surprised if there was not an instrument that he could not play. When Genji and Tō no Chūjō performed “Blue Sea Waves,” although Tō no Chūjō was very skillful in his dancing as if he had rehearsed many times, Genji was still the person who drew all of the attention from their audience. Genji's dance was so elegant, and his voice was so beautiful that it was likened to the kalavinka, the bird that sings in paradise.
Genji's prowess with painting was also out of this world. The picture contest in chapter 17 ended immediately after his paintings were revealed, even though the previous contenders were expert painters brought in specifically for the competition. His paintings were renderings of Suma and Akashi—the places where he had spent his time in exile. Seeing paintings that captured the essence of the faraway place that Genji...