Tale of Genji
The Tale of Genji, which is considered as the first novel written in the world, gives us an insightful look at a historical Japanese period known as the Heian period. The Tale of Genji is not only an important part of Japanese literature, but also gives the reader a good idea of what culture and life was like in Japan during the Heian period. In this essay, I will be talking about the “ideal woman” in the Tale of Genji and how this idea reflects the characteristics of the cultural, historical, and social setting during the Heian period.
To start, In chapter 2 of The Tale of Genji, To no Chujo, the “Chief Left Equerry”, the “Fujiwara Aide of Ceremonies”, and Genji have a conversation about the “ideal” woman and the several kinds of women they have come across. Although the novel seldom mentions any physical attributes of a Heian beauty, pale white skin and long, shiny black hair were important physical traits for Heian woman. According to To no Chujo, the ideal woman is “from the middle ranking because they are not overly pampered or masked in mystery like the women of high ranking”. The Chief Equerry notes that looks are of little value because, “as long as a girl has looks and youth enough, she avoids anything that might soil her name” (24). This is inferring that the more attractive a woman is, the more she would try to hide herself and play games with her lover. The 1st woman that the Chief Equerry mentions is about a woman who was loyal yet extremely jealous and the 2nd woman who was graceful and smart but she was secretly seeing another man. After these two stories, he warns To no Chujo and Genji about “easy and pliant women” because “any slip of hers can make her husband look a fool” (33). To no Chujo talks about a woman who never complained about how infrequently he visited her and acted as if everything was normal even when his wife was sending her threats. The Aide mentions a woman who knew how to write and read classical Chinese and was knowledgeable about politics and government but stunk of garlic. The women that are mentioned are also the type of women Genji encounters; Aoi, who is the cold, unfriendly wife, Yugao, who is excessively meek and complacent, and Rokujo Haven, the overly jealous older woman. According to the Chief Equerry in chapter 2, there are two types of women To no Chujo and Genji should be aware of—ones for affairs and ones for marriage. While most women do well for an affair, choosing one for a wife is a much more difficult task. He gives his opinion as to the role of a woman in a marriage relationship. As a wife, not only must she take care of the household but she also must be emotionally in tune with her husband as well. In the following quote: “On the other hand, with a dutiful, frumpish housewife who keeps her side locks tucked behind her ears and does nothing but housework,