HISTORY

Hikaru Genji, Hero of The Tale of Genji

2013.06.15 [HISTORY,WHAT'S NEW]

Hikaru Genji, Hero of The Tale of Genji

The main character in The Tale of Genji is of course, Genji, the son of an Emperor by an Intimate
(a lower ranking consort).  This Emperor favours Genji over even his firstborn offspring by a Consort
(high-ranking), but is aware that the court would not approve, so he decides to have him removed
from the Imperial Family to become a commoner and serve as a senior government official.  He is
referred to as Hikaru Genji, the Shining Prince due to his stunningly handsome appearance. While Genji
is the hero of the fiction, he and each of Murasaki’s characters was likely inspired by individuals she
observed in real court life during the Heian period of Japanese history.

 

 

The central theme of The Tale of Genji is not only a literary exhibition of the slow-paced courtly existence,
but also the women in Genji’s life including his string of very varied lovers in terms of looks, intelligence,
maturity, talent and character.  Throughout the novel, Genji has relationships with a little over one dozen
women.  As with the attitude common among most men regardless of time period, nationality and class,
he has a tendency to lose interest in a woman if he was certain he could seduce her easily.  While some
he loved more than the others, he always looked after every woman he was involved with even after the
affairs when he had lost interest in them romantically.   

 

Many chapters in the book display debate-like conversations Genji has with other courtiers about the a
dvantages and disadvantages regarding certain traits associated with women, and which ones make for
better combinations towards a good marriage and harmonious existence between men and women. 
While the upper ranks of Japanese nobility enjoyed a leisurely life and an array of enjoyments and privileges, chapters in the work also highlight secrets and conflicts with love within the intimate court setting.

 

(Japan World Writer / Pauline Chakmakjian, MA)

 


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