Sunday, January 31, 2021

Reading The Tale of Genji (4): The Cicada Shell (Utsusemi)

Chapters 2, 3, 4 and 6 of the Genji have together been called "the Broom Tree Sequence," as these chapters are a sort of parody of the main theme, the discovery of forgotten women of the middle rank ("hidden flowers") by showing how easily things can turn out wrong.

In what is a rather short chapter, Genji continues pursuing (if not stalking) Utsusemi and makes a third visit to the house where she is staying. "Utsusemi" is a nickname and means "the cast-off shell of a cicada," and like the "Broom Tree" of the previous chapter, finds it origin in a poetic exchange between Genji and Utsusemi. Her title is "the wife of the Iyo Deputy" - her husband is a provincial official serving in Iyo, present-day Matsuyama (even the hot springs of Dogo are mentioned by Murasaki Shikibu). While on duty, he leaves his wife behind in the capital.

Ironically, it is Utsusemi's rejection that makes her an unforgettable figure for Genji. She is modest, somewhat plain and small, but her behavior stands out splendidly and she has good taste. Even when Genji makes an advance to her, she maintains her honor gracefully to the last, though she is afflicted, which again deeply impresses Genji. If she would have surrendered to him when he first tried to sleep with her, he would probably by now have forgotten her - it is her resistance, and pitiable condition, that keep him interested. By the way, it is said that Murasaki Shikibu herself could have served as a model for Utsusemi, because of the resemblance in circumstances and status.


[Genji spies on Utsusemi playing Go with her stepdaughter (from Wikimedia)]

Genji remains so infatuated that he proceeds for a third time to the mansion of the Governor of Kii under cover of the darkness, again claiming a "directional taboo." With the help of Kogimi, Utsusemi's young brother he has taken under his wing, he manages to steal a glance into the room, where Utsusemi is playing a game of Go with her step-daughter, the younger sister of the Governor of Kii, Nokiba no Ogi. Both women are revealingly under-dressed on the warm summer night. This act of spying on women (through a gap in a fence or curtain) by a man is called kaimami and is an often repeated scene in the Genji Monogatari (and just as often depicted in Genji-e, as here and here).

In fact, Nokiba no Ogi is more attractive and animated than her step-mother, but Utsusemi displays more cultivation and elegance. That night, Genji contrives, with Kogimi's assistance, to secretly creep into the bedchamber of the ladies. But Utsusemi somehow senses his presence, and swiftly flees the room, leaving only a thin robe behind like a cicada discarding its shell (hence the chapter title). In her desire to escape him, Utsusemi also abandons her sleeping step-daughter, who becomes Genji's unwitting prey. He initially mistakes the sleeping Nokiba no Ogi for Utsusemi and embraces her. When he notices his mistake, things have already gone too far - or he is just unwilling to admit defeat -, so he continues making love to her. Nokiba no Ogi does not even imagine she has been the victim of mistaken identity (Genji woos her into believing she is indeed the object of his desire), but is rather miserly treated by Genji afterwards, as he doesn't even send her the usual "morning after" poem, and also never returns to her. Nokiba no Ogi has been left behind by Utsusemi like the discarded robe, and lies just as inert and lifeless in Genji's arms as a cicada shell. It is only later, when she has become a memory, that Genji starts harboring fresh feelings of desire and regret for her.

Genji has managed to steal Utsusemi's robe (his only prize) and for many nights takes it with him to bed, fetischistically trying to find her faint scent in the soft textile. He then writes the following poem to Utsusemi:

at the foot of the tree
where the cicada
shed its shell,
my longing still goes to her
who left it behind

[utsusemi no mi wo kaetekeru ko no moto ni nao hitogara no natsukashiki kana]

Instead of responding with a poem by her own hand, Utsusemi, who is despite everything impressed by Genji's devotion, copies one by the tenth century poet Lady Ise next to Genji's:

dew lying on the wings
of the locust
hiding beneath this tree -
secretly, secretly
my sleeves are wet with my tears

[utsusemi no ha ni oku tsuyu no kogakurete shinobi shinobi ni nururu sode kana]


The Go game scene is the one most frequently illustrated from this chapter.

Two No plays have been based on the Utsusemi story. In Utsusemi the shite appears in disguise before a priest at Nakagawa, the Inner River Mansion of the Governor of Kii (presumably so called as it stood close to a small river that flowed between the Kamo and Katsura rivers), and site of Utsusemi's encounter with Genji. After telling the story of the place she reveals her true identity as Utsusemi and vanishes. In exchange for prayers on behalf of her soul, she then reappears in the priest's dream that night and performs a graceful No dance. The extended description of Nakagawa at the beginning of the play is based on phrases culled from the Genji Monogatari - in medieval times Genji handbooks were compiled by culling words and phrases from famous scenes as a sort of synopsis. Utsusemi's story also provided various motifs for both waka and renga

The other play is called Go and focuses on that game as secretly watched (kaimami) by Genji. A priest visiting Nakagawa recalls a poem about the place, causing a woman to appear and engage him in conversation about it. She offers him lodging for the night and promises to provide a game of Go as entertainment, whereupon she disappears. In the second part of the play, the shite (Utsusemi) and tsure (Nokiba no Ogi) face each other across a Go board at the front of the stage as they imitate a game (a prop is used for the Go board). This is a very dense and elliptical play.
Note that Genji himself does not appears in these No plays.

Translations:
Seidensticker, Edward G. (1976). The Tale of Genji. 1 & 2. Tuttle Publishing.
Tyler, Royall (2001). The Tale of Genji. New York: Viking.
Waley, Arthur (1926-33). Tale of Genji: The Arthur Waley Translation of Lady Murasaki's Masterpiece with a new foreword by Dennis Washburn (Tuttle Classics)
Washburn, Dennis (2015). The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. W. W. Norton & Company; Unabridged edition
Yosano Akiko, Genji Monogatari in modern Japanese, at Aozora Bunko.
Original text in full at Japanese Text Intitiative (University of Virginia)

Studies:
Bargen, Doris G (1997). A Woman's Weapon : Spirit possession in the Tale of Genji. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press.
Bargen, Doris G. (2015). Mapping Courtship and Kinship in Classical Japan: The Tale of Genji and Its Predecessors (Hawaii U.P.)
Bowring, Richard (1985). Murasaki Shikibu, Her Diary and Poetic Memoirs: A Translation and Study (Princeton U.P.)
Emmerich, Michael (2013). The Tale of Genji: Translation, Canonization, and World Literature (Columbia U.P.)
Field, Norma (1987). The Splendor of Longing in the Tale of Genji. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Goff, Janet Emily (1991). Noh Drama and the Tale of Genji : The Art of Allusion in Fifteen Classical Plays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Harper, Thomas and Shirane, Haruo (2015). Reading The Tale of Genji: Sources from the First Millennium (Columbia U.P.)
McKinney, Meredith (2006). The Pillow Book, by Sei Shonagon (Penguin)
McMullen, James (2019). Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji: Philosophical Perspectives (Oxford U.P.)
Morris, Ivan I (1964). The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan. New York: Kodansha International.
Shirane, Haruo (1987). The Bridge of Dreams : A Poetics of the Tale of Genji. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Shirane, Haruo (2008). Envisioning the Tale of Genji: Media, Gender, and Cultural Production. New York: Columbia University Press.
Tyler, Royall (2014). A Reading of the Tale of Genji.
The Tale of Genji, Scenes from the World’s first Novel, with illustrations by Miyata Masayuki, Kodansha International (2001).
Kano Shigefumi. Genji Monogatari no butai wo tazunete (Kyoto, 2011).

Article on kaimami: "Stolen Glimpses: Convention and Variations" by Daniel Struve, in Cipango - French Journal of Japanese Studies (2014) at http://journals.openedition.org/cjs/697.


Reading The Tale of Genji

Friday, January 29, 2021

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 35 (Ki no Tsurayuki)

 Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 35

hito wa isa
kokoro mo shirazu
furusato wa
hana zo mukashi no
ka ni nioi keru


人はいさ
心も知らず
ふるさとは
花ぞむかしの
香に匂ひける

the hearts of people
are hard to know
yet at the old place
the plum blossoms at least
keep the scent of bygone days

Ki no Tsurayuki (872–945)


[Plum blossoms]


Paraphrase: "I don't know whether you feel the same about me as in the past, but the plum blossoms at least are blooming with the same scent as always."

  • hito: points at the owner of the house (I think the term "inn" which is sometimes used, is too modern)
  • isa (usually with shirazu): "who knows?" or "I don't know"
  • furusato: a nostalgic, beloved place, not necessarily one's hometown
  • hana: The poem only speaks about "hana", blossoms, but as "sakura" or cherryblossoms don't have any fragrance, the poet must be speaking about plum blossoms which are famous for their subtle scent. The poet would as was customary attach the paper with his poem it to some object, here a spray of plum blossoms he breaks off the tree.
  • ka ni noikeru: to be in full bloom with a good scent.

The Kokinshu has the following head note: "One day, after a long absence, the poet stopped again at a house where he had often lodged when he made a pilgrimage to Hasuse. The owner said to him: "As you see, there is a perfectly good place to spend the night here." Tsurayuki broke off a blossoming branch from a plum tree nearby and composed this poem." (The owner's words teased Tsurayuki for the fact that he had not come for such a long time).

Hatsuse lies to the SE of Nara, 75 km from Kyoto (so a very long journey in those days) and was know for Hasedera  temple, a Kannon temple which was an important pilgrimage center in Heian times (and in fact still today).

[Ki no Tsurayuki by Kano Tanyu, 1648]

Ki no Tsurayuki was one of the greatest of the classical poets, and the first writer of Japanese prose (Tosa Nikki, a fictional travel account). He was the chief compiler of the Kokinshu, in which work he was assisted by the authors of verses Nos. 29, 30 and 33. This anthology was compiled at the order of emperor Daigo and was finished in 905, containing some eleven hundred poems in 20 volumes. Ki no Tsurayuki also wrote the Japanese preface to the anthology, the first critical essay on waka. Tsurayuki dealt with the history of the waka from its mythological origin to the waka of his time. He classified the poems into genres, referred to some important poets and evaluated his predecessors.

Tsurayuki himself was also famous for his waka and is regarded in Japan as one of Thirty-six Poetic Geniuses selected by Fujiwara no Kinto. His name is also mentioned in the Genji Monogatari as a waka master (in the story Emperor Uda orders him and a number of female poets to write waka on door panels).

After holding several offices in Kyoto, Tsurayuki was appointed provincial governor of Tosa Province and stayed there from 930 to 935. He was later probably transferred to Suo Province, as a record of a waka party he held in his home in Suo has come down to us.

There is an anthology of Tsurayuki's waka called Tsurayuki-shu. He probably put these together himself. Some of his works have also been included in other major waka anthologies such as Kokinshu and other imperial collections. In the three oldest of the imperial waka anthologies, he was one of the most popular waka poets.


[Hasedera]

Hasedera is a fascinating temple. During the Heian period it was a center of the Kannon cult, like Kiyomizudera in Kyoto and Ishiyamadera in Otsu. The impressive Kannon Hall, built on stilts against the steep cliff, as Kiyomizudera in Kyoto, stands towering on the mountain slope. Inside pligrims find a most wondrous ten meter tall statue, a standing Thousand-headed Kannon, who carries a flower vase in the left hand, and a monk’s staff and rosary in the right hand. That last feature is characteristic of Jizo statues, and this Kannon is therefore a fusion with that other beloved Bodhisattva, the meek Jizo. The Kannon Hall is reached via a long covered and gently graded staircase, and the temple is especially popular in the spring, when the peonies that line this staircase are in bloom. The temple was in Heian times favored by members of the nobility, such as the authors of the Kagero Nikki and the Sarashina Nikki (these Kannon temples welcomed visits by women, in contrast to other monastic establishments as Koyasan where women were not allowed to enter). Hasedera was consistently popular with visitors, something which was also helped by the fact it was situated on what was then the route from Kyoto to the Ise Shrine.
(15 min walk from Hasedera St on the Kintetsu Osaka line. https://www.hasedera.or.jp/)


[The long covered staircase in Hasedera]

References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Hyakunin Isshu, Ocho waka kara chusei waka e by Inoue Muneo (Chikuma Shoin, 2004); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).

[The photos in this post are my own]


Hyakunin Isshu Index


Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Haiku Travels (15): Basho and the Sumida River (Tokyo)

 

Haiku Travels

Sumida River (Tokyo)


hototogisu

its cry lies stretched

across the water


hototogisu | koe yokotau ya | mizu no ue


ほととぎす声や横たふ水の上

Basho




[Basho looking out over the Sumida River (statue in the Observation Garden close to the Basho Memorial Hall)]

The Sumida River flows through central Tokyo into Tokyo Bay. It is actually the name for the lower reaches of the Arakawa River which originates in the Kanto mountains. The Sumida flows north to south through Tokyo's "shitamachi" (downtown area) and is connected with a network of canals. Wholesale stores and warehouses are located along the river.

The Sumida runs through Tokyo for about 27 kilometers, and today it passes under 26 bridges spaced at about one bridge per kilometer. In Basho's time there was only one bridge: Ryogoku Bridge, first built in 1659. Its name, "Bridge of the Two Countries" was based on the fact that it formed the border between the provinces Musashi and Shimousa. Just before Basho's death a second bridge was built, in fact closer to his house, the Shin Ohashi (New Great Bridge, 1693, see below). But there were also many ferries and smaller boats helping people to cross the river. It is a good idea to take a cruise on the Sumida River to see these bridges and Tokyo's skyline - the only disappointment, when comparing this cruise to cruises on the Seine or the Thames, is that Tokyo like other Japanese cities stands with its back turned to the river - it lacks the beautiful river front one finds in European cities.

The Sumida River was famous for the cherry trees planted on its banks and also for the large firework display in summer - this was first held in 1732 as a festival for the dead due to a famine. It continues to this day with fireworks launched from barges in the river.

The Sumida River has left its mark in literature as well. The earliest instances are in the Ise Monogatari and Sarashina Nikki, followed by a famous early 15th c. No play by Kanze Motomasa. In this play, a mad-woman travels all the way from Kyoto to the banks of the Sumidagawa in search of her lost child. From what the ferryman tells her, she understands that her child is dead and also that the people gathered before a burial mound on the opposite shore are chanting a Buddhist prayer on behalf of him (he had been kidnapped and later abandoned by slave traders). The woman rushes into the group and, striking a gong, begins to recite the Nenbutsu prayer herself. The ghost of a young boy appears from behind the burial mound but recedes with the light of dawn. Only the grass-covered mound remains.

And then we have of course the beautiful, nostalgic story Nagai Kafu wrote in 1911 (see my post on Modern Japanese Fiction Part 2).


[Sumida River and Shin-Ohashi]


How close to the river Basho lived is reflected in the following haiku:
 
full moon -
thrusting against my gate
tidal crests

meigetsu ya | kado ni sashikuru | shiogashira

名月や門にさしくる潮がしら

Full moon is the time that the tide in Tokyo Bay is highest. As Basho's hut stood on a tip of land near the mouth of the Sumida River, at the point where the Onagi River flowed into it, he was in a good position to observe tidal patterns. Moon viewing was a social activity in traditional Japan, but Basho apparently is alone this night. Suddenly, visitors arrive: the waves pushing against his gate, as if wanting to enter and join the poet in his appreciation of the bright moon.

In another haiku combining the Sumida with moon viewing, he wrote:

upstream
and here downstream
moon viewing buddies

kawakami to | kono kawashimo ya | tsuki no tomo

川上とこの川下や月の友

Standing on the edge of the wide river, Basho's hut must have been a perfect place for moon viewing. The moon viewing person living downstream in the present haiku is Basho himself, but commentators are not in unison about who Basho's moon-loving companion may have been. Or is Basho referring again to the waves of the Sumida?

Now to the haiku cited at the beginning of this post. Elsewhere I have already written about the hototogisu, or lesser cuckoo, which has a gentle call and is one of the best loved Japanese song birds. As this bird arrives around May in Japan, it is considered the harbinger of early summer. From the time of the first poetry collection, the Manyoshu (8th century), this small bird has inspired many poets. In haiku, it figures as a season word for 'early summer.'

Basho describes in this haiku how the call of the hototogisu, even after it has stopped, still reverberates over the river. The middle phrase suggests the spaciousness of the water. The poet was especially interested in such 'lingering sounds,' an effect he tried to match in his own haiku. This was also an important effect in ancient Chinese poetic theory: the subtle aftertaste is more important than the original flavor...


[Sudden Shower over Shin-Ohashi bridge
and Atake, by Hiroshige (1857)]

The Shin-Ohashi Bridge, the second bridge over the Sumida as mentioned above, built close to Basho's hut, was immortalized in a famous ukiyo-e by Hiroshige dating from 1857. Part of his “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo” series, it shows people hurrying across the wooden bridge in a downpour, their faces hidden by umbrellas. The buildings in the background are the boathouses of the shogun. On the river you can also spot a lumber raft - in nearby Fukagawa were extensive lumber yards, so that in case of fire that city could be quickly rebuilt.

Basho wrote several haiku about the New Great Bridge:

first snow -
on the new bridge
almost completed

hatsu yuki ya | kakekakaritaru | hashi no ue

初雪や懸けかかりたる橋の上


In September 1693 construction was started on this New Great Bridge. In fact, it stood almost next to the poet's cottage and he must have had a good view of the construction work. Originally it stood further downstream than the present Shin-Ohashi Bridge, in about the same position as the Basho Museum.

The new bridge, which made trips to Edo so much easier for Basho and his disciples, was finished in December 1693. It was 200 meters in length. The present haiku was written when the bridge was half completed, with the frame already standing. That frame in all its newness was crowned by fresh snow - the first of the season. Hatsu, 'first,' speaks of Basho's joy at the new bridge.

Another haiku, written after completion, expresses Basho's gratefulness, which to me has some Buddhist overtones, as it sounds like gratitude towards Tariki, the Other Power in Jodo Shin Buddhism:

everyone goes out
grateful for the bridge
covered with ripe

mina idete | hashi wo itadaku | shimoji kana

皆出でて橋を戴く霜路哉

Basho Kinenkan (Basho Museum)
10:00-17:00, Closed Mondays, year-end and New Year period. 1-6-3 Tokiwa Koto-ku, Tokyo-to 135. Tel. 03-3631-1448. Access: 5 min. from Kiyosumi-Shirakawa Station on the Oedo line; 7 min. from Morishita Station on the Shinjuku Subway line; 25 min. from Monzen-Nakamachi on the Tozai Subway line; 20 min. from Ryogoku Station on the JR Sobu line. https://www.kcf.or.jp/basho/

Translations and Studies of Basho
Basho's Haiku
, 2 vols,  by Toshiharu Oseko (1990 & 1996, Maruzen): Basho and his Interpreters, Selected Hokku with Commentary, by Makoto Ueda (1992, Stanford U.P.); Traces of Dreams, Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho, by Haruo Shirane (1998, Stanford U.P.); Basho's Narrow Road, by Hiroaki Sato (1996, Stone Bridge Press); Basho's Journey, The Literary Prose of Matsuo Basho, by David Landis Bamhill (2005, State University of New York); Basho Yamatoji by Daiyasu Takashi considers Basho's travels in the Nara area and the haiku he wrote there (Izumi Shobo, 1994)

[All photos in this post are my own. Ukiyo-e from Wikipedia]


Index Haiku Travels


Monday, January 25, 2021

Sarashina Diary, by Lady Sarashina (book review)


As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams: Recollections of a Woman in Eleventh-Century JapanAs I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams: Recollections of a Woman in Eleventh-Century Japan by Lady Sarashina
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sarashina Nikki (Sarashina Diary) is a wonderful book, but the title is a misnomer. It is not a diary, but a personal memoir, and it has nothing to do with Sarashina, a locality in Nagano (one of the poems in the book refers obliquely to Sarashina, but that is all). The translator, Ivan Morris, therefore opted for the the fancy title “As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams,” which is beautifully poetic and apt, as the author often describes her dreams (and it is a reference to the last chapter of the Tale of Genji, Lady Sarashina's favorite novel), but it is not satisfactory either because it seems to point at a wholly different book. So let’s keep the name Sarashina Nikki, under which it is after all known in Japan, and let’s for convenience sake call the author “Lady Sarashina” as is commonly done.

Yes, this is not only a book without an original title, it is also a book written by a woman with no name. That last defect is normal for the Heian period: women didn’t use their names in public, but were called by the names / titles of their husbands, fathers or other male family members. Our writer was the “Daughter of Sugawara no Takasue,” and she was born more than one thousand years ago, in 1008, and died after 1059. Her father, from the well-known Sugawara family (which by this time had lost its power), was a provincial administrator, so a middle-ranking aristocrat. She lived with her father, taking care of his household, but at age 31 also started to serve as part-time lady-in-waiting to one of the imperial princesses. At age 36 she married, with a husband who was six years her senior, and a provincial administrator like her father. This was a very late marriage, as in Heian times marriages at ages as young as 16 were normal. She had a son and two more children by her husband. When she was 49, her husband returned ill from one of his postings and died (postings to the provinces were often "tanshin funin" in modern business terms, without the family). She continued to write her memoir for two years more (it is assumed that most of it was written in her later years), and then her voice falls silent – we don’t know if she died herself, or perhaps took refuge in a temple as a nun.


[Statue of Lady Sarashina
in front of Goi Station
(Ichihara, Chiba prefecture)]

The author was one of a group of literary women who flourished in 10th and 11th c. Japanese court society. They were well educated, had leisure and a favorable social position. Murasaki Shikibu, the author of The Tale of Genji, was one of them; others were for example Sei Shonagon (The Pillow Book), Izumi Shikibu, and the author of the Kagero Nikki, again a nameless woman (and the niece of Lady Sarashina).

Our author is intensely personal in describing her feelings, hopes and disappointments, but she tells us very little of the practical facts of life, as was customary at the time. But what she describes, is all very beautiful. What makes her work outstanding are the interesting descriptions of travels and pilgrimages – she was the first author in the genre of travel writing, and a very accomplished one. Her father had been posted as assistant governor to what is now part of Chiba prefecture, and when Lady Sarashina was 12 the family traveled back to the capital Heiankyo (Kyoto), a three month long journey. Her remembrances of this journey open her memoirs, and although terse and sometimes geographically inaccurate (because she wrote so many years after the event), it is unique in Heian literature. She writes about Mt Fuji (then still an active volcano): “There is no mountain like it in the world. It has a most unusual shape and seems to have been painted deep blue; its thick cover of unmelting snow gives the impression that the mountain is wearing a white jacket over a dress of deep violet.”

In her 10s and 20s, Lady Sarashina was addicted to reading tales, Japan’s earliest fiction, and her favorite book was the Tale of Genji. There was of course no publishing industry, books were privately copied and re-copied by hand. After reading the "Wakamurasaki" chapter of the Genji, Lady Sarashina yearns to possess the whole novel, even dedicating a Buddhist statue so that this wish may be fulfilled. Her joy knows no bounds when after returning to Heiankyo, she is presented with a whole copy (“more than 50 chapters”, so the Genji at that time probably had the same length as today’s 54 chapters). She dreams of being a heroine like Yugao or Ukifune, with a smart lover as Genji – it would be enough if he visited only once a year, for the rest she would look forward to his beautiful letters… In this way, the memoirs are impressive records of Lady Sarashina’s travel and of her day-to-day life.

Later she blames herself for her addiction to tales, and for having neglected her spiritual growth. That is later in life, when she has become a sincere Buddhist, making frequent pilgrimages to famous temples as Kiyomizudera, Ishiyamadera and Hasedera. Such pilgrimages were also often long trips of many days; not only the journey itself was long, but she would stay for several nights in the temple, sleeping in the hall and hoping for prophetic dreams. Lady Sarashina paid great attention to dreams and describes about a dozen. Her dreams are no fortuitous interludes, but are consciously grasped as having a definite, inevitable meaning.

The Sarashina Nikki is also a memoir of the poems the author wrote. As was usual at that time, she includes a generous amount of her poetry and describes the occasions at which the poems were written. The level of Lady Sarashina’s poems is very high and several became famous and were included in official imperial anthologies.

The most literary episode in the book is her “meeting” with a cultured courtier. Lady Sarashina herself seems to have been rather timorous, introspective and solitary – she never felt at home at court because of her awkwardness. She met the elegant courtier (whose name she never learned) on a dark, rainy, night, when he passed the room where she sat behind screens as usual at the time, They exchanged a few words and the man won her admiration for his lyrical description of the seasons. But nothing came of it – while an Izumi Shikibu might have taken the man as her lover, Lady Sarashina was too shy, and after this one, poetic discussion with him, she only met him once more, briefly. But it is an interesting episode, a whiff of the Genji in the life of one of that novel’s most assiduous readers.

Sarashina Nikki is remarkable for its wistfulness and sensibility. The vulnerable author found happiness neither at court nor in her family, but projected into her writing her dreams and poignant longings. The portrait of a young woman who lived entirely in books is very touching.


Other translations besides the one by Ivan Morris:
Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan, by Annie Shepley Omori and Kochi Doi, 1920 -  the oldest English translation, by far not as good as the later ones, but freely available;
The Sarashina Diary: A Woman's Life in Eleventh-Century Japan, by Sonja Arntzen (2014, Columbia U.P.) - contemporary academic translation.

== I bought the Ivan Morris translation many years ago as a Penguin Classic, and am still satisfied with it. It has extensive notes and a good introduction, and reads smoothly. Ivan Morris (1925-1976) studied Japanese language and culture at Harvard University and the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. He wrote widely on modern and ancient Japan (The World of the Shining Prince; The Nobility of Failure) and translated numerous classical and modern literary works. He was a friend of Mishima Yukio. ==

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Haiku Travels (14): Basho and Bashoan (Tokyo)

 

Haiku Travels

Tokyo

banana plant in autumn gale

hearing all night

rain leaking into a tub


basho nowaki shite | tarai ni ame wo | kiku yo kana

芭蕉野分して盥に雨を聞く夜かな

Basho


In 1680 haikai master Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) moved from Nihonbashi in the bustling center of Edo to a small country house in Fukagawa, in the countryside on the opposite bank of the river. Here he started new haikai activities. Away from the city with its endless rounds of linked verse (renga) sessions where he acted as referee (and which brought in a reasonable income), now he was free to concentrate on his art and bring it to new heights, in a sort of self-imposed exile. Most famous haiku date from this period.

There has been much speculation about where exactly he would have lived, but the general area was that of the present Basho Museum (Basho Kinenkan), so that is a good place to start out tour. The museum's exhibits include calligraphy of Basho's haiku (amongst others by haiku poet Buson); portraits of the poet; an example of the clothes he may have worn when traveling, as well as an ingenious small writing brush with ink pot for use on the road (yatate).

In the garden stand a few haiku stones as well as a miniature copy of Basho's hut. To remain wholly in style, the museum also has plantains (basho) growing against its walls. These refer to the poetical name that Basho assumed after starting to live here: he named himself Basho after the plantain (sometimes also called banana plant) that disciples had planted in the garden of the cottage.

Basho received this plantain in 1681 and was delighted with the gift. He felt empathy with the plantain because of its small and unobtrusive flowers, exuding a certain loneliness, and the soft leaves that were easily torn in wintry storms. Above all, the tree was of no practical use whatsoever - like the poet himself. Basho perhaps thought of the useless tree in a famous anecdote in the Chinese philosophical work Zhuangzi, a tree which was spared the carpenter's axe, and therefore attained a ripe old age.

At night Basho sat alone in his hut, listening to the storm ripping the plantain leaves (a nowaki is in fact a typhoon). On stormy nights the tree was pitiful indeed, shaken by the inclement climate of the northern land where it did not feel at home. The roof of the hut leaked and Basho had placed a basin under the hole to catch the rain drops. The dripping went on all night and strangely mingled with the rustling leaves outside.

Perhaps noting the affinity between poet and tree, visitors started to call the hut Basho-an, or Plantain Hut. The name then also stuck to the poet himself and he was happy with it. For the rest of his life, he would call himself Basho – in contrast to the many different sobriquets he had used before this – and that is how he is known today.

The plantain apparently survived the poet: it was incorporated into a samurai mansion built on the spot of Basho's hut and lived until the early Meiji-period (1868-1912), when it finally withered and died.

The original hut did not survive – in fact, there were three different Basho huts, because fire once took its toll (in 1682) and in 1689 Basho himself moved out on the faraway journey to northern Japan. The third hut, finally, was built near the former site in 1692. When in 1917, after a tsunami hit a ceramic frog was found here that people believed to have been in Basho's possession (I do not know why, except the fact that he wrote a famous frog haiku! The frog stone can be seen in the museum), it was decided that this must have been the location of Basho's hut. Now a small Inari shrine in the usual vermilion color standing between residences and small warehouses occupies the spot just south of the museum. Opposite is a staircase leading to a rooftop garden where you will find a nice Basho statue. The haiku master sits pensively staring at the river, probably contemplating the enormous changes that have taken place here. 


[Inari shrine on the purported spot of Basho's hut
(near the Basho Museum)]

plantain leaves
to hang on the pillar
moon in my hut

bashoba wo | hashira ni kaken | io no tsuki

芭蕉葉を柱に懸けん庵の月


There were in fact three 'Basho huts': the first was one built in 1680, when Basho moved from Nihonbashi in the center of Edo to Fukagawa in the countryside on the opposite bank of the river. This hut was destroyed by a fire in 1682. The second one was built soon after that, but sold in 1689 when Basho went on his long trip to the North. The third hut, finally, was built near the former site in 1692.

The present haiku dates from that year, when Basho's disciples replanted the old plantain to the new hut. Why does the poet hang a leaf of the plantain on the pillar of his hut? Perhaps because it reminds him of moon viewing sessions in his old hut: he enjoys seeing the moon shine through the soft and fragile leaves of the plantain, the tree that he loved so much and from which he took his poetic name. After the long trip to the North, he finally feels at home again. But is not the comfort of worldly possessions or attachment to physical comfort that makes him feel at home: it is moonlight seen through a basho leaf...


[The Observation Garden with statue of Basho,
close to the Basho Museum]

Basho Kinenkan (Basho Museum). 10:00-17:00, Closed Mondays, year-end and New Year period. 1-6-3 Tokiwa Koto-ku, Tokyo-to 135. Tel. 03-3631-1448. Access: 5 min. from Kiyosumi-Shirakawa Station on the Oedo line; 7 min. from Morishita Station on the Shinjuku Subway line; 25 min. from Monzen-Nakamachi on the Tozai Subway line; 20 min. from Ryogoku Station on the JR Sobu line. https://www.kcf.or.jp/basho/

Translations and Studies of Basho
Basho's Haiku, 2 vols,  by Toshiharu Oseko (1990 & 1996, Maruzen): Basho and his Interpreters, Selected Hokku with Commentary, by Makoto Ueda (1992, Stanford U.P.); Traces of Dreams, Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho, by Haruo Shirane (1998, Stanford U.P.); Basho's Narrow Road, by Hiroaki Sato (1996, Stone Bridge Press); Basho's Journey, The Literary Prose of Matsuo Basho, by David Landis Bamhill (2005, State University of New York); Basho Yamatoji by Daiyasu Takashi considers Basho's travels in the Nara area and the haiku he wrote there (Izumi Shobo, 1994)


All photos in this post by Ad Blankestijn.

Index Haiku Travels

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Reading The Tale of Genji (3): The Broom Tree (Hahakigi)

Between the first and second chapters the novel skips five years. Genji is now seventeen and a Captain of the Palace Guards. At the end of this first chapter, Genji has had the town house that belonged to his mother rebuilt, and this has become his primary residence, although he also continues spending much time in the palace. The house is called the "Second Avenue Residence" as it is located on Nijo Avenue (the east-west streets in Heiankyo were numbered from one to nine).

From now on, until Genji settles down after his return from exile in Suma, we get examples of Genji's love affairs. He knows that he stands in the limelight as the (commoner) son of the Emperor and the "Shining Genji," and tries to preserve outward appearances and hide his "dallying," but that is difficult as the gossipers usually find out his little adventures.

[Court ladies in junihitoe dress]

The chapter takes its title from poems exchanged between Genji and Utsusemi, the married lady he unsuccessfully pursues, in which a "broom tree" is mentioned. This was indeed a tree from which brooms were made, but which - more importantly - had the poetic reputation of being visible from afar and of disappearing as one approached, thus becoming a symbol for Utsusemi who frustrates Genji by making herself inaccessible.

That happens in the second half of this long chapter. The first half could have been named "Rainy Night Conversation," for much of it is dedicated to a discussion of the qualities of women by To no Chujo, Genji's friend and brother-in-law, and two other young men in a conversation during a night of summer rains, when the court is in ritual seclusion. The young men chat about women (something of all times), volunteering love anecdotes, and also discuss various "types" of women, while Genji listens intently although pretending to be asleep. This takes place in the Fifth Month (traditional calendar, which is six weeks off - this would have been roughly six weeks later in our calendar), so during the Rainy Season.

One friend, Samanokami ("The Chief Left Equerry") gossips about one woman who was very jealous and another one who was promiscuous. To Shikibu no Jo ("The Fujiwara Aide of Ceremonial") relates an anecdote about a scholar's daughter who was very learned but also unladylike (this may refer slyly to Sei Shonagon, the learned author of the Pillow Book, who was a contemporary of Murasaki Shikibu and belonged to a rival "salon," that of Empress Teishi). To no Chujo tells about a shy, introverted woman he had a relation with, but who has suddenly disappeared although she had become the mother of his child - she was in fact chased away by his first wife, the younger sister of Kokiden. This story refers to Yugao, whom Genji will meet in Chapter Four, but as To no Chujo doesn't mention her name, Genji initially fails to link Yugao with this story or with his friend. Genji is particularly interested to hear his conversation partners discuss women of the middle ranks of the aristocracy, women who remain hidden but have surprising charms. This in contrast to women of top aristocratic rank, like his wife Aoi, who are haughty and interested in status rather than in love. This interest prefigures the story in which Genji will fall in love with just such unknown, middle-ranking women, as Murasaki and the Akashi Lady - and not to forget Utsusemi in this chapter.

The next day Genji visits his wife - and here an explanation about Heian marriage customs is necessary. Women did not live with their husband, but stayed at home with their father. The husband would regularly visit her there and then spend a few nights. Only when they had children, or after the death of the father, the main wife might set up a house with the husband. This system obviously made polygyny possible for the husbands; on the other hand, it also led to more freedom for the wives (who in addition in the Heian period were allowed to own property, so their position was in fact not as bad as in later times).

After the visit to his wife - who is cold as usual - Genji doesn't return straight home because of a so-called "directional taboo" (katatagae). Based on Chinese Yin-Yang thought, the School of the Five Elements and Daoism, which were very influential in the Heian-period and together known in Japan as "Onmyodo," there were lucky and unlucky directions at particular times of the day or year; some directions were forbidden. This was for example the case when Nakagami, the Lord of the Center, was present in that particular direction. This deity traversed the heavens in a 60-day cycle, and was thought to bring disaster on travelers who trespassed in his domain. So Genji has to move in another direction than his own house, and therefore goes to stay at the Inner River Mansion of the Governor of Kii, a retainer of the Minister of the Left (his father-in-law) and therefore also his own subordinate.

There a new "adventure" unfolds, for at the villa is also the Governor's young stepmother, Utsusemi ("Cicada Shell"). But before telling her story, we should first look at the way men and women met each other in Heian-period aristocratic society.

The answer is that they (almost) didn't: women always stayed inside, in their own quarters and they never showed themselves to men (even not to their nearest of kin). When at all meeting with others, they would be hidden by screens and curtains. They would sit in their thick robes in rooms that because of the overhanging eaves were often half dark even in the daytime. They were however never alone (nobody was ever alone in Heian society), but always in the company of many attendants, women who at night would sleep in the same room. Usually, aristocratic women didn't even let their voice be heard by men (!), but spoke via-via, such as through ladies-in-waiting, or by the exchange of letters and poems (this "via-via" is sometimes not made explicit by Murasaki Shikibu, as it was too ordinary to mention, and must therefore always be assumed). When they went out, women would ride in curtained carriages (but would often let their colored sleeves hang out of them) and also wear veils - but such outings happened only seldom, during festivals as the Aoi Festival of the Kamo shrines (the greatest festival in Kyoto at that time) or when they went on a pilgrimage to a temple. For a man to see a woman, or penetrating inside her curtains, was synonymous with having sexual contact.

Utsusemi had once been considered for court service, but the early death of her father (who was of high chunagon rank) prevented this and she became the second wife of the Iyo Deputy, the father of the Governor of Kii. She has brought her twelve-year old brother Kogimi with her (her marriage is still childless). Although she will not become a central character in the story, Utsusemi is memorable as the first woman Genji courts in the novel (he has many other affairs which are not described) and also as the first to resist him.

Genji has come to his retainer's house to avoid a directional taboo, and the women of the Iyo Deputy's household, Utsusemi included, have by coincidence also been forced by ritual purification to temporarily reside in the same place. It is the discussion about women of middle rank of the evening before that now causes Genji to take notice of Utsusemi. He already knows that the Governor's step-mother is young and potentially attractive, and by courting her he will be able to distract himself from his forbidden love (which may have reached the stage of realization already). Utsusemi in fact serves as Genji's first "replacement" of his incestuous desire for Fujitsubo.

That very same night, Genji steals into the women's quarters and pretending to be a lady-in-waiting (Utsusemi is calling for "Chujo," which is not only the sobriquet of her servant but also happens to be Genji's current rank of captain!), he slips next to Utsusemi under the covers. Once she realizes that a man has suddenly entered her "bed," she is terrified and would like to call for help, were it not that she is fully aware of the shame such a discovery would bring her. But she rejects Genji's advances and keeps up a strong defense despite his seductive words. At the end, Genji can only think of taking her away to a more private location (as there must have been numerous ladies-in-waiting in the same room, only separated by curtains or screens). As he carries her out of the room, he encounters the real Chujo who is more than ready to defend her mistress against this unknown intruder until she realizes who he is - Genji's rank and status are simply too high for her to dare raise a commotion.


[Chodai in the Imperial Palace, Kyoto]

By the way, I put "bed" in the above between quotation marks, because there were of course no beds in Heian Japan. The higher ranking persons slept on a chodai, a "curtain-platform", a 9 feet square and 2 feet high platform covered with straw mats and cushions and surrounded by curtains; but any part of the floor in the room or at the ends of corridors could serve as sleeping place. The sleeping person would lie down fully clothed on the straw mat and cover herself with a counterpane or a heavy piece of clothing. Note the total lack of privacy: many people slept in the same room, and - as it was also pitch-dark - it was easy to penetrate into the chodai as we see Genji do.

Once Genji has carried the small and light Utsusemi to another, more private room, he continues to pour out sweet words and promises, yet Utsusemi "resembled the supple bamboo, which does not break." Whether she did give in to him or not is a matter about which scholars are divided. The text is ambiguous. Many Genji scholars read the incident as Genji forcing his will on Utsusemi despite her resistance, but other critics, most prominently Margaret Childs (in "The Value of Vulnerability; Sexual Coercion and the Nature of Love in Japanese Court Literature," Journal of Asian Studies 58, no. 4, November 1999), reject this interpretation as unfounded, and, taking the context into account, I think she is right.

In fact, Utsusemi does not dislike Genji, but she makes clear to him that a relation with him is odious to her, because she is of a much lower rank than he, so she will just be "used." Although the governorships of Iyo and Kii were among the most prized middle-rank appointments in Murasaki Shikibu's day, for a man of Genji's high status, the wife of a provincial governor (or his deputy) was no higher in status than his own female attendants (meshiudo), who often were drawn from that class. This social chasm deeply disturbs Utsusemi. It is all about rank in the aristocratic society of the Heian period...

But Genji is not satisfied. After that night, he again tries to meet her, returning to the house where she is staying (he can do this as the house belongs to his father-in-law's retainer, the Governor of Kii, who would therefore also be his own household retainer), but Utsusemi again resolutely refuses him. She this time manages to take refuge in another wing of the house, where she surrounds herself with her ladies-in-waiting.

In a poetry exchange she now has with Genji, in which the broom tree figures, she again alludes to their difference in status. In legend, the "broom tree" was a tree that looked like an upside-down broom from a distance, but that disappeared when approached. In the poem Genji sends Utsusemi, the broom tree is used as a metaphor for a lady who, though seemingly amenable, mysteriously escapes the man's grasp. For Utsusemi, by contrast, the broom tree which grows in a shabby hut becomes a symbol of her social inferiority.

Genji does not give up and next makes her younger brother his attendant and intermediary, having him many times carry messages to Utsusemi. But she keeps adamantly refusing, making Genji compare her to the strict Kaguyahime, the heroine from the famous Taketori Monogatari (The Bamboo Cutter's Tale). Frustrated, Genji ends up sleeping with the boy, "not finding him a bad substitute for his ungracious sister," as Murasaki Shikibu writes.

Genji has in fact fallen in love with Utsusemi because of her weakness, her helplessness. As Margaret Childs explains in the above-mentioned article, in pre-modern Japanese literature romantic love is frequently associated with vulnerability, with the impulse to nurture someone who is frail or in distress. Women (and also men) often inspired love by first arousing someone's compassion or pity. This can be linked to the contemporary concept of amae (behaving childishly in the hope that others will indulge you) as proposed by the psychologist Doi Takeo in The Anatomy of Dependence. Utsusemi is not consciously "playing the baby," but her frailty has the same effect on Genji. Also remember that Genji felt alienated from his wife, Aoi, because of her haughty and cold nature - the opposite of vulnerability or amae.
In pictorial representations of this chapter (so-called Genji-e), "The rainy night discussion" is the most frequently illustrated episode (as above), but anecdotes from that discussion, as well as Genji's parting from Utsusemi at dawn are also depicted.

Translations:
Seidensticker, Edward G. (1976). The Tale of Genji. 1 & 2. Tuttle Publishing.
Tyler, Royall (2001). The Tale of Genji. New York: Viking.
Waley, Arthur (1926-33). Tale of Genji: The Arthur Waley Translation of Lady Murasaki's Masterpiece with a new foreword by Dennis Washburn (Tuttle Classics) 
Washburn, Dennis (2015). The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. W. W. Norton & Company; Unabridged edition
Yosano Akiko, Genji Monogatari in modern Japanese, at Aozora Bunko.
Original text in full at Japanese Text Intitiative (University of Virginia)

Studies:
Bargen, Doris G (1997). A Woman's Weapon : Spirit possession in the Tale of Genji. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press.
Bargen, Doris G. (2015). Mapping Courtship and Kinship in Classical Japan: The Tale of Genji and Its Predecessors (Hawaii U.P.)
Bowring, Richard (1985). Murasaki Shikibu, Her Diary and Poetic Memoirs: A Translation and Study (Princeton U.P.)
Emmerich, Michael (2013). The Tale of Genji: Translation, Canonization, and World Literature (Columbia U.P.)
Field, Norma (1987). The Splendor of Longing in the Tale of Genji. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Goff, Janet Emily (1991). Noh Drama and the Tale of Genji : The Art of Allusion in Fifteen Classical Plays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Harper, Thomas and Shirane, Haruo (2015). Reading The Tale of Genji: Sources from the First Millennium (Columbia U.P.)
McKinney, Meredith (2006). The Pillow Book, by Sei Shonagon (Penguin)
McMullen, James (2019). Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji: Philosophical Perspectives (Oxford U.P.)
Morris, Ivan I (1964). The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan. (Vintage)
Seidensticker, Edward G. (1984). Genji Days (Kodansha International)
Shirane
, Haruo (1987). The Bridge of Dreams : A Poetics of the Tale of Genji. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Shirane, Haruo (2008). Envisioning the Tale of Genji: Media, Gender, and Cultural Production. New York: Columbia University Press.
Tyler, Royall (2014). A Reading of the Tale of Genji.
The Tale of Genji, Scenes from the World’s first Novel, with illustrations by Miyata Masayuki, Kodansha International (2001).
Kano Shigefumi. Genji Monogatari no butai wo tazunete (Kyoto, 2011).


Reading The Tale of Genji

Friday, January 22, 2021

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 34 (Fujiwara no Okikaze)

 Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 34

tare wo ka mo
shiru hito ni sen
Takasago no
matsu mo mukashi no
tomo nara naku ni


誰をかも
知る人にせむ
高砂の
松もむかしの
友ならなくに

whom can I regard
as my old buddies -
since even Takasago's
ancient pines
are not pals from my past?

Fujiwara no Okikaze (dates uncertain)


[Scene from the No play Takasago, by Tsukioka Kogyo]

A poem about getting old and losing all one's friends to death. The poet, an old man, laments that all his old friends have died - no wonder, he exaggerates, for he is now even older than the ancient pine trees of Takasago. The evergreen pine tree is one of the recognized emblems of long life in Japan.

Takasago in Harima province (now Hyogo prefecture) on the west bank of the Kakogawa river was since the 10th c. famous for its pine trees. Tsurayuki, in the preface to the Kokinshu, mentions the present poem with the words "the poet might think of the pine trees of Takasago and Suminoe (in Osaka, on the other side of the Bay) as having grown up with him (aioi)" i.e. being of the same, very old age. 

(An other interpretation is, not that the poet is even older than the pine trees (as I see it), but that the old pine trees can't be his friends, for how can a tree commiserate with a human being?)

The famous No play Takasago, by Zeami, quotes the present poem, but changes its meaning. Aioi was no longer interpreted in the sense that the poet and the pines had grown up together, but was taken to refer to specific pine trees in Takasago and in Suminoe (Osaka), which were understood to be "paired," as husband and wife. The No play features an auspicious story, involving a loving and long-married couple. And in due time aioi came to mean two tree trunks growing out of a single base, a symbol of marital harmony.

"In the No play the Takasago and Sumiyoshi pine spirits are personified as an elderly peasant couple, wearing humble dress. Although separated by a great distance, the spirit of the pine at Sumiyoshi (Osaka), pays nightly visits to his wife, the Takasago pine spirit, who lives on the coast at Takasago bay. Despite their hair white with age, the couple's bond gives them youthful energy and beauty. Thus the pines and corresponding elderly couple symbolize longevity and conjugal devotion. From the 17c, the Takasago spirit as an old woman holding a broom and Sumiyoshi as an old man with a rake usually standing under an aged pine tree have been painted or represented as figurines and displayed at celebrations of long life and good fortune, such as New Year's or weddings" (from JAANUS). Here is a link to the No play at Youtube.

But the No play about marital harmony is a long cry from the original poem, a lament for old age when one's friends die one after another.

Fujiwara no Okikaze was an official in the Province of Sagami in the year 911; the date of his death is unknown, but he is mentioned as being alive as late as the year 914. Okikaze was a member of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals. 38 of his poems are included in the anthologies compiled by the imperial order following the Kokinshu.



[Aioi pines in Takasago Shrine, Takasago, Hyogo]

Present-day Takasago, between Kakogawa and Himeji in western Hyogo, is an industrial town with little natural beauty left. The aioi pine tree in the grounds of the Takasago shrine, does not strike visitors as of any reputable age.

References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Hyakunin Isshu, Ocho waka kara chusei waka e by Inoue Muneo (Chikuma Shoin, 2004); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).


Hyakunin Isshu Index

 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 33 (Ki no Tomonori)

 Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 33

hisakata no
hikari nodokeki
haru no hi ni
shizugokoro naku
hana no chiruran


久方の
光のどけき
春の日に
しづ心なく
花のちるらむ

on these spring days
in the tranquil light
of the warm sun -
why do the blossoms scatter
with such restless hearts?

Ki no Tomonori (died 905 or 907)




One of the most famous poems in the Hyakunin Isshu, "composed on the falling of the cherry blossoms." The poem sets up a contradiction between the peaceful, balmy spring day (representative of the beneficial imperial rule) and the frenzied scattering of the cherry blossoms, as if their hearts are uneasy - or is it not the flowers whose hearts are unquiet, but the hearts of those who watch them fall? I think it is the latter, and those restless thoughts must then be caused by the lonely feelings that fill the spectators after the blossoms are gone.

Hisakata is a "pillow-word" for heaven, without any definite meaning; it is generally used in poetry in conjunction with such words as sun, moon, sky, or, as in this case, hikari, the light (of heaven).




Ki no Tomonori (c. 850–c. 905/907) was court poet and member of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals. He was a compiler of the Kokinshu, though he died before its completion. Ki no Tsurayuki, his cousin, was the leader of the compilation effort. Ki no Tomonori is the author of several poems in the Kokinshu, and a few of his poems also appear in later official collections.

References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Hyakunin Isshu, Ocho waka kara chusei waka e by Inoue Muneo (Chikuma Shoin, 2004); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).


Hyakunin Isshu Index



Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Reading The Tale of Genji (2): The Paulownia Pavilion (Kiritsubo)

Kiritsubo, the first chapter of the Genji is a sort of introductory chapter, describing the birth of Genji and his life through age 12. It sets up several important themes for the whole novel.

Let's first look at the location where this chapter (and much of the Genji) takes place: the Imperial Palace in Kyoto (then called Heiankyo). That is not the present Kyoto Gosho Palace, a location on which the main palace has only stood since the 12th c. (the present buildings date from the mid-19th c.), but the Heian Palace, which stood much further west, centered on what is now Senbon Street, then called Suzaku Avenue. Suzaku Avenue stretched from the famous Rajomon Gate to the north, diving the capital (which was laid out on a Chinese-style checkerboard pattern) equally into a western and an eastern part. The palace occupied the north-central part of the city, from Ichijo Street in the north to Nijo street in the south and from Omiya street in the east to Nishi-Omiya street in the west. The palace and all its halls faced south, as was common in China. The Great Hall of State was located more or less in the center. The location is now indicated by a monument in a small park just north of the crossing between Senbon Street and Marutamachi Street.

[The monument indicating the location of the Heian-period 
Great Hall of State]

The Heian Palace not only contained the living quarters for the imperial family (in the northern part, called dairi), but also all government ministries (in the southern part, called daidairi). A combination of the present Prime Ministers Residence with Kasumigaseki, so to speak. Like Gosho, the still existing old palace in Kyoto, it was secured by a mud-wall, and also by a moat. The central southern gate was called Suzaku Gate after the avenue onto which it opened. Close to this gate stood the Daigokuden or Great Hall of State, where all sorts of official ceremonies were held - the heart of governmental Japan in the Heian-period.

[Shishinden in the Kyoto Gosho palace, which had taken over the public function of the Daigokuden]

But the Genji of course is set in the Emperor's living quarters. These were in the Jijuden (above the Shishinden) or in the Shokyoden; in later times also in the Seiryoden, to the west of these buildings. Behind them in the most northern part of the palace grounds were the pavilions of the imperial consort and concubines. The principal consort lived in the Kokiden (after which she is named in the Genji), close to the Emperor's quarters. The Kiritsubo Pavilion where the low-ranked mother of Genji lived, was in the far upper right corner. The second favorite of the Emperor, Fujitsubo, managed to get a pavilion closer to him, in fact on the west side immediately above the Seiryoden, so even closer by than the Kokiden.

[The living quarters of the imperial family in the Heian palace. This block was surrounded by the administrative part of the palace, that extended to the south.]

The palace compound fell victim to repeated fires. After a big conflagration in 1177, the Daigokuden was not rebuilt. The compound itself was definitively abandoned in the mid-fourteenth century, when a location further east was found – the present Kyoto Gosho. The palace in fact followed the city, of which the center had also moved east.

The story that takes place in this palace, starts with a case of passionate love, of injudicious infatuation which will lead to tragedy. But before telling that tale, we have to make two more points. One is that polygyny (a form of plural marriage in which a man is allowed more than one wife i.e. a narrow form of polygamy) was practiced among the Japanese Heian aristocracy. This was also true for the Emperors, who besides the Empress, had several secondary consorts ("concubines"). This was not only for the practical purpose to produce more offspring, or out of sexual acquisitiveness, but rather to make it possible for ranking aristocrats to present a daughter to the Emperor or Heir Apparent and thus share in the imperial prestige.

The second point is that these imperial women were not equal, but like everyone in Heian society had to obey a strict hierarchy. (In fact, your birth decided your life in Heian times.) So below the single Empress (called Chugu) the Emperor would have several Consorts (Nyogo) and, lower still, a certain number of Intimates (Koi). An Empress was usually appointed from among the Consorts, but not all Consorts had a realistic hope of such a success, as it depended on family relations (i.e. a male family member with a powerful position at court). The Intimates could never become Empress, their birth rank was too low and they lacked sufficient political support. That is not to say that these ladies were really very low in status - while the Nyogo had fathers who were of ministerial rank, the fathers of the Koi were only just below that, as counselors or chunagon. But they obviously had much less power at court.

[Living quarters in the Kyoto Gosho palace]

Now the Genji starts with the situation that the Emperor can not control his amorous feelings for one of his concubines, the low-ranking Intimate (koi) Lady Kiritsubo, named after the pavilion where she lives, with a paulownia tree (kiri) in the small courtyard garden (tsubo). The fact that her rooms are farthest from the imperial chambers also indicates her low status. But that does not hold the Emperor back, on the contrary: deeply in love, he favors her above all his other wives, including his primary consort, Lady Kokiden, the daughter of the powerful Minister of the Right (she is the main Consort, but there is no official Empress at this time). This provokes the fierce jealousy of the other imperial concubines. Lady Kiritsubo is disadvantaged because of her low rank and lack of parental support (her father is already deceased), so she is constantly harassed by the other women. Her only support is the Emperor's personal devotion, but that is not enough. The humiliations she has to suffer make her waste away and finally trigger her premature death.

But the union between the Emperor and Lady Kiritsubo has by then already born fruit: three years before her death, a son has been born, a most handsome boy: our Genji. After the death of his wife, the Emperor dotes on the boy, who is nicknamed "Hikari," "the Shining." He is so handsome that he hardly seems of this world.

By the way, both such a birth and illness could not take place in the palace. Both birth and illness (or death) were considered as polluting and therefore those who were pregnant or very ill were removed outside, usually to their family's home.

Another interesting cultural element we find here is that, with the low level of medical knowledge, "healers" and priests would come to the house of the sick person and offer prayers or recite sutras to "heal" him or her. Many illnesses were thought to be caused by the influence of a malevolent spirit, so exorcists also often took part.

The story of the love between the Emperor and Kiritsubo has interesting overtones: it alludes to the story of the Chinese Emperor Xuanzong (685-762) of the Tang dynasty, who was in love with the imperial concubine Yang Guifei and in his obsession neglected affairs of state. This fomented a rebellion, which forced the emperor to flee for his life with Yang Guifei. During that flight, the imperial guards forced Xuanzong to put Yang Guifei to death. This tragic story became the object of one of the most popular poems in all Chinese literature: Changhenge or The Song of Unending Sorrow by Bai Juyi, a work that was also well-known in Heian Japan, and certainly to Murasaki Shikibu who had mastered Chinese and even taught the Empress the poetry of Bai Juyi). Although there is no rebellion and Lady Kiritsubo is not put to death, the infatuation of the Japanese emperor for a low-ranking concubine matches that of the Chinese emperor. By the way, the story of Yang Guifei was so popular in Japan that Sennyuji Temple in Kyoto even has a Kannon statue that is said to have been modeled on Yang Guifei ("Yokihi Kannon" - read my post on Sennyuji). In addition, Yang Guifei was the subject of a film by Mizoguchi Kenji in 1955; and the modern Japanese-style painter Uemura Shoen made a famous painting treating this subject.


Yokihi (Yang Guifei) by Uemura Shoen

In the Genji, there are not only allusions to the Yang Guifei tragedy, but courtiers explicitly make the comparison between the Japanese and the Chinese emperor's infatuation, and, after Kiritsubo has died, the emperor himself is found reading The Song of Unending Sorrow.

After the disastrous fate of Genji's mother, for whom the Emperor mourns like the Tang emperor did for Yang Guifei, the Emperor takes measures to protect the son of his beloved Lady Kiritsubo. Although he longs to appoint Genji Heir Apparent over his firstborn, the son of a consort, he knows that the court would never allow this. He therefore decides to remove Genji entirely from the imperial family by giving him a surname (the Japanese Emperors have none) and making him a commoner (tadabito). In that case, he will be able to serve later as senior government official. The Emperor is strengthened in this course by the advice of a Korean fortune-teller, who says that Genji has the appearance of an emperor, will attain a position equivalent to one, but cannot ascent the throne without causing disaster. The Emperor gives the boy the surname "Minamoto," which since the 9th century was the name for offspring from Emperors who were demoted to commoner status. The boy thus becomes a "Genji," that is a bearer of the Minamoto (Gen, another reading of the same character) name (ji). (Genji is often wrongly called "Prince" Genji, for that is exactly what he is not, as he has been removed from the imperial family roster).

This act is irreversible. Thus, Genji cannot ascend the throne in the future and the Emperor names Suzaku, Genji's half-brother and the son of Lady Kokiden as Crown Prince (Suzaku is three years older than Genji). To further protect him and also help him along in later life, the Emperor arranges Genji's marriage to Aoi, the daughter of the Minister of the Left (and Genji's first cousin). This will ensure Genji of the powerful political support of his father-in-law, who can act as a counterbalance to the Kokiden faction (backed by the Minister of the Right). This marriage takes place when Genji is twelve (just after his coming of age ceremony) and Lady Aoi sixteen (a normal age for boys and girls to marry in Japan at that time in the aristocratic milieu). Needless to say that this political marriage is not a love relationship - Aoi is a very haughty woman who treats Genji as her little brother - at the time of the marriage he in fact must have looked like that to her! As was common in Heian times, Genji will now start living officially at the residence of his wife's family, although in reality he keeps spending much time in the palace, where he is allowed to continue using the Kiritsubo, his mother's pavilion.

Regarding age in traditional Japan, it is important to note that one's age was counted as "one" at birth and that at each New Year rather than at the individual birthday a year was added. So people are younger than the numbers show: we should at least subtract one year!

The Emperor finally finds consolation with another consort, called Fujitsubo ("Wisteria Pavilion"). She is the fourth daughter of a previous Emperor and thus an imperial princess, and is protected by her high status. She also uncannily resembles Lady Kiritsubo, Genji's dead mother. She enters the Emperor's service when she is sixteen and soon becomes his new favorite. But her resemblance to Genji's mother also attracts Genji's interest in her, an interest that is at first childish, but that later turns erotic (normally Genji would not have been allowed to look at her as women kept to their apartments and did not even show themselves to their nearest of kin, but here the situation is different as the Emperor himself has asked Fujitsubo to be like a mother to Genji; this however stops after Genji's coming of age ceremony at age 12). She becomes Genji's lifelong obsession and their secret, forbidden relation will drive much of the plot in the ensuing chapters. Genji dreams of marrying a woman like her...

Note that the forbidden love between Genji and Fujitsubo is never written up explicitly by Murasaki Shikibu, as that would probably have been too scandalous. But her hints are clear enough for readers to realize that this love must have been consumed also in the physical sense. By the way, during the 1930s and the war years with their emperor cult, even such hints (which could mean that the succession in the imperial house was not "unbroken") were taboo, so the first version of Tanizaki's Junichiro's Genji translation was heavily censored - reason for him to restore those passages in a new version he published just after the war.

By the way, this theme - the father who marries a woman who strongly resembles his deceased wife, the son who shifts the affection for his dead mother to the new one and finally falls in love with her, encouraged by the father - was used by Tanizaki Junichiro in his story The Bridge of Dreams (see my post about this novella). It is clear that Tanizaki's translation work was an inspiration for his creative work.

In pictorial representations of this chapter (so-called Genji-e), the following scenes are usually chosen: Lady Kiritsubo sending her final poem to the emperor; the emperor mourning the lady's absence and imminent death (both set in autumn); Genji's interview at age seven with a Korean physiognomist; and his coming of age ceremony. The episodes centering around Genji's clandestine love for Fujitsubo are never treated.

Translations:
Seidensticker, Edward G. (1976). The Tale of Genji. 1 & 2. Tuttle Publishing.
Tyler, Royall (2001). The Tale of Genji. New York: Viking.
Waley, Arthur (1926-33). Tale of Genji: The Arthur Waley Translation of Lady Murasaki's Masterpiece with a new foreword by Dennis Washburn (Tuttle Classics)
Washburn, Dennis (2015). The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. W. W. Norton & Company; Unabridged edition
Yosano Akiko, Genji Monogatari in modern Japanese, at Aozora Bunko.
Original text in full at Japanese Text Intitiative (University of Virginia)

Studies:
Bargen, Doris G (1997). A Woman's Weapon : Spirit possession in the Tale of Genji. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press.
Bargen, Doris G. (2015). Mapping Courtship and Kinship in Classical Japan: The Tale of Genji and Its Predecessors (Hawaii U.P.)
Bowring, Richard (1985). Murasaki Shikibu, Her Diary and Poetic Memoirs: A Translation and Study (Princeton U.P.)
Emmerich, Michael (2013). The Tale of Genji: Translation, Canonization, and World Literature (Columbia U.P.)
Field, Norma (1987). The Splendor of Longing in the Tale of Genji. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Goff, Janet Emily (1991). Noh Drama and the Tale of Genji : The Art of Allusion in Fifteen Classical Plays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Harper, Thomas and Shirane, Haruo (2015). Reading The Tale of Genji: Sources from the First Millennium (Columbia U.P.)
McKinney, Meredith (2006). The Pillow Book, by Sei Shonagon (Penguin)
McMullen, James (2019). Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji: Philosophical Perspectives (Oxford U.P.)
Morris, Ivan I (1964). The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan. (Vintage)
Seidensticker, Edward G. (1984). Genji Days (Kodansha International)
Shirane
, Haruo (1987). The Bridge of Dreams : A Poetics of the Tale of Genji. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Shirane, Haruo (2008). Envisioning the Tale of Genji: Media, Gender, and Cultural Production. New York: Columbia University Press.
Tyler, Royall (2014). A Reading of the Tale of Genji.
The Tale of Genji, Scenes from the World’s first Novel, with illustrations by Miyata Masayuki, Kodansha International (2001).
Kano Shigefumi. Genji Monogatari no butai wo tazunete (Kyoto, 2011).


Reading The Tale of Genji


Sunday, January 17, 2021

Reading The Tale of Genji (1): Introduction

The Tale of Genji, written in the early 11th c., is the supreme masterpiece of Japanese prose literature and has been called the first great novel (or even psychological novel) in world literature. It is a huge book, consisting of more than one million words, resulting in more than 1,100 pages in translation. It also contains almost 800 original poems and many allusions to older poetry as well. The novel describes the court life of Heian Japan through the career and loves of a former imperial prince known as "the shining Genji"; after his death, it continues with the early years of two of Genji's prominent descendants, Niou and Kaoru. In all, the action covers three quarters of a century. The number of characters runs into the hundreds. The hold upon the reader's attention is achieved by deft characterization and a colorful panorama of aristocratic life in the Heian-period. The court lady who wrote it, Murasaki Shikibu, did not plan a story structure with a definite "ending," she simply continued writing as long as she could. The work does not rely on plot or other contraptions, making it very modern, as it shows believable people in real situations. This is all the more surprising as there were no models (the other monogatari of the 10th c. are very different, either fairy tales or flat court intrigues). Murasaki Shikibu all alone made this enormous leap of the imagination. How exceptional she was is also shown by the fact that she had no successors.

[Murasaki Shikubu doll in Ishiyamadera, Otsu]

About the author, who is known by the nickname Murasaki Shikibu, very little is known. There is no original manuscript of the Genji left, the earliest full texts date from the medieval period. But from other writings we know that the association of the text with Murasaki Shikibu is undeniable and also that the Genji had been completed and circulated widely by 1021 in a version of more than 50 chapters (as mentioned in the Sarashina Nikki, which also mentions the name of Ukifune, the heroine of the last four chapters, indicating that it must have been complete by then). Also a diary (describing events at court from late 1008 to early 1010) and a poetry collection are attributed to the same author. She was a member of the Fujiwara family and "Murasaki," "purple," either refers to the wisteria (fuji) of her family name or to the female protagonist of that name in the Genji; "Shikibu" refers to the office held by her father (in Heian Japan it was considered bad manners to record the real names of well-born ladies, so they were often named after their father's office).

Murasaki Shikibu was probably born between 970 and 978, the most probable year being 973. She was born into a family of middle rank that however had greatly distinguished itself in the literary field - most paternal relatives were important poets. Her father was a scholar of Chinese. He occupied modest positions in the capital and three times served as provincial governor (when he became governor of Echizen in 996, Murasaki Shikibu accompanied him). Murasaki's Shikibu's mother died when she was an infant and she was brought up by her father, not unlike the situation of the Eight Prince and the two Uji sisters in her novel. Murasaki Shikibu seems to have led a studious and retired life, with little contact with the opposite sex (in contrast to Izumi Shikibu and Lady Ise, who wrote in their poetry about passionate affairs). In 998 or 999, when she was probably close to thirty (late, as girls were often married as soon as they came of age, at age 12), Murasaki Shikibu married a distant kinsman and she had one daughter, Kataiko or Kenshi, but her husband died already in 1001.

[Ukifune and Prince Niou from the last ten chapters of the Genji Monogatari, 
statue in Uji]

After that, in about 1006, she was summoned to court as lady-in-waiting to the empress Akiko (Fujiwara no Shoshi), the daughter of Fujiwara no Michinaga, the most powerful politician of the age. She probably started writing the Genji after her husband's death and her talent in writing fiction may well have been the major reason for her being summoned to court. In an age when paper was a precious commodity, she obviously had various sponsors, who gave her writing materials and helped with transcriptions: besides Fujiwara no Michinaga, these were the Emperor Ichijo, Empress Shoshi, and the literary nobleman Fujiwara no Kinto.

Murasaki Shikibu also instructed the young empress in literature and music. She was still in Akiko's service in 1013, but after that we have no further factual information about her; it is probable that she died in 1014, at age 41. In view of the length and evolution of the Genji, she probably kept writing it until her death. Her daughter Kenshi survived her and was an important poet in her own right; but there is no basis for the surmise that she finished the Genji by writing the latter part. (The blanks in Murasaki Shikibu's biography have been filled in by rumors and unfounded tales, such as the setsuwa tale that she started writing the Genji while staying in the Ishiyamadera Temple at Lake Biwa - although actively used as tourist propaganda by the temple, this story has no historical foundation at all).

Initially read by a small circle of court ladies, the Genji seems to have gained an immediate popularity. It circulated in manuscript and as they were finished, the chapters were probably immediately circulated among readers, who then could contribute by making new copies. The Genji Monogatari has had an enormous influence on later literature (including waka poetry - the Genji itself contains about 800 poems - and the Noh theater) and other art forms, as the graphic arts. It has also been adapted for the theater, opera, cinema, television, and manga. The Genji is not just a book but a cultural phenomenon.

The Genji Monogatari served as an inexhaustible source of inspiration for Japanese visual art, in the form of hand scrolls, screens, ukiyo-e, and even decorations of craft works, such as lacquerware and textiles. Together, such pictorial representations are called Genji-e. The most famous hand scroll is the 12th c. Genji Monogatari Emaki, which contains illustrated scenes together with handwritten text (forming in fact the earliest extant version of parts of the text). The original scroll probably consisted 10–20 rolls and covered all 54 chapters. Now we have only 19 illustrations and 65 pages of text left, roughly 15% of the original. The extant scrolls, all national treasures, are divided over the Tokugawa Art Museum in Nagoya and the Gotoh Museum in Tokyo. They are so fragile that they normally are not shown in public. In later ages Genji-e became so popular that even manuals were written to assist in their production, and famous schools of painting, as the Tosa and Kano schools, were very much involved.

The original hand-copied text of the novel by Murasaki Shikibu (or others from her time) is no longer extant. The text accepted as the most complete is the Kamakura period "Aobyoshibon" copied by Fujiwara no Teika (1162-1241) - so about 2 centuries later. By Teika's time the novel's present form of 54 chapters was set.

[Statue of Murasaki Shikibu in Ishiyamadera, Otsu]

The 54 chapters of the Genji Monogatari can be subdivided as follows:
A. The Genji Chapters
1-33: In this part, Genji is an idealized prince, and although there are setbacks, his early career is essentially a success story. The novel starts with the wild youth of Genji (1-11), filled with love, romance and transgression. Then comes his voluntary exile to Suma (12-13), a turning point in his life and career, followed by rehabilitation and rise to success and power (14-33).
34-41: Genji is in his forties and at the apex of power, but also experiences setbacks such as the death of his beloved wife Murasaki. Shadows gather over Genji's life and he realizes the transience of the world.
B. The Chapters about Genji's Descendants, Niou and Kaoru
42-44: Suddenly Genji is dead; we learn almost nothing about his last years, but instead his descendants Niou and Kaoru are introduced. These three chapters are transitional and episodic, rather different in style from what went before and comes after.
45-54: The so-called "Uji Chapters," Niou and Kaoru's rivalry in love. Murasaki Shikibu has boldly moved on to a new story and the action moves from the capital to Uji; the pessimism also grows. Murasaki Shikibu succeeds in the creation of the first anti-hero in world literature. This is one of the strongest parts of the novel.

Did Murasaki Shikibu write the whole Genji? The general (but not unanimous) opinion is affirmative. As Seidensticker says in his introduction, changes and additions in detail may have come later (Tyler speaks about "brilliant editing"), but the narrative points at a single author working over a long period of time, gradually herself also getting to know the shadows of age and experience that fall over her book.

Although Japanese high-school students are taught to read a few lines of the original text, the remoteness of the language from modern Japanese means that few people except specialists can read the entire Genji in its original form (in fact, already since the 12th c. commentaries and notes were necessary and the Genji was mostly consumed via manuals and digests). Therefore, Japanese now read it just as much in "translation" as non-Japanese; there are famous versions in modern Japanese by writers as Yosano Akiko, Tanizaki Junichiro, Enchi Fumiko and Setouchi Jakucho. Of these, the last Tanizaki version is in my view the best (yes, he made three versions), closely followed by Yosano Akiko. The versions by Enchi Fumiko and Setouchi Jakucho are more modern, but these authors, especially Jakucho, although greatly contributing to popularizing the Genji, added material of their own and are therefore nor reliable as translations.

Murasaki Shikibu writes as a gentlewoman telling a tale to her mistress; the way she refers to her characters is very discreet. She is acutely aware of social rank and assumes the reader is, too. This leads to another complication besides the language: the great ambiguity of the style, caused in the first place because almost none of the characters in the original text are given explicit names. As Heian court manners demanded, the characters are instead referred to by their function ("Minister of the Left"), by an honorific ("His Excellency"), or their relation to other characters ("the Heir Apparent"), and these titles do not remain the same, but change as careers progress, just as in real life. Modern translators usually employ nicknames (based on the chapter titles or poems written by the characters or addressed to them) to clarify things for their readers, only Tyler (see below) uses titles.

There are 4 complete translations in English: by Arthur Waley (1926-33); by Edward Seidensticker (1976); by Royall Tyler (2001); and by Dennis Washburn (2015). All four translations are by eminent Japanologists. But they are very different as well. Waley, a great pioneering achievement that also in Japan caused interest in the Genji to revive (leading to the translation in modern Japanese by Tanizaki) is very free and some passages/chapters have been cut, but it is in beautiful, almost Proustian English. Although still beautiful to read it is too free and far removed from the Genji to be able to recommend it.

Seidensticker is complete and closer to the original than Waley; but at the same time - as in his many other translations, such as those of Kawabata and Tanizaki - Seidensticker aims at natural flowing readability in English, which leads him to be concise (and take some liberties) rather than bring out all the nuances. In both Waley and Seidensticker characters are identified by name instead of by title. What pleads for Seidensticker is the natural flow of the narration, which makes a very modern impression - the characters in the novel are directly accessible, almost like contemporaries.

Tyler is closest to the original, he attempts to copy the style of Murasaki and provides extensive notes (which both Waley and Seidensticker avoid); he uses titles instead of names, which sometimes makes him difficult to follow. The only complaint I have is about his translation of the waka poems, which is too wordy and prosaic. This is the most reliable, and fullest translation.

Washburn, finally, is a fluent, natural rendition that falls between Seidensticker's reader-friendly translation and Tyler's more strictly literal one.

By the way, the first partial (17 chapters) English translation was made in 1882 by Suematsu Kencho (1855-1920), a journalist, author, intellectual and later also politician, who arrived in London with the Japanese Embassy in 1878 and studied at Cambridge University from 1881 to 1884. One of the pioneers for the modernization of Japan, he was back in Europe in 1904/05 to counteract anti-Japanese propaganda and argue Japan's case in the Russo-Japanese War. His Genji translation is certainly of historic interest (and was an achievement in his time), but not more than that. When seen with modern eyes - and considering that the study of the Genji has much advanced the last century in both Japan and other countries - it is of too poor quality to make it worth reading today. Unfortunately, this translation is still being published by Tuttle (and others) to profit from the Genji boom for only the cost of the paper. Be forewarned and strictly avoid this translation. 

To talk about my own experience: I started in the grey past with the Waley translation, but had difficulty finishing it. A couple of years ago I read the Seidensticker translation and for the first time enjoyed the Genji and appreciated its greatness. And now I am reading the Genji for the third time, in the Tyler translation, and I enjoy that best of all - I really like the cultural nuances and copious notes.

But do read the Genji, for it is really a wonderful novel. As Tyler remarks in his introduction, the Tale of Genji is a great classic, "written in an ancient language about a vanished world, but its character's thoughts and feelings remain as fresh as ever."

Translations:
Seidensticker, Edward G. (1976). The Tale of Genji. 1 & 2. Tuttle Publishing.
Tyler, Royall (2001). The Tale of Genji. New York: Viking.
Waley, Arthur (1926-33). Tale of Genji: The Arthur Waley Translation of Lady Murasaki's Masterpiece with a new foreword by Dennis Washburn (Tuttle Classics)
Washburn, Dennis (2015). The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. W. W. Norton & Company; Unabridged edition
Yosano Akiko, Genji Monogatari in modern Japanese, at Aozora Bunko.
Original text in full at Japanese Text Intitiative (University of Virginia)

Studies:
Bargen, Doris G (1997). A Woman's Weapon : Spirit possession in the Tale of Genji. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press.
Bargen, Doris G. (2015). Mapping Courtship and Kinship in Classical Japan: The Tale of Genji and Its Predecessors (Hawaii U.P.)
Bowring, Richard (1985). Murasaki Shikibu, Her Diary and Poetic Memoirs: A Translation and Study (Princeton U.P.)
Emmerich, Michael (2013). The Tale of Genji: Translation, Canonization, and World Literature (Columbia U.P.)
Field, Norma (1987). The Splendor of Longing in the Tale of Genji. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Goff, Janet Emily (1991). Noh Drama and the Tale of Genji : The Art of Allusion in Fifteen Classical Plays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Harper, Thomas and Shirane, Haruo (2015). Reading The Tale of Genji: Sources from the First Millennium (Columbia U.P.)
McKinney, Meredith (2006). The Pillow Book, by Sei Shonagon (Penguin)
McMullen, James (2019). Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji: Philosophical Perspectives (Oxford U.P.)
Morris, Ivan I (1964). The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan. (Vintage)
Seidensticker, Edward G. (1984). Genji Days (Kodansha International)
Shirane
, Haruo (1987). The Bridge of Dreams : A Poetics of the Tale of Genji. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Shirane, Haruo (2008). Envisioning the Tale of Genji: Media, Gender, and Cultural Production. New York: Columbia University Press.
Tyler, Royall (2014). A Reading of the Tale of Genji.
The Tale of Genji, Scenes from the World’s first Novel, with illustrations by Miyata Masayuki, Kodansha International (2001).
Kano Shigefumi. Genji Monogatari no butai wo tazunete (Kyoto, 2011).


Reading The Tale of Genji