Gunsen: folding fans used by the average warriors to cool themselves off. Made of wood, bronze, brass or a similar metal for the inner spokes. Often used thin iron or other metals for the outer spokes or cover, making them lightweight but strong. Warriors hung their fans from the belt or the breastplate.
Tessen: folding fans with outer spokes made of heavy plates of iron and designed to look like normal, harmless folding fans. Another version came as solid clubs shaped to look like a closed fan. Samurai took them to places where other weapons were not allowed. Also used to fend off arrows and darts.
Gunbai: large solid open fans made from solid iron, metal with wooden core, or solid wood. Carried by high-ranking samurai officers who used them to ward off arrows, as a sunshade, and to signal to troops.
Many things can be said of Murasaki Shikibu’s fictional account of the Heian aristocracy, set in eleventh century Japan. Yet the true heartbeat of The Tale of Genji, is the recurring rhythm of artful seduction that pulsates through Hikaru Genji, i.e. the shining genji, the novel’s main protagonist.
It is thought that Genji’s character is most likely based on the real-life man, His Excellency, the Grand Counsellor, Fujiwara no Korechika. Korechika is described in The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon as a man of incredible charm with a hypnotic effect on women. Shonagon goes on to describe Korechika as arriving at court “wearing a rather soft and supple cloak in the cherry-blossom combination, over deep violet gathered trousers of heavy brocade and white under-robes.” He arranges “the sleeves of his wonderfully glowing deep scarlet-purple damask cloak for (optimal) display” (17).
The fictitious version of Korechika starts life as the son of the emperor. In The Tale of Genji: A Reader’s Guide, Genji or as he is sometimes called, Lord Hikaru is describes as a beautiful son, who is so magnificent that he is a possible rival to the title of the crown prince. Robert Greene in The Art of Seduction refers to Genji as one who never lost certain childlike charms from his personality, an attribute that others find irresistibly alluring.
The first to fall under the Shining Genji’s spell is none other than the emperor of Japan, Genji’s own father:
“The emperor’s thoughts were on his youngest son even when he was with his eldest… (The emperor) made constant inquiry after (Genji)” (7).
Though Genji is described as having “the face of one who should ascend to the highest place and be father to a nation…” (14) He is nevertheless striped of any imperial title and appointed to the non-royal Gin clan. The reason for his fall from grace can be attributed to the fact that Genji’s mother is “…a lady not of the first rank, whom the emperor loved more than any of the others” of all the wives and concubines” (3). Despite all this, Genji retains the position of most beloved son to the emperor.
Notwithstanding this political setback, Genji is far superior in deportment and disposition to most anyone else so “that few find it in themselves to dislike him” (13). As it turns out, he is a child wonder with inexplicable talent, like the musical prodigy Mozart. When Genji is only seven years of age, “he (recites) the ceremonial reading of the Chinese classics” (13). The aristocrats of the royal court had never before heard or seen such talent in one so young.
Not only is Lord Hikaru an extraordinarily handsome man as well as the beloved son of the emperor with uncanny artistic talents, he has seemingly unlimited time and wealth that enables him to retain the wild independence that makes a child so gloriously charming. These are just a few of the ways he is able to have such a provocative effect on most everyone with which he comes in contact.
Despite all this, Genji is not perfect. Impulsive to a fault, he follows his heart, more often than not, though it may lead to disastrous results. Particularly in the case of several wives or consorts to other men that invariably catch his attention. One such infamous encounter results in Genji’s banishment from court, though only temporarily it is a sorrowful time in his life.
Still, for many other women, Genji fills the order as Sei Shonagon would say of “Things that make your heart beat fast—“ one being a “fine gentleman (who) pulls up in his carriage and sends in some request” (30). One thing for certain, Genji savors each and every one of his conquests with a singular devotion.
The next to succumb to Genji’s charms is his step-mother, Kokiden, mother of the present heir apparent, Genji‘s older half-brother. “Admitting the boy to her inner chamber, (Kokiden) was pleased (even)…reluctant to let him go. She had two daughters, but neither could compare with (Genji) in beauty” (13). All this, even though in the recent past Kokiden proves a deadly rival against Genji’s birth mother.
At age 12, Genji is married to the Minister of the Left’s daughter. His boyish charm is enough to win over his father-in-law, though Genji’s wife, Aoi–five years his senior, is less than enthusiastic about the relationship.
As a young man of seventeen, Genji bewitches an even younger boy, Kojimi, age 12 and the boy’s reluctant older sister, Utsusemi, the wife of a government official:
“The two voices, very sleepy, resembled each other. (Utsusemi said,) “‘And where is our guest? (Kojimi’s) voice was low. ‘I saw him. He is every bit as handsome as everyone says’” (41).
Genji searches to find Utsumei alone. “His manner was so gently persuasive that devils and demons could not have gainsaid him” (32). “(Utsumei) was bathed in perspiration and quite beside herself at the thought of what… the others… would be thinking… Yet the sweet words poured forth, (from Genji’s lips) the whole gamut of pretty devices for making a woman surrender” (43).
As Utsusemi flees Genji’s further advances, she leaves behind her daughter-in-law, Nokiba-no-ogi. Though a bit startled by the unexpected visitor, Nokiba is quite happy to give her time and attention to the charming young man. “The girl beside him had a certain young charm of her own and presently he was deep in vows of love” (54).
On another occasion, Genji finds himself whisked into a passionate search to find a mysterious lady that has given him a “heavily scented white fan” to place a plucked white flower in, “known as ‘evening faces’” (58). Later Evening Faces, as the lady is referred to, is found to be the mother of another young woman who Genji will love, Tamakazura.
Even people who have nothing in common with Genji are drawn to him. On occasion someone may receive a “little poem from him or (having) been treated to some little kindness found him much on their minds. No doubt it distressed them not to be always with him” (63).
From a very young age, Genji’s true passion is for his step mother, Fujitsubo, only five years his senior, the same age as his wife Aoi. After the untimely death of Genji’s birth mother, the emperor is to the point of inconsolable grief. He is told about a “lady famous for her beauty” (15). Fujitsubo, also called, “‘the lady of the radiant sun’” because she ranks beside Genji in the emperor‘s affections (16). Her resemblance to Genji’s dead mother is uncanny. For this same reason, and that Genji seems to have little emotional connection to his own wife, Fujitsubo is for him “a vision of sublime beauty” (18).
Although their relationship is in every way forbidden, Genji manages a night alone with the beautiful Lady Fujitsubo. Afterwards, she is found pregnant with his child. No doubt suffering from humiliation and various other unpleasantries, she becomes ill leaving the tenderhearted Genji quite beside himself with concern for her. Much to his sorrow, from this day forward, Fujitsubo will not see him alone.
In his search to fill the empty place left in his heart, Genji meets the child Murasaki, the ten-year-old niece to Lady Fukitsubo. Murasaki will one day become the “true” love of Genji’s life:
A “sudden realization brought him close to tears: the resemblance to Fujitsubo, for whom he so yearned, was astonishing” (88).
From the beginning, the little girl is also quite fond of Genji:
“She would be the first to run out and greet him when he came home, and she would climb on his lap, and they would talk happily together” (111).
While Murasaki is still a child, Genji encounters the Lady of the Misty Moon during a cherry blossom festival. He has little trouble enticing the lady into his bed:
“She came (could he believe it?) to the door. Delighted, he caught at her sleeve. ‘Who are you?’ She was frightened. ‘There is nothing to be afraid of… (He assured her). Quickly and lightly he lifted her down to the gallery and slid the door closed. Her surprise pleased him enormously. Trembling, she called for help. “It will do you no good. I am always allowed my way”, Genji assures her (152).
Robert Greene tells us that “This “self-belief is half of Genji’s charm.” In fact another’s resistance “does not make him defensive; he (merely) retreats gracefully, reciting a little poetry, and as he leaves, the perfume of his robes tails (is left deliciously) behind him” (Greene 65).
Another of Genji’s conquests is the Lady of the Orange Blossoms, the younger sister of one of his deceased father’s former consorts. Genji quietly makes his way to where the younger sister resides. She has never seen a visitor of such “unsurpassed good looks” (217). His manners are tender and she is soon convinced that he would never lie to her when he whispers sweet things in her ear.
Another of Genji’s special talents is his attention to important and intimate details. The way he seduces the object of his desire is to adapt to their moods with tacit details that fill their sights, and sounds while swirling them into a fantasy of delectable scents that will later remind them of the pleasure of his company. This is shown to perfection when Genji is enticed by the beautiful Tamakazura. As Genji shows his regard for the much younger woman, she is made uncomfortable by his attentions. She feels his behavior is inappropriate since she thinks Genji is her father or in the least her protector. In fact her real father is Genji’s former brother-in-law, the Lady Aoi’s brother.
To win Tamakazura, Genji uses his considerable charm, ingenuity and consummate accomplishment on the koto of which he is a master. His majestic playing of the seven-string instrument won her when none of his other tactics did.
The modern reader no doubt sees Hikaru Genji as an incorrigible Don Juan, a shameless rake. Yet Ivan Morris tells us in The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan that for the modern reader who inhabits a monogamous society, The Tale of Genji provides valuable insight into a world where polygamy is the order of the day. The possession of numerous wives and consorts is normal and actually a respectable means of behavior for Heian gentleman.
In the Heian aristocracy, large families have an important advantage, one being that women tend to die young. Also the fact that women are almost completely dependent on men, therefore, a wealthy man who possesses numerous wives and concubines is not labeled a lecher. In fact, it is considered a status symbol.
The type of disapproval our modern-day societies would put on unfaithful husbands is instead directed at the man who has only one or two wives. He is considered anti-social.
The way Genji comports himself during his romantic liaisons falls into the proper ways a courtier is expected to behave. A Reader’s Guide: the Tale of Genji gives us the appropriate guidelines for ladies and gentlemen of the aristocracy. They should “compose delicate poetry,” written in a certain way with just the proper “shade of the ink”. Even “the selection of the paper” is important, the texture, the color. All these nuances are “meticulously scrutinized for evidence of courtly sensibility” (49).
In the Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature we find more valuable information such that the particular way a courtier paints their calligraphy is very important. They should prepare special music that would entice an erotic encounter. In this way, both men and women carry on their romantic affairs around the standing screens posed between them.
The reason for much of this painstaking decorum is that the women of the upper had few options to deal with the mind-numbing monotony of their lives. These were love and literature. They must have something exciting to fill their days.
In regards to Genji, it is not only his astonishing looks, his sensitivity, and his remarkable artistic talents that elevate him as the ideal male. It is the way in which he savors each of his romantic encounters and their various, individual virtues with almost religious devotion. In Heian Japan, an era when a man could walk away at anytime for any reason, leaving the woman destitute if he chose, once Hikaru Genji gives his support to a woman, he never withdraws it, even though he may have lost all interest in her as a mistress. In fact, he builds a magnificent mansion with rooms enough to house all his women.
Brulotte, Gaetan. Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2006. 680, 682.
Greenway, Robert. The Art of Seduction . New York: Penguin Books, 2001. 55, 271.
Morris, Ivan. The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in
Ancient Japan. New York: Kodansha America, 1994. 236-237.
Puette, William J. A Reader’s Guide: The Tale of Genji. Massachusetts, 1992. 49, 63, 104.
Murasaki Shikibu. The Tale of Genji. Trans. Edward G. Seidensticker. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. 3-454.
Sei Shonagon. The Pillow Book. Trans. Meredith McKinney. New York: Penguin Books, 2006. 17, 30.
It is night. In the upper bedroom of the rented farmhouse, you lie awake against the futon pillow. You gaze up at the ceiling. For some reason, you cannot fall asleep. It’s as if your mind will not shut off. The events of the day keep playing, like a broken record, across your mind.
From the corner of your eye, you detect flickers of blue, green and purple flames just outside the sliding glass door. Your heart skips a beat when you glance in the direction of the colored flames. Standing on the narrow balcony, that rests against the side of the house, is a young man dressed in a white kimono that covers his feet. Long, black hair trails in a disheveled mass around his shoulders and down his back. On his forehead rests a white triangle of cloth. His hands dangle limply from his wrists on outstretched arms that point directly toward you. His dark eyes gaze beseeching into yours.
You grab the edge of your quilt and yank it up around your chin. Your mind cannot conceive of what your eyes see.
After the first initial shock, you wonder what has happened to trap the spirit between this world and the next and who were his relatives, that must have once lived here? He seems to have come back for their help in releasing him from his torment.
Against your better judgement, you rise and walk toward the closed, glass door. Before you can release it, the latch clicks and the door slides open, as if by magic. You find yourself standing only a few feet from the ghostly young man.
You now see a haki maki is tied around his forehead, beneath the white triangle. He whispers the word, “Kamikaze,” and you realize, he must be one of the very young who died as a “suicide boomer” in the second world war. You want to help him, but are not sure how. Nonetheless, you reach your hand toward his and smile.
Yūrei, 幽霊? meaning “faint spirit” or Bōrei 亡霊, “ruined or departed spirit” is also called Yōkai妖怪 orObake お化け. In Japanese culture, humans have a spirit called a reikon 霊 that returns to their living family during the summer Obon Festival. If a person is murdered or commits suicide or if proper funeral rites are not preformed, they become stuck in the physical world, unable to travel to spirit world. The restless yūrei must first resolve the emotional conflict that holds it trapped between the two worlds.
In the summertime of old Japan, when the oppressive heat and humidity rendered daylight activity all but unbearable, people longed for the night and the scant relief brought by the setting sun. There, amidst a chorus of frogs and insects serenading the coming of the dance of the dead, the people played a game called, “A Gathering of 100 Ghostly Tales”, and silently the spirits would return.
100 lit candles were placed in a circle, and the players each told a ghoulish tale. As each tale ended, the storyteller doused a single candle. As the light slowly faded the tension rose. The game was said to be a ritual of evocation, the expiration of each story and each candle summoned more spiritual energy, transforming the room into a beacon for the dead. With the vanishing of the final light, someone or something terrible was found waiting in the darkness… This story is for the first lit candle…
You sit the garden near the Palace in the once Imperial City of Kyoto. It is a beautiful spring day. In fact you are fortunate to have planned your visit to Japan the very day the cherry blossoms are at the most glorious. As you admire the scenery, a young woman happens by and sits on the bench near you. When she turns your way, she smiles sweetly and asks if you have ever heard the story of Tamamo-no-Mae? You shrug and tell her it is your first day in Japan and no you have never heard the story.
Again, the young woman smiles sweetly and gets a far off look in her eyes. This is when you see the smooth, black stone she holds in her hands. It has the glossy look of obsidian, the kind of rock thrown millennia before from the pit of Mount Fuji. You find it odd that the young woman is caressing the glossy stone as if it is a pet of some sort.
You’re not sure why, but a shiver runs up your spine at this particular moment. Your first inclination is to jump up and hurry back to your hotel. But you stay thinking how silly you are being on such a beautiful day with such a pleasant companion to talk to.
As the young woman continues to pet her stone, she begins to tell a story, of a priest named, Gennoh who decided to see the world, so the next morning he and his servant packed their belongings and left the city. One day on their journey, they were crossing a field when they saw a bird fall dead from the sky. They found out in the village that the bird had flown to near Nasuno, the death stone.
A village woman told the priest and his servant, “It is a good thing you did not go too close. You see, the stone steals the life from whatever touches it. Inside the stone is the spirit of Lady Tamamo-no-Mae.
“Who?” the priest asked, confused as to the significance of the spirit.
The woman shook her head and continued. “It is said that the spirit that resides inside the death rock once destroyed kings in both India and China and was later a consort to the Japanese Emperor, Toba. Tamamo-no-mae was her name. She was both beautiful and wise, but her heart was filled with evil.
“Late one night during a concert at the end of autumn, all the lamps in the emperor’s garden suddenly blew out. To everyone’s horror and amazement, Tamamo-no-mae began to glow like the full moon. Soon after this, Emperor Toba became deathly ill.
“His Astrologer cast the Emperor’s fortune and found that it was Tamamo-no-mae who had caused the Emperor’s illness.
The Astrologer began an exorcism which in turn caused Tamamo-no-mae to writhe in torment. To escape her punishment, she leapt into the air and landed far away on the Nasuno plain.
“But the Emperor sent warriors to find and destroy her. They chased her into a trench and shot arrows at her until her life drained away. It was then that she became the Death-Rock, which has killed all who come too close.”
The young woman sitting near to you smiles once again, but this time you see a gleam in her dark eyes that can only be described as feral. Again, you shiver, but not from the cold.
The young woman rises from the bench. Her back is to you now, but she is still speaking. “That day, Gennoh, the priest did a second exorcism on the stone. The spirit of Tomama-no-mae appeared, begging forgiveness, promising to do good all the rest of her days.”
Silence falls across the garden and you wait to hear the rest of the story. Instead, the young woman walks away. As she does, you see a swishing fox tail following directly behind her and a pale radiance like the moon glowing out from her body.
Much to your horror, your throat begins to feel tight as if someone’s fingers clench around your windpipe. You find that you can no longer draw a breath. In your desperation you look down to see the black stone the young woman was holding now sits on the bench only a foot or so from you. You reach out as if to knock the rock to the ground. Instead, you collapse beneath the bench where only moments before you sat upright.
A couple, walking in the garden, sees your distress and hurries toward. You try to tell them not to come closer. You gesture toward the glistening black rock that seems to writhe as if alive. But the words stick in your throat. You hear jeering laughter like the wind whistling through the tree tops. The next instant everything goes dark as the first candle is blown out…