Women's Role in Heian Japan in Tale of Genji - Essay Example

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At first glance, Heian Japanese society appears to have been one that was dominated very much by men. A close examination of Kiritsubo, Genji’s mother, in A Tale of Genji shows that contrary to expectations, women in Heian Japan played a more active role in society than their status would lead modern interpreters of Japanese history to suspect based on historical accounts…
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Womens Role in Heian Japan in Tale of Genji
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Download file to see previous pages Men held all of the important posts in government and basically ran everything. Because of this, it might be supposed that literature from the time period always shows men to be right and women to follow them without any questions. However, in part due to the fact that women wrote many popular works of literature, that is not necessarily the case. Beyond just that, it is clear that while men may have dominated politically, their relationships with women were judged by others, and played an important role in their success. In many cases, women even dictated the course of events.
When looking at Japanese history in the Heian period, it seems as though men were the only important people. Despite earlier female sovereigns, by the Heian period “the imperial government structured itself around male sovereigns … [and] women were excluded not just from rule, but also from the bureaucracy,” as men held all political posts.This influence and dominance of women can be seen in the very early chapters of the Kojiki. When Izanami speaks first in the mating ritual, their children are “not good”. This suggests that men were supposed to be the ones in charge, who decided what to do and when, and that women were supposed to simply follow what the men said. The mating ritual in the Kojiki is even confirmed by the main gods in the plain of heaven, so that it would seem to be an unshakeable law of reality.
However, despite the trappings of a male-dominated society, women actually played many important roles. Chief among these was literature. As women could not take direct roles in politics, and could not learn Chinese, they had “to express themselves in the vernacular, and ... became the greatest writers of prose literature in the Heian period” ...
However, even in politics, women were very important. This can be seen in the fact that the offspring of emperors “were reared in the mansions of the maternal relatives” (Varley 57), and is one reason the Fujiwara regents gained so much political power, as the maternal relatives of emperors were almost all Fujiwara women. Indeed, the Fujiwara's use of the political power of women even extended to the palace itself. Because “the quarters of sisters or daughters serving at the palace often became the offices of noblemen,” Fujiwara nobles were able to take advantage of emperor's mothers and wives by carrying out their business close to the center of power (Sanae & Watanabe 26). Although the words of historians from history books are a good indication, looking at the works of literature belonging to a people can really drive home how they lived, and how they perceived themselves. In the case of Heian Japan, since women wrote most of the major works of prose literature, and since most of these took the form of diaries or political intrigues, it is possible to get a very detailed view of how politics worked, and what roles women played in society. In The Tale of Genji, women obviously play a very important part of the story. In fact some scholars even suggest that they are the focus in the story altogether, instead of Genji (Tyler, “Marriage”). In addition to just being important romantic interests for the title character, though, the women characters in Tale of Genji played other, more subtle roles. An examination of how women and men interact in the tale will show that things are not as cut and dry as the earliest chapters of the Kojiki, and most historical accounts of government in the Heian period in Japan, suggest. The woman in Tale of Genji who most ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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