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Japanese Culture-Tales of Heike and Genji

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The Tale of Genji and The Tale of the Heike are the two greatest epics that marked the social, culture and economic position that was Japan during eleventh to twelfth century. The Tales of Genji and Heike are tales of two Japanese clans with first having its origin in the aristocratic culture whereas the other is great epic of the struggle that ensued between the Taira and Minamoto clans to have a control over Japan by end of the 12th century.

Understanding cultures that bore the marked differences in the era that brought the downfall of one clan and gave rise to another in a cultural imbibed and deep dimensional land of Japan is very intriguing as it brings before us what makes lives of people in their different facades.

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The clans of Genji and Heike gained powers after the Taike reforms that brought many aristocratic families to settle on the rich lands. It was tenth century when court called the leaders of these clans to quell the civil disturbances in Eastern as well as Western Japan.

The result had been arisen of two warrior clans of aristocratic lineage-The Taira or Heike and the Minamoto or Genji whose chieftains had become overlords encompassing large number of warrior or warrior bands. (McCullough: 1) These two clans had created tremendous influence in the social, culture and economic lives of Japan to such an extent that its tales gained tremendous popularity.

The Tale of Heike is the story of compassion and a pathetic tale. These are the tales of bravery of aristocratic families, their show of dignified vicissitudes but also along with that their cowardliness, deceit, and all the travails of human frailty. The fate Heike met leaves us with lot of tears. Having once arisen into a powerful clan under skillful leadership of Kiyomori after the disturbances of Hogen and Heiji, the Taira brought their rivals Genji to downfall making them politically weak. The clan enjoyed tremendous prosperity with its chieftain enjoying most powerful man in Japan.

On the other hand, Yugao chapter depicted how courtship took place and revealed how poetry created a deep influence in the life of people especially aristocratic families. It gave rise to the class issues as we could see Yugao felt embraced when he saw Genji hearing the sounds of her neighbors indulging in their routine activities. Women’s position was subjugated and she had to abide by the dictates of man’s power whereas man could enjoy having liaisons with many women. They were so romantically disposed that they would love beautiful creatures, ladies and nature with great ardent desire, pleasure and gratitude. “When Rokuju pushed aside her bed curtains and tossed her hair back over the shoulders looked out into the garden, so many lovely flowers were growing in the garden that Genji stood still to admire them” (Shikubu: 112) even Rokujo could not stop admiring her. As Genji came near the Portico, a maid appeared who was wearing the color of light green skirt, which was typically conforming to the season of the time and the place of their dwelling. (Shikibu: 112) Genji invited her to sit over the railing and Genji could not stop exclaiming, he said, “she seems very shy, he thought, “but how charmingly her hair falls about her shoulder.” (Shikibu: 112) There is no doubt of the fact that it’s a picture of beauty and love and how contrasting is the picture in the Tale of Heike where there is only death and destruction. The cruelty and brutality in the warfare can be clearly witnessed in this scene, “weeping bitterly he cut of the boy’s head.” “Alas! he cried, “what life is so hard as that of a soldier?’’ Only because I was borne into a warrior family must I suffer this affliction! How lamentable it is to such a cruel deeds!” (Sadler: 181) He then wept bitterly and found a flute in his bag. He felt again into deep remorse thinking how he had to be on the bloody lands where on the other hand his friends were enjoying the music.

  The Tale of Heike plunges us into the dreads of war lands. Along with this, recitation of poetry makes us have deep feelings of the mixed emotions of the humans rendering themselves heartless. Superstitious beliefs and praying in deities also formed the core culture of the people that made eleventh century Japan. Before making any decision they would pray to God and decide according to the will of God with their superficial rituals like High Priest of Kumano who had to show his obeisance towards Heike in the warfare suddenly changed his heart and fell into a situation of dilemma-whether to support Heike or Genji? His performance of sacred dances for seven days in seclusion in front of the shrine of Imakumano at Tanabe and later still having doubt held cock fight before the shrine between seven white cocks and seven red ones with white one giving defeat to the red ones. This made priest decide to help Genji. (Sadler: 181)

            The Tale of Genji is a tale of loyalty whereas the tale of the Heike is the tale of discrete, disloyalty and treachery. In the Tale of Genji, Kormitsi was always ready to obey and carried out with faithfulness her master’s orders but all the loyal persons of Heike like Shikoku and Kyushu left their master in the midst of fighting to join Genji who left the trail of destruction over Heike’s. (Sadler: 183)

The houses and the places of the dwellings of Heike’s were overgrown with weeds and were dilapidated but the houses of Genji’s in the Tale of Genji were decorated with full blossomed flowers and beauty everywhere. This is a proof of peace and tranquility, love and share and caring which Genji also showed towards his caretaker who had converted into nun. She was filled with remorse after seeing him and through his conversation is also seen the care he had shown towards her.

Both the tales are the tales of human feelings, their complexities in the life and emotional travails in different situations with difference between the two stemmed from the fact that one is the tale of love and sex while other is a tale of warship. In both the cases, how human beings especially aristocratic families deal in their day-to-day lives is depicted through their lives. Their love, their emotions and the relations with others in time of love and warfare are the essence of these two epics.

McCullough, H.L. 1988. The tale of the Heike. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.


Cite this Japanese Culture-Tales of Heike and Genji

Japanese Culture-Tales of Heike and Genji. (2016, Oct 31). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/japanese-culture-tales-of-heike-and-genji/

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