Category Archives: Murasaki Shikibu

Cherry Blossom Season

Cherry Blossoms at the Heian Shrine, Kyoto.

In Japan, Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shonagon are sometimes compared to different flowering trees that bud and bloom in the spring. Reserved and contemplative as she was, Murasaki is thought of as similar to  a cherry blossom, a traditional symbol of purity, while the gregarious, slightly more promiscuous Sei is likened to a vibrant red plum blossom.

A Sakura in Washington, D.C.

March is the month of the first Cherry Blossom or Sakura Festivals in Japan and in Washington, D.C. If you cannot get to Japan, the festival starts in our nation’s capital on March 27th this year. Even if you don’t particularly love cherry blossoms, there’s at least a parade with an enormous Hello Kitty balloon.

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Filed under cherry blossoms, Murasaki Shikibu, Shonagon, travel

Buddhist Heian Art : The Lotus Sutra

Gold on indigo-dyed paper - from the later part of the Heian period.

This illustration is from the later part of the Heian period, approximately a century after Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu lived, wrote, and gossiped about each other. Considering that Buddhist compassion and forgiveness has been in the news lately following Tiger Woods’ televised apology, which contained references to his childhood visits to Thai Buddhist temples, this particular worked seemed timely. The Lotus Sutra emphasizes the Mahayana belief that Buddha’s compassion is open to all, regardless of position in life. Heian aristocrats would take comfort in such a belief, despite the fact that had a noted lack of empathy for the poor that bordered on disdain.

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Filed under art, beauty, buddhism, Murasaki Shikibu, Shonagon

New Heian Gift Ideas

Perfect for the Heian-obsessed friends and family on your birthday or Christmas gift list, I have just found a UK website similar to Etsy or Overstock.com with an abundance of Heian items. Among the highlights is a t-shirt of an anime cartoon fox Heian princess,  ladies’ shoes  (Keds)with a Heian – era print of courtesans on them, and a t-shirt that says “Heian Princess”:

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Filed under beauty, dress, Genji, Ladies, Murasaki Shikibu

How to Remove Unwanted Hair like a Heian Lady

Get yourself some tweezers and a small pair of scissors. Recently, a make-up kit was found in a Heian tomb in Nishiwaki, Hyogo Prefecture.  Inside the kit was a pair of tweezers and some shears, in addition to a small mirror from China.

Since the tomb was outside of Kansai Prefecture, and thus far from Heian Kyo, it appears that the lady may “have had a close relationship with an influential person who ruled the local area on behalf of a lord who lived in Kyoto, the capital at that time,” according to Shiro Yamashita, the Head of Public Relations for the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Archaeology in Harimacho. It’s interesting that Yamashita didn’t mention the possibility of the lady’s being the wife or daughter of a provincial governor, that much-dreaded post occupied by the father of Murasaki Shikibu and later husband of Sei Shonagon.

Why tweezers were needed.

However, one thing is certain. Whoever owned this historic make-up kit needed it for a very specific purpose: removing all of one’s noticeable body hair, eyebrows included. How else could one paint on thick, black, caterpillar-like replacements without looking silly?

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Filed under beauty, eyebrows, Ladies, Murasaki Shikibu, Shonagon

Advertise Your Fondness for Genji Monogatari….

Genji: the World's Oldest Novel. A perfect subject for a t-shirt!

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A Murasaki Shikibu ROBOT.

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Rebuff Unwanted Advances Delicately

As we’ve previously seen, Heian-era aristocrats used poetry to communicate in most areas of life.  One major advantage of poetic communication is that one could be indirect and discreet while still conveying a strong message.  Murasaki Shikibu, author of “The Tale of Genji”, was a lady-in-waiting to Emperor Ichijo’s young consort, Akiko, daughter of Michinaga Fujiwara.

Michinaga had initially selected Murasaki for his young daughter’s entourage. She was known for her cleverness, as the court of Heian Kyo found “Genji” to be fascinating, and she appears to have been a sort of tutor for Akiko as well. Michinaga was interested in having such a refined, imaginative woman influence his young daughter, who would hopefully be the mother of a future emperor.

He was interested in other aspects of Murasaki as well. Known as a lecherous man, Michinaga certainly attempted to enter Murasaki’s room on at least one occasion. Murasaki heard him knocking on the door outside of her room, and lay quietly, ignoring him. The next day, as was custom, Michinaga sent a poem:

How sad for him who stands the whole night long

kuina
A flightless Kuina bird.

Knocking on your cedar door

Tap-tap-tap like the cry of the Kuina bird

As was also the custom, Murasaki sent a poem in reply that used the same poetic allusions as the initial poem:

Sadder for her who had answered the Kuina’s tap,

For it was no innocent bird who stood there knocking on the door.

Could one rebuff unwanted advances in such a refined manner today?

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Filed under Michinaga, Murasaki Shikibu, poetry, romance