Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Tale of Genji

I recently discovered and joined Stumbleupon and for someone who spends too much time in front of the computer already, this was perhaps not advisable. However it did allow me to discover one gem of a site which I would have been very sorry to miss: The Tale of Genji. In the words of the worthy author, ‘This site aims to promote a wider understanding and appreciation of The Tale of Genji - the 11th Century Japanese classic written by a Heian court lady known as Murasaki Shikibu. It also serves as a kind of travel guide to the world of Genji.’
The site is filled – filled – with photos of shrines, temples and other places to be found in the novel. If you are interested in the Japan of the feudal period as I am, you cannot fail to be ‘knocked over with a feather’ by the exquisite beauty of theses temples and holy places. The pure unity of the architecture, the aesthetic simplicity of the interiors and the peaceful beauty of the gardens are a delight to the eye and a balm to the soul.
The predominating feeling one experiences when exploring this world of Genji is reverence. Reverence for the ancestors; reverence for nature; reverence for heaven and deities; reverence for wisdom and virtue; reverence for beauty. The people of feudal Japan were devoted to the arts, the different ‘Ways’ – the Way of the sword, of the bow, of the brush, of poetry, of the Tea Ceremony, of flower arranging - of virtually any activity. Everyday humble tasks were performed with reverence and attention to detail as a way to perfect the self. As one can imagine, this led to perfection and excellence in craftsmanship, from paper to ceramics to swords; perfection in the visual arts; perfection in the martial arts; perfection in reverencing the Spiritual in everything.
The Spiritual is all about us but we generally do not notice it. The Japanese society of this period did notice it and incorporated it into their daily life. Their society was in many ways of a finer essence.
If you are like me, when you close your computer after imbuing yourself with this world of Genji, you may have the distinct feeling of being transported to some dreary parallel universe.

I have not read The Tale of Genji, yet. It is surely a great treat in store for me. When I do, The Tale of Genji will be my companion and my window into that world.

Photo: Iwashimizu Hachiman-gu Shrine, tutelary shrine of the Minamoto (Genji) clan

6 comments:

Jules said...

sounds like a good read... will have to look in to it

Aquarian Reflections said...

You must read it! I read it about 10 years ago so am ready to do so again...it will stay with you...for me one of the oddly haunting things was the haiku classical cryptic poetry that was everywhere throughout..so well known often one would say only the first 2 or 3 words of a favourite, and the other would finish it - or simply understand! The other impression left was the ever-present snow in their lives. This is a novel that is about human nature, more than about a "country" or place to visit...I think you will love it! I am enjoying your blog. Carol

Alex said...

Yes, thanks for reminding me. So many books, so little time...
Which translation did you choose?
Thanks for the link and comments.
Alex

Carol Leigh Rice said...

Sorry, I hadn't realized you had replied! I can't remember the translation but I now realize that could be quite an interesting choice.. I also realize the poetic lines I loved were tanka, and not haiku...Here is an enjoyable discussion on Tale of Genji and Waley versus Seidensticker. It looks like it was 2003 - but I think you would enjoy it.

http://www.ahapoetry.com/aguide/reviews_and_comments_about_writi.htm

Cheers, Carol

Alex said...

OK, I have bookmarked it and will look into it before I buy a book. There is a bit of a discussion of the translations at Amazon. Ideally I suppose you should eventually read both - its surely better than reading the same translation a second time.
Thanks for Stumbling the blog. I didn't know I was chatty... ; )

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Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond