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By Sumiko Kajiyama
Museyon, Inc. Copyright © 2015 Sumiko Kajiyama
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Kyoto and The Three Beloved Heroes
History and modern culture coexist in Japan.
The old capital city, Kyoto, is a prime example. Emperor Kammu decided to make this city his capital in 794. Even now, you can find remnants of those days when you walk around the city. The city's layout in a grid-like pattern is itself the very image of Heian-kyo (which means tranquility and peace capital), Kyoto's old name.
The city has never stopped evolving in its 1,200-year history. Despite construction restrictions on building heights meant to preserve the city's famous vistas, there are modern buildings. Likewise, people walk about the streets dressed in contemporary fashions while sipping on Starbucks lattés — just as you would see in Ginza or Harajuku in Tokyo.
Kyoto was the national capital for over 1,000 years, from 794 until 1868, and its landmarks have a wide range of historic backgrounds. One of the most popular places to visit in Kyoto, the dazzling Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion), was built at the end of the 14th century, during the Muromachi perriod, while the famous geisha district, Gion, was most prosperous in the beginning of the 19th century, the latter part of the Edo period.
People jokingly say that if an elderly Kyoto resident mentions "the last war", he or she means the Onin War of the 15th century, not World War II. The center of Kyoto was burned down during the Onin War, while it was left untouched by WWII.
Because the city was spared during WWII, many of the cultural properties and faces of historic centers were saved and maintained to this day. It may be surprising to some people that a culture built with flammable wood and paper has been kept intact for such a long period of time.
You can find the footsteps of people who lived in a various periods in the past in this not-so-big city. In this way, you can easily travel through time as you travel through Kyoto.
Through the tales of three of Japan's most famous heroes — Hikaru Genji (and his creator, Murasaki Shikibu), Oda Nobunaga and Sakamoto Ryoma — you can experience over 1,000 years in this uniquely historic city.CHAPTER 2
Murasaki Shikibu, the Court Lady Who Wrote the First Modern Novel
The Tale of Genji vividly portrays the lifestyle inside the palace of the Heian capital 1,000 years ago, a time when the powerful Fujiwara clan dominated Japan. Widely regarded as the world's first modern novel, The Tale of Genji was written by Murasaki Shikibu, a woman of the court, in the middle of the Heian period. The majestic novel has attracted readers for over 1,000 years in various translations in modern Japanese, as well as in many foreign languages.
Let the hero of this novel, Hikaru Genji, be your guide to Kyoto's Heian-era sites.
Although Genji is a fictional character, his image exists clearly among the Japanese. "Who was the biggest ladies' man in Japanese history?" Many Japanese would name Hikaru Genji. He was a prince of the emperor, blessed with brilliant beauty and unparalleled talent. He was a superstar who was unbeatable both in sword and pen, in music, dance, and romance. He was surely popular and his love affairs were the talk of the town.
"Hikaru Kimi" (the shining prince) is still the timeless dream boy for the ladies.
However, this novel is not just pulp entertainment like a Harlequin romance. Its underlying theme is the Buddhist concept of the impermanence of worldly things. Human ego, jealousy, greed for power, cunning, and purity — The Tale of Genji depicts such immutable aspects of human nature. This story has been made into movies, manga, and animated films, and still resonates with people in the 21st century.
The Tale of Genji is a work of fiction but many shrines and temples that were the models or backdrops of the story remain in Kyoto.
The most famous of all is Kyoto Gosho (the Imperial Palace) where the emperor's family resided and royal ceremonies and rituals took place. The successive emperors actually lived here until Emperor Meiji relocated the capital to Tokyo in 1869 after returning to power when the Meiji Restoration ended shogun warrior rule.
Being a prince of the emperor, Hikaru Genji would have been born in this palace.
Strictly speaking, however, the current palace was rebuilt in 1855 in the end of the Edo period. Even though it is built in Heian style, its location is different from the original palace.
The original Heian palace burned down in the 13th century and was never rebuilt. The current palace was the emperor's regent's mansion where the emperor stayed temporarily, and which was enlarged with the help of warlords in the Warring States Period (Sengoku Jidai). The building itself was burned down and rebuilt again many times until the current structure was built 150 years ago.
The central area of the Heian capital was a rectangle of about 0.72 miles (1.2 km) from east to west and 0.84 miles (1.4 km) from north to south. The emperor's residence and administrative buildings were all located within this area.
The grid-like layout of the city remains as it was originally. However, the main boulevard in the central area, Suzaku Oji, used to be as wide as 275 feet (84 meters). Senbon-dori Street now runs north to south where the Suzaku Oji was once laid out, but it is only 82 feet (25 meters) at its the widest and merely 20 feet (6 meters) wide where it is the narrowest.
WHAT IS THE TALE OF GENJI?
Widely accepted as the world's first novel, The Tale of Genji depicts romance and the life of the nobility in the court of the Heian period. Written by Murasaki Shikibu, the story portrays three generations surrounding the main character, Hikari Genji, as he encounters various types of women and matures as a man and as a person.
As many as 500 characters appear in this tightly structured story, which features vivid everyday conversations and scenes of court culture, as well as Japan's rich seasons. While it is a charming romance novel of fragile love affairs, Buddhist philosophy about the transience of human life is the undercurrent of the story.
Love, hate, and suffering in the lives of the women who have relationships with Genji bring out deep sympathy from the reader regardless of distance in time and culture. Some readers claim that they find the full portrayal of human nature and man's reality through Hikari Genji.
In 2008, the Kyoto government carried out a special event, The Millennium of The Tale of Genji, to commemorate this extraordinary literature that has entertained many readers around the world for the past 1,000 years.
HEIAN CAPITAL & KYOTO GOSHO
THE IMPERIAL PALACE
Kyoto Imperial Palace, or Kyoto Gosho, was the Imperial Palace of Japan and housed the Imperial Family from the Heian period until the capital was moved to Tokyo in 1868 during the Meiji Restoration. Located in Kyoto Gyoen Park, the palace, as it is today, was rebuilt in 1855 in the Heian architecture style, following a fire. It was the eighth time the palace was rebuilt since it was first built in 794.
The palace grounds include a number of buildings, including the Imperial Residence, the residence of the retired emperor, and even a university. The main building boasts a number of historically important halls, including the Shishinden (the ceremonial hall where emperors were crowned), the Seiryoden (once the Emperor's private residence), the Kogosho (small palace), the Ogakumonjo, and the Otsunegoten.
The grounds are open to the public (none of the buildings can be entered), but appointments must be made with the Imperial Household Agency, which also provides guided tours.
A 275-foot-wide (84-meter) street is more like a plaza than a street. Noblemen and noblewomen riding on their oxcarts would pass each other on this street 1,000 years ago.
Even though the current Kyoto Gosho palace is not the same building where The Tale of Genji took place, its atmosphere recalls those days.
Kyoto Gosho has six gates and each of them is designated for different ranks and usages. Though the emperor no longer lives here, the palace is still managed by the Imperial Household Agency. Reservations must be made before visiting. However, in spring and fall, it opens its doors to public and attracts many tourists.
Once you cross the gate, you will feel the air turn solemn in the palace. The must-see spots are the Seiryoden, where the emperor would perform his daily duties, and the Shishinden, where the most important rituals, including the accession ceremonies, would take place.
Inside the magnificent Shishinden, with its arching cypress bark roof, sits the emperor's throne, Takamikura (Chrysanthemum Throne), facing the white-stone courtyard, Dantei. In The Tale of Genji, Hikaru Genji had his coming-of-age ceremony here. He was so loved by his father, the Emperor Kiritsubo, after his mother passed away that his ceremony was specially held in this highest-rank room.
You can imagine how beautiful it would be as Hikaru Genji, dressed up in a colorful costume, danced elegantly in this room. The ladies in the palace would stare through the bamboo blinds and sigh for the shining prince.
In the Dantei courtyard, there are two glorious trees: the "Sakon-no-Sakura" cherry blossom tree on the left side and "Ukon-no-Tachibana" mandarin orange tree on the right side, as viewed from the Shishinden. Many shrines in Japan have such paired cherry and mandarin orange trees, but this pair is exceptional in size and grandeur.
In Japan, people still celebrate the growth of their children every March on Hina Matsuri (Girls' Day) by displaying Heian-style dolls. They have miniature paired "Sakon-no-Sakura" and "Ukon-no-Tachibana" trees to complete the set.
Today, Kyoto Gosho is located within the extensive park called Kyoto Gyoen. More than 200 mansions of noble families once stood here. They all moved out when the Emperor moved to Tokyo after the Meiji Restoration in 1869.
Kyoto Gyoen is open to public and it is a green oasis in the city. There are some ruins of old mansions and gardens of the Heian court nobles that you can visit. There are 1,100 cherry trees in the park and the blossoms are spectacular in spring. A famous ito zakura (weeping cherry tree) at the former site of the Konoe family mansion, located in the north of Kyoto Gosho, has inspired many poets.
Hikaru Genji's mother, Kiritsubo-no-koi, was the emperor's favorite wife among many that he had. However, because her father's rank was lower than those of other wives' fathers, she had the lower title for a wife of the emperor, Koi. The higher-rank court ladies catering to the emperor in his sleeping quarters were jealous of Kiritsubo-no-koi and often picked on her.
With a low-ranking mother, Genji's path to the throne was difficult in spite of his charm and talent. Adding to his struggle, his maternal grandfather passed away early and his mother died when he was three. He lacked crucial political backing, and had insecure status. Emperor Kiritsubo, Genji's father, made the difficult decision to demote the boy to vassal out of his true affection. After that, Genji made his way up with the emperor's confidence and captured the hearts of many court ladies with his beauty.
Genji is an alternate name for members of the Minamoto family, people demoted from the imperial family into the nobility. Some of them turned into samurai. The most famous Genji in Japanese history is the founder of the 12th-century Kamakura Government, shogun Minamoto Yoritomo, or perhaps his younger brother, the warrior Minamoto Yoshitsune.
THE TALE OF GENJI SYNOPSIS
There was a prince whose father was Emperor Kiritsubo and mother was one of the Kois, the lower-rank court ladies who worked in the emperor's sleeping quarters. The emperor cherished this Koi regardless of her rank and their son grew up so beautiful and smart that people called him "shining prince." But the boy's mother passed away while he was still very young. Worried about the future of this young son, the emperor gave him the surname Minamoto (or Gen-ji) and demoted him to vassal status. He is the hero of the novel, Hikaru Genji.
The emperor's new wife, Fujitsubo, looked like the late Koi, and he cherished her very much. Hikaru Genji also fell in love with her, looking for the image of his late mother. He finally pursued his forbidden love and Fujitsubo gave birth to his boy, who was raised as the tenth prince of Emperor Kiritsubo and later became the emperor himself.
Hikaru Genji married Aoi-no-ue, a daughter of another powerful family. The couple was blessed with a boy Yugiri, but their relationship was distant. The cadish Genji had affairs with many ladies, including Yugao, whom he romanced without even knowing her name; Suetsumu-hana, a daughter of a fallen royal; Rokujyo-no-miyasudokoro, a widow of the late prince; Oborozukiyo, a daughter of an elite family; and others.
After losing his wife Aoi-no-ue, Genji married Fujitsubo's niece and lookalike, Murasakino-ue. He had adopted her when she was very young and had been raising her to be his ideal woman. Later, when he was exiled to Suma, he met Akashi-no-kimi and had a baby girl between them, who would later become empress.
Genji kept rising in rank and had a mansion called Rokujyo-in where his wives lived together. While he was enjoying his prosperity, former Emperor Suzaku-in forced him marry his niece, Onna-sannomiya. Murasaki-no-ue agonized over his new wife and this troubled Genji. As time passed, his best friend's son, Kashiwagi, committed adultery with Onnasannomiya and had a son, Kaoru. Genji had no choice but to accept the illegitimate son as his own and wondered if it was the result of his mistakes in his younger days. Finally, his loving Murasaki-no-ue passed away and the depressed Genji considered becoming a priest.
After Genji's death, the story continues in Uji Jujo (The Ten Chapters of Uji), which takes place in nearby Uji. The main characters are Genji's youngest son — actually a son of Kashiwagi — Kaoru, and his grandson, Niou-no-miya. While Kaoru was reserved, Niou-no-miya was passionate. They were close but also rivals in romance. The story portrays the tragic love of these two main characters.
GENJI: PICTURE SCROLLS AND JAPANESE ART
Painted hand scrolls, called emakimono, flourished in Japan from the 11th century to the 16th. Thought to have originated in India, the art form arrived in Japan via China sometime during the 6th and 7th centuries. The horizontal scrolls depicted illustrated narratives, with stories about battles, romance, folklore, the supernatural, and religion — indeed, emakimono played a role in spreading Buddhism throughout Japan.
Created by joining together several dozen pieces of paper (and occasionally silk), the scrolls were then attached to wooden dowels to be rolled up, secured with braided silk cord, and stored away. To read an emakimono, which combined illustrations with summarizing text, it would be opened to arm's length and viewed from right to left. These beautifully crafted tales, up to 40-feet long sometimes, depicted several scenes, and usually took up to three entire scrolls to tell one story.
The Genji Monogatari Emaki, the most widely known and discussed example of a painted hand scroll, took between 10 to 20 scrolls to tell all 54 chapters of The Tale of Genji. Sadly, only an estimated 15 percent of the original hand scroll remains. The Tokugawa Art Museum in Nagoya has three of the scrolls, and the Gotoh Museum in Tokyo has one. Designated National Treasures of Japan, the scrolls are so fragile that they normally are not shown in public, except for one week in November at the Tokugawa Museum.
Heian Jingu Shrine
While Kyoto Gosho is the site where the emperors actually resided, Heian Jingu Shrine is a copy of the emperors' residence, recreating the old image of the Heian period. Heian Jingu was built in 1895, commemorating 1,100 years since the founding of Heian-kyo. It honors Emperor Kammu, who established the capital in Kyoto, and Emperor Komei, the last emperor who resided in Kyoto. The shrine complex is a five-eighths' scale replica of the Chodoin, the palace's main hall, where the important events and daily administrative duties were performed.
Entering the Ohten-mon gate, there is an open space covered with white pebbles. The large red shrine behind it is the central building, Daigokuden. The corridors spread to right and left from here and there is an elegant shrine garden, Shin-en, in the back. This would be a perfect spot to imagine how Hikaru Genji lived.
Excerpted from Cool Japan by Sumiko Kajiyama. Copyright © 2015 Sumiko Kajiyama. Excerpted by permission of Museyon, Inc..
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