I'm taking Japanese Religions, Peace Building and Economics and the two classes today: Power of Japanese Culture and Japanese Psychotherapies.
In my Power of Japanese Culture we are discussing the novel "Genji Monogatari" 源氏物語 (The Tale of Genji). I had only previous heard about this book because it is considered Japan's first modern novel. Written in the 11th Century, what also makes it interesting is the fact that it is written by a woman, Murasaki Shikibu. The novel is also extremely long, translated to English coming out at almost 5,000 pages, and 54 chapters.
What makes Japan's first novel all the more interesting is that it has the reputation of being explicitly sexual and pornographic in nature, with the most of the novel dealing with the details of sexual exploits of the promiscuous Genji.
This was the only reputation I had known of the novel, interestingly brought up by my Japanese sensei 日本語の先生。
But in my Power of Japanese Culture class we dissected it and examined it briefly, but further.
Here is a brief summary:
"There was a time when one of the ladies of the Imperial court became the special favorite of the emperor, and she gave birth to a healthy baby boy (extremely important in that time of Japanese society). This was much to the upset of the other ladies, who were continuously jealous and hostile towards. The resulting and overwhelming stress she felt from this hostility resulted in illness, which eventually led to her early death.
The beautiful boy grew up and seemed destined to become the Crown Prince. However, because he lacked the backing of powerful guardians at the Court, the Emperor knew he would not be happy as Crown Prince. So, instead, he appointed him as one of his retainers and gave him the name, Genji. From then on he was known as 'Hikaru Genji' (The 'Shining' Genji).
When Genji was still very young, the Emperor took a new wife, named Fujitsubo, a lady who bore an uncanny resemblance to the tragic lady who had been Genji's mother. Genji's longing for the mother he had never really known led to an infatuation for Fujitsubo which, some years later, resulted in her conceiving a child by Genji (the future Emperor Reizei). (This illicit affair was one that haunted Genji for the rest of his life)
While Genji was married to a lady called Aoi no Ue, later in the story he happened to meet a young girl called Murasaki no Ue who, it turned out, was Fujitsubo's niece. She was living in pitiful circumstances so Genji took her away to raise her so that one day she might make a perfect lady.
As well as the ladies already mentioned, Genji romantically pursued many women including the widow of the former Crown Prince, a married woman, a lady who was his best friend's lover, a very naive Princess, and an old maid of nearly 60. Perhaps most surprisingly, Genji also romanced the daughter of his main politically enemy. His love for the ladies in his life was always pure and sincere but connected to his unfulfilled longing for the beautiful mother he had lost so young.
Around the time when his brother the Emperor Suzaku succeeded his father as Emperor, Genji was forced to leave Kyoto and into exile in a remote area near to present-day Kobe. The fall from grace was the result of his scandalous affair with the daughter of one of his political enemies. He spent his exile quietly but, nevertheless, pursued a new romance, having an affair with Akashi no Kimi, the daughter of another Kyoto aristocrat. This relationship also resulted in a child, this time a girl. When his brother abdicated as Emperor, Genji's son became the new Emperor (Emperor Reizei). As a result, Genji quickly recovered his political power, becoming a Minister and walking the path of a highly influential politician.
Genji built a palatial mansion, known as 'The Rokujo Estate' invited all his ladies to live with him and seemingly achieved an almost ideal lifestyle. However, after he decided to take a new lady, known as 'Onna San no Miya' as his wife, life at the Rokujo Estate began to lose its luster. She was the daughter of Genji's dying brother, the Emperor Suzaku and the complicated personal relations between all his ladies became a nuisance. He was no longer a young man. Even more unfortunate was that a young man named Kashiwagi, the son of Genji's best friend, seduced the somewhat naive Onna San no Miya. The result of this liaison was a child, a boy named Kaoru, who later became the central character in the closing 'The Ten Uji Chapters'
Genji felt he only had himself to blame and that fate was punishing him. He too, in his younger days, had illicitly fathered a child, the baby born to Fujitsubo and the boy that became the Emperor Reizei. The irony left such a deep wound in his heart that he decided to go into self-exile.
It is at this point in the 'Tale' that the story of Genji himself ends and the narrative jumps to the final section, a time after Genji's death, set in the city of Uji, and follows two protagonists. One of them was Kaoru, Genji's youngest child, reportedly the exact likeness of his father and the other was Niou no Miya, Genji's grandson. These last ten chapters also involve three beautiful ladies and depict the sad love stories that befall all these characters."
Now I know that was a little dry and hard to understand but I will try and examine it further with you, as we did in class today.
But from my understanding the novel is very poetic (I will get into later), as the author's father was a scholar on Chinese poetry which is said to in turn to have inspired her writing.
The first thing we did was look at a Yamato-e 大和絵 (Japanese painting), that depicted Genji peering in through bamboo to look in at women in private moments:
Why this point is an important point because this is a very common and popular theme in Japanese society even to this day.
Japanese women are always to trying to hide, cover their face.
Commonly you will see Japanese women laughing, but their are hiding their teeth.
Well this is the common conception:
It is, apparently, the act of woman laughing out loud and showing their teeth is looked down upon because it is considered "lacking grace and unladylike."
But the act of covering yourself, and hiding your face as considered graceful stems back to the history of the Emperor, who never showed his face, and had it always covered, until the 19th century.
The common theme of the "peeping tom", like Genji peering in at the women, is also such a common theme in Japan, it is worth mention.
Firstly, you must understand that:
1. Japan is still very conservative in nature. Most Japanese women are very publicly conservative. For the most part, they won't kiss or show public affection in public, among other things. But that does not mean #2.
2. Japan is still very sexual.
Despite the conservative nature, sexuality is very out in the open in Japan. Riding on the trains, you will often see pornographic advertisements out in the open. There will be billboards and sings for pornographic DVD and bookstores out in the market center of town, and even next to train stops, and near schools. Walk into a 7/11 and you can find the magazine rack and then a special section of porn magazines out in the open. Even their equivalent of Blockbuster (Tsutaya) has a Porn section, out in the open. Sometimes there are even porn vending machines.
Love hotels are synonymous with prostitution. Sometimes as are maid cafes, where lonely men pay lots of money to be served food to and talked to by a girl dressed up in a maid outfit. There is also even an underground culture of girls who dress up like school girls and are paid to talk to lonely men:
So what does this all do with the image of Genji peering into the private chambers of women?
As I said before, this is a common theme and idea in Japan.
And it has to do with the contrast of the closed off conservative appearance for Japan, but their repressed desire for sexuality. Because their sexual desire is repressed by conservative values in Japan it comes out in "chikan", in violent pornography, and in a sort of "peeping tom" mentality, where there is a timidness and shyness covering their sexuality.
This stems all the way back to the Ukiyo-e paintings of the 17th to 19th century Japan. Specifically this painting came to mind:
Side note: Pornography is actually strictly monitored in Japan. If you try to bring pornography into Japan, you will be arrested. And a sidenote to know how much 'male dominance' has influenced this society, you cannot show male genitals in Japanese pornographic videos.
It's interesting to note that Japan's first modern novel is very explicitly detailed in its sexual nature.
So let's bring it back to "The Tale of Genji."
Genji is a good looking man who is popular with the ladies, but because of his rank he could never be emperor. He meets a woman named Fujitsubo, who is a consort of the emperor. He falls in love with her, because he is reminded of his mother, who died when he was still young. He falls in love, but the love is forbidden because she is a consort of the emperor. She eventually births his child. But all of this is kept secret.
Eventually he gains a wife of position, and moves up in power, but deep down he is still in love with Fujitsubo , and he tries to numb the pain he feels from this by engaging in many affairs with women (mostly all of his exploits with women deal with his longing for his mother's love and acceptance that he never felt).
He eventually adopts Fujitsubo's niece, because he is reminded of his mother and Fujitsubo in her, and he tries to raise her to be a good woman.
Genji gets involved in some controversy and gets exiled. 3 years later he his pardoned for his offense and returns.
What we are missing is here, so far, is the woman's perspective.
What eventually happens in the story is he meets and falls in love with a woman named Murasaki. Murasaki sticks with him, even through his troubles and infidelity (I think her struggle somewhat represents the struggle of all Japanese women.)
Keep this name in mind, as it is very important.
Still married to Murasaki, he is ordered to be married to the daughter of the Emperor, the Third Princess, which would eventually bring his status and power back to the highest point.
He eventually agrees, and this is the last and final devastating blow and betrayal to Murasaki.
Much like his mother, her health weakens and she passes away.
Here is the most important part:
When Murasaki dies, Genji realizes he has lost his most precious treasure. He becomes a Buddhist monk and renounces all the struggle for power. He realizes the importance of true relationships. In a sense, this book is all about the fleeting nature of life.
This is personified in the Final Chapter: Vanished Into The Clouds, which only contains these words, and then ends.
Back to Murasaki.
Murasaki is the principle female character. This novel still resonates with so many Japanese women today. Why?
Well one reason is because Murasaki is considered the most popular, female character.
About the character:
She does not bare a child with Genji.
She learns from Genji and in a sense grows up and matures from his lessons towards her. When her husband Genji gets exiled, she becomes sad longing for the day they will be reunited.
While Genji was away he met another woman and has a child with her. When Genji returns, he returns with the other woman and the child to Murasaki. Upon his return, she puts away feelings of jealousy. She acts calm, and "graceful".
Eventually, she devotes herself solely to nurturing the child.
The way she deals with her tribulations, is she suffers.
"Suffering is how she grows."
"By remaining silent, she lets her character speak for herself."
I think the concept of not expressing your feelings, remaining silent, and suffering, while raising a child is a concept that rings true for many Japanese women, specifically mothers.
To reiterate, Genji gets engaged to the 3rd Princess. This is a devastating blow to Murasaki.
She still behaves respectfully to the princess, but her heart is broken, and she falls sick.
She wants to become a nun, and live her life in solitude, but Genji will not let her leave (this is the Buddhist concept of 'clinging').
This is similar to what happens at the beginning of the story with Genji's mother, the irony of which Genji realizes and leads him to renouncing his struggle for power and become a Buddhist monk:
Genji's mother constantly dealt with the struggle of jealousy of other women. "They would gaze upon her disdainfully with malignant eyes..." "The anxiety which she had to endure was great and constant."
However, her behavior and constitution was "extremely delicate."
Similar to Murasaki, she becomes extremely ill and "wishes to retire from the palace." Similar to Genji, the Emperor "strove to induce her to remain (clinging or 'upadana' in Buddhism).
"But her illness increased day by day; and she drooped and pined away until she was now but a shadow of her former self. She made scarcely any response to the affectionate words and expressions of tenderness which her Royal lover caressingly bestowed upon her. Her eyes were half-closed; she lay like a fading flower in the last stage of exhaustion..."
The Emperor pleas to her "Did we not vow that we would neither of us be either before or after the other even in traveling the last long journey of life? And can you find it in your hear to leave me now?"
Sadly and tenderly looking up, she thus replied, with almost failing breath:
"Since my departure for this dark journey makes you so sad and lonely, Fain would I stay though weak and weary, and live for your sake only!"
In a sense, this book is all about "the tragic fate that befalls all women."
Here is something interesting, that I noticed during the writing of this.
Remember how I told you to remember her name?
Because she is the principle female character of the story, and also the most famous character in the story to this day.
But Murasaki is also the name of the AUTHOR OF THE NOVEL.
In fact, it is said that the character Murasaki, is based on the author herself.
Her struggle, in a sense represents the struggle of all Japanese women, and she has many common characteristics that resonate with women, that is why Japanese women still love this story.
But what is still missing about this story is possibly the most important theme: Mono No Aware 物の哀れ (literally literally "the pathos of things", and also translated as "an empathy toward things", or "a sensitivity to ephemera").
This is apparently an extremely difficult word to translate because it expresses more of an atmosphere, or a feeling, but it "is a Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence (無常 mujō?), or transience of things, and both a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life."
('Impermanence' is another extremely important Buddhist concept.)
Why is this word extremely important to "The Tale of Genji"?
Well, statistically this one word appears roughly once a page.
Of the many things it means, it means the "pity of things" but it doesn't only mean that. It expresses nostalgia, beauty, sadness, and grief.
One of the many things it expresses is, again, the transient impermenance (Buddhist perspective) and is an emotional point-of-view.
The main thing it expresses is Beauty, and the sadness behind beauty.
In my opinion, the beauty and the sadness behind the beauty is the sadness felt looking at something beautiful and feeling sad because you realize that like everything in life, it is only fleeting, and impermanent.
Here is the video we watched in class about the novel (fast forward to 24:44 to hear about the concept of Mono No Aware):
VANISHED INTO THE CLOUDS.
To reiterate what happens at the end of the novel, Genji loses Murasaki and he realizes he lost his most precious treasure.
He becomes a Buddhist monk, and renounces all the struggle for power.
What he eventually realizes is the fleeting nature of life, and the importance of true relationships.
Which brings me to what I learned in my other class: Japanese Psychotherapy.
What we learn about in Japanese psychotherapy is Japan's take on a normally Western concept: Psychotherapy.
We learn about the importance of breathing (remembering to breathe and focus on breathing throughout the day), and the concept of "Shin shin ichi nyo" (how the mind and body are one)
This is similar to how the stress and anxiety in the minds of the two most prominent female characters in "The Tale of Genji" affected their body, and actually resulted in their death from their illness.
We learned today briefly about Takigyo (滝行) or Waterfall training, where Buddhist monks chant and focus their mind while standing for hours under frigid, painfully freezing waterfalls.
We learned how science is now quantifying the science behind meditation and Buddhism.
According to National Geographic:
"For 2,500 Years Buddhists have employed such strict training techniques to guide their mental state away from destructive emotions and toward a more compassionate, happier state of being. Spurred by the cascade of new evidence for the brain's plasticity, Western neuroscientists have taken a keen interest. Can meditation literally change the mind?"
Basically, a team of neuroscientists have been studying brain activity in Tibetan bonks, "both in meditative and non-meditative states." The group had shown that "people who are inclined to fall prey to negative emotions displayed a pattern of persistent activity in regions of their right prefrontal cortex. In those with more positive temperaments the activity occurred in the left prefrontal cortex."
Keep this mind, because this is important:
Patterns of negative emotion- show a persistent activity in regions of the right prefrontal cortex.
Patterns of positive emotions are shown in the left prefrontal cortex.
When the team's experiment was run on a senior Tibetan lama skilled in meditation, "the lama's baseline activity proved to be much farther left of anyone previously tested. Judging from this one study, at least, he was quantifiably the happiest man in the world."
They recently tested some volunteers in Wisconsin. "One group of volunteers received eight weeks of training in meditation, while a control group did not....By the end of the study, those who had meditated showed a pronounced shift in brain activity toward the left, 'happier', frontal cortex. The meditators also showed a healthier immune response to the flu shot, suggesting that the training affected the body's health as well as the mind's."
"You don't have to become a Buddhist," said the Dalai Lama. "Everybody has the potential to lead a peaceful, meaningful life."
Our teacher talked about he she had once met the Dalai Lama, and was surprised by his casual, yet confident nature. She said when he came in he felt like a brother or an uncle. He was so relaxed, and casual.
Also, a common thing that many people remark when they come into contact with the Dalai Lama is that they suddenly feel happy and warm, being around his presence.
She also surprised by his sincerity and honesty.
When someone asked him a really tough question, instead of trying to come up with some profound answer to keep his prominent status, he simply replied "I don't know....I don't know because I have no knowledge or experience of what you are talking about."
He is just a relaxed, casual, man who simply suggests that everyone search for their own answers.
What we initially started talking about is Kireru 切れる. The root of the word means "to cut" but here refers to when someone gets upset, angry, has a short temper, and is very reactive and quick to react.
(Superficially, people who have kireru, have very short breath fundamentally.)
We then read this:
"A Fable: Giving, Receiving, and Desire-Ring."
"Once, a long time ago, a man and woman fell deeply in love. They treated each other with such kindness and compassion that their love grew deeper each day. The man decided that he would give the woman a special gift on the eve of each full moon. So when ......(continued below...)
Let me repeat the last quote by Charlotte Joko Beck:
"A relationship is a great gift, not because it makes us happy- it often doesn't- but because any intimate relationship, if we view it as practice, is the clearest mirror we can find."
The teacher asked us "What is the likely ending? What would advice would you give if you were a relationship counselor."
Think about the answer yourself now...
What we came up with is that these people loved each other dearly, and they were completely focused on each other in the relationship at the beginning. Eventually the ring became the focus of their relationship, and also the root of their anger and resentment with each other. They lost focus, and the ring was the source.
So we told the teacher that if we were the guy, we would destroy the ring.
To show the other person that the ring does not matter. What matters is the other person, and the relationship. That should be the focus, not something superficial like the ring.
The teacher asked "Why wouldn't you just give the ring to the girl."
Because their might be some resentment later down the road.
The girl might resent the guy thinking that the only reason he gave the ring was to appease her, and not out of true expression of love. And the guy might resent the girl, because he was forced by her to give her the ring when he wasn't ready to give it to her.
But he should destroy the ring as a symbol to the other person, that the person and their relationship is more important than the ring. And by destroying it you are showing your commitment to each other and to the relationship.
Is that what you answered?
I think the fable of this story is reflecting the same moral of "The Tale of Genji."
The fleetingness of beauty, and the importance of real relationships.
Naikan literally means "inside looking" or "introspection", but the therapy of Naikan means to "deeply reflect yourself."
The teacher talked about how most people focus on what they can't get.
The more you are given, in life the less you are appreciative (eventually you take the gifts for granted).
She stated that Japanese therapy is more focused on things given, received and changing the focus (value) back to relationships.
As humans, we have a tendency to focus on our feelings.
Naikan is all about 3 questions:
1. What did other people do for you?
2. What did you return to other people?
3. Did you cause any problems/ difficulties for other people?
We have tendency to only remember:
- problems that other people caused us.
- what we did/ gave to other people
Specifically in Question 1 "What did other people do for you?" we find this hard to remember, comparatively.
And Question 2 "What did you return to other people?" this is what most people focus on.
What is the root of the problem: Narrow perspective.
With this narrow perspective, you only try to evaluate the benefit for you.
Naikan, is all about widening your perspective, to see a bigger perspective in life.
One of the main things we talk about in Japanese Psychotherapy, is the prominence and popularity of psychotherapy in the West, and the lack of prominence and lack of popularity in the East.
She stated "When we have a mental problem in the West, we go to see a Psychotherapist. However, when you can't see a psychotherapist (like in the East), what do you do?"
The common answer is that we go to our friends, or better our family, for advice.
"Why do we go to these people?" she asked.
And the common things we took away from our answers were to be able to "freely talk about feelings," or more importantly "to get a different perspective."
In Japan, what so many people are concerned with is the "rat race." Working hard, so they can increase their status in life with material things. People work so hard, and such insane hours, the only seeming happiness comes from their "consumer culture," buying new things. But the bursting of the Bubble Economy proved that happiness cannot be guaranteed by business success. The promises that the Bubble Era offered so many people eventually did not deliver. So business success is not even a stable, guaranteed thing, especially for happiness.
None of the promises that the Bubble Era offered are guaranteed anymore, so young people are more focused on establishing a career first, then worry about starting a family, second. So many people are doing this that Japan's population is actually declining.
Japan's population now is 127 Million. By 2060, it is estimated to shrink a third. Over 65 Year olds will make up over 40% of the population.
Also, Japan has some of the highest suicide rates for an industrialized nation.
In 2014, on average 70 Japanese people committed suicide each day.
Young people are starting to realize that the fast life is not worth the stresses and anxiety and instead choosing to drop out of the rat race, and chose a slower, freer life style.
Connected to the stories:
People in Japan are so focused on what the characters in "Genji Monogatari" are focused on: status, and the struggle for power.
They also might be wrongfully fixated on material items like the two lovers were fixated on the ring in "A fable: Giving, Receving, and Desire-Ring."
The anxiety that so many people, specifically women in Japan, deal with is "great and constant" much like Genji's mother.
Many women deal with stress of everyday life, like jealousy from other women, or betrayal and infidelity, but are forced to have a constitution that is "extremely delicate" and "graceful" like Genji's mothers. In dealing with betrayal, many women see "suffering as how they grow" and deal with it in "silence", letting "their character speak." Although hurt, they still act respectfully. Despite repeated betrayal by men, many woman still say "Fain would I stay though weak and weary, and live for your sake only." Many mothers, although hurt and suffering, devote themselves beautifully solely to raising the child, like Mukarashi.
Eventually all of these stresses result in "exhaustion" like Genji's mother.
On the flipside, there are so many people who act in 切れる(kireru). Who are reactive, and not in control of their emotions. You see this in recent Japanese news stories, whether it's about someone killing their parents or someone losing control of their temper and going on a stabbing spree.
Many have a narrow perspective: Focused only on what they can get from other people.
They are focused on what they did for other people and how others have harmed them, and tend to lose focus on what others did for them and if they caused someone problems.
So many Japanese people are moving so fast, they have no time to appreciate the beauty of everyday life, let alone 物の哀れ (mono no aware) behind the beauty.
There is a deeper reason why "Genji Monogatari" still resonates with so many women, and so many people. There is also a reason why it still remains one of the most popular Japanese novels, and it's because it reflects so much about Japanese society.
Even here, I am only writing in a narrow perspective, forgetting all the beautiful things about Japanese society and people. But what I think is this:
Many Japanese people fail to make the realizations Genji makes towards the end of the novel. They neglect and suppress the importance of feelings and relationships, which are ultimately some of the most important things in life.
"Vanished Into the Clouds."