The Tale of Genji and the Passing of the Seasons

Genji Monogatari is the greatest single work in Japanese literature. It provides us with an informative look into the court life of the Heian Period, as well as give us a wealth of vivid characterizations along the way to developing the lineage of the hero, Genji. The reason for its being qualified as a classic is not the fact that it was the first novel, or its twisting plot line. It is Murasakiís subtle insights into the medieval Japanese way of life and thought that give this novel its immortality. Genji manifests the idea of mono no aware, loosely interpreted as a "sensitivity to things"(Varley, 1973, p.48), or more specifically, "the kind of emotional response to the beauties of nature or the more gentle of human relations that was likely to elicit such an expression of spontaneous feeling as ĎAh!í"(Varley, 1973, p.48) The "gentle human relations are those events that give the basis for the escapades of Genji, but it is the more subtle use of nature that gives us the backdrop for the story (and, incidentally, the basis for a paper).
The first way that Murasaki employs nature is in her precise characterizations of the dozens of main and minor players in Genji. From the season in which the character appears to the clothes that they wear to the portion of Genjiís palace that they inhabit, without a more than casual appreciation to nature in reading this novel a great chunk of the literary value is lost. "[Murasaki} is not content simply to describe the charms of the different seasons, but they are skillfully harmonized with the feelings of the characters" (Shinkokai, 1970 p.55). The first example of this is in the Broom Tree Chapter (Chapter 2) in the conversation that Genji and To no Chujo carry on at length about the various merits of the ideal lady (Seidensticker, 1976 p 20) . The scene takes place during the summer rainy season on a particularly stormy night. Traditionally, summer was a time of abstinence because it was the crucial period for the cultivation of rice (Field, 1987 p. 121), and because the rains were so abundant that they prohibited travel to oneís lover. This would have been recognized be an Eleventh Century audience, and when a discussion of relations with women is carried on during the summer rains, this adds a juvenile or inexperienced tone to the pair. To no Chujo even admits that "Iím not much of a hand at the game" (p 21). Even though they are relating their "conquests", Murasaki is quick to point out the truth to her readers: "as the rainy night gave way to dawn the stories became more and more improbable" (p 38) and even refers to one of the stories as "an outrageous story" (p 36). Obviously, our view of Genji changes dramatically (or we wouldnít have mush of a story), but our picture of To no Chujo doesnít shift much. In fact, this scene lays the foundation for when Genji "takes the girl" away from him (Evening Faces). Another example of direct characterization through nature occurs while Genji is away in exile at Suma (Chapter 12). He is cast as the sensitive contemplative figure peering longingly up at the moon, trying to decide on his own the real reason he is sent to exile, and longing for his myriad romantic encounters. This is definitely a point Murasaki wishes to get across (she refers to the moon twenty-one times in this chapter alone), but the greatest example is his gaze into the harvest moon (p 238). "A radiant moon had come out. They were reminded that it was the harvest moon. Genji could not take his eyes from it. On other such nights there had been concerts at court, and perhaps they of whom he was thinking would be gazing at the same moon and thinking of him." Here Genji not only shows his mastery of mono no aware, but can be said to have become the moon. This, of course, needs some explanation. The culture in which Genji lived in depended ultimately on the moon. They decided when to plant their rice by it, made their years go