Genji monogatari and mono-no-ke

Archive of discussion on the PMJS mailing list

Question raised by Lewis Cook (29 Sept., 1999)
Discussants: Hank Glassman, Susan Klein, Royall Tyler, Mindy Varner, Karel Fiala, Robert Borgen, David Pollack, Monica Bethe, Rein Raud

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Publications mentioned in the course of this discussion

Rowley, G. G., Yosano Akiko and the Tale of Genji (Michigan,1999)

Rowley, G. G., "Textual Malfeasance in Yosano Akiko's 'Shin'yaku Genji Monogatari,'" HJAS (1998).

Bargen, Doris G. A Woman's Weapon: Spirit Possession in The Tale of Genji (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997).

Tubielewicz, Jolanta. Superstitions Magic and Mantic Practices in the Heian Period (Warsaw, 1980). [O.P.]

Masaharu Kikuchi. Kyoto no Makai o Yuku (Tokyo: Shogakukan, 1999).

from Lewis Cook
Date: Wed, 29 Sep 1999

I have a somewhat vague question about the fatal "specter" in the Yugao chapter of Genji that I hope those on the list who are interested in Genji might help me clarify. It concerns the identity of the apparition of (in Seidensticker's translation) "an exceedingly beautiful women" (Waley: "tall and majestic" -- the Oshima-bon has "ito okashige-naru onna") in Genji's dream, immediately prior to the death of Yugao. The narrative certainly seems to invite the reader to make the connection: that this apparition _is_ the 'ikiryou' of the Rokujou Lady. But also seems to suggest that we would be naive to do so, that it's not necessarily quite that simple. The medieval commentators (those I've checked, anyway, beginning from Kanera) hesitate to affirm, suggesting only that Genji's thoughts about the contrasts between the Rokujou Lady and Yugao, just prior to his dream, may have "facilitated" the apparition.

The question my students ask (this is very much a student-driven query) is, if the apparition is that of the Rokujou Lady why doesn't Genji recognize it (there is no hint in the narrative that he does)? (Given the intimacy of their relationship.) Only answer I can think of to that is that he may very well not have seen her, yet, well enough to recognize her (in spite of course of the intimacy of their relationship). And if it's not, then what (or who) might it be? I suspect the correct answer, if there is one, may be that the vagueness of the narrative somehow recapitulates the vagueness of the phenomena of ikiryou, mono-no-ke, etc., as the author expected her readers to understand these. Any suggestions for more satisfying answers?

Lewis Cook Queens College, CUNY

from Hank Glassman

I'm new to this list and not sure if I'm responding to all or not. I also will save a self-introduction for next time. (It's late tonight.)

I was just writing in response to Lewis Cook's query about that ghost who killed Yugao. In Doris Bargen's very stimulating book on mono-no-ke in the Genji, she suggests that this spectre could possibly be seen as "a projection of Genji's troubled psyche, a collective image, a composite of his betrayed women." (A Woman's Weapon: Spirit possession in the Tale of Genji, Hawaii, 1997. p. 71) She mentions Takahashi Touru as someone who approaches this view, but I think that it is not too far from Bargen's own understanding of mono-no-ke as a form of oblique aggression undertaken by women living under a polygynous system that kept them on always shaky ground. Forbidden by etiquette and socialization from displaying outrage and jealousy at the inconstancy of a Genji, women (whether as writers or as real people) had other avenues of expression open to them. I don't think that I've done Bargen justice here, but I do find her thesis quite convincing.

Also see Bargen's pp. 70-74 for various theories on the identity of that "tall and majestic" woman -- Rokujou, the ghost of Minamoto Touru's villa, ikiryou, shiryou, etc.

(Wrong place at the wrong time if you ask me. . . Now if there had been a little more light or a genja worth his salt in the next room. . . )

Hank Glassman Religious Studies, Stanford University

from Susan Klein

I'm trying to finish getting ready to go to UofMichigan for a talk on ghosts at the Center for Japanese Studies, so I don't have much time to answer this (and probably someone such as Royall will do it much better) but very briefly it seems to me that there are a number of anomolies in the way that Rokujo as angry ghost is presented in Genji, and I suspect that they are narrative driven, rather than based in the vagaries of ikiryo. Genji's interaction with her during the last stages of Aoi no Ue's possession is pretty atypical of "historical" descriptions of mononoke as well. (Doris Bargen doesn't appear to even notice how atypical the mononoke attacks in Genji are, which actually makes her argument much less persuasive than it would be otherwise.)

In the case of Yugao, my take on this is simply that it is important that Genji not recognize Rokujo yet, because if he did, the Aoi no Ue chapter couldn't happen (or would have to happen very differently). If he knew that Rokujo had killed one of his lovers, how could he continue to see Rokujo when his wife was pregnant? Although Genji wasn't above continuing to see Rokujo after Aoi's death, seeing her while Aoi was alive when he knew Rokujo was a killer would be such obvious reckless endangerment of his wife (being pregnant means she's at her most vulnerable to mononoke) that I think it would be beyond what Genji could plausibly be considered capable of doing by readers at the time.

Just my two cents worth --

Susan Klein

from Royall Tyler

I feel a bit shy, with such people as Norma Field, Haruo Shirane (yes, I know you are out there), and others looking over my shoulder, but anyway, here are my amateur thoughts.

I think it is a mistake to take all the possession or quasi-possession or it-might-have-been-possession events in Genji equally seriously, all on the same plane. The big ones are the two of Rokujo's, Aoi and Murasaki, and they are clearly meant to be taken completely seriously--not as anthropological documents, but as dramatic inventions. The others fall into various kinds of twilight zone. I doubt that they are systematically connected with one another.

One of these twilight zome events is the one in "Yugao". I agree completely with the medieval commentators referred to by Lewis Cook: >The medieval commentators >(those I've checked, anyway, beginning from Kanera) hesitate to >affirm, suggesting only that Genji's thoughts about the contrasts >between the Rokujou Lady and Yugao, just prior to his dream, may have >"facilitated" the apparition. I think that is all anyone can say. There is no other event like this in the book. I think one should simply accept it with a gothic shiver and not try to find consistency where there probably is none. It is another of the author's inventions, though I suspect that it has nothing in particular to do with the big scenes I just mentioned. Speaking merely as an inevitably close reader of the book, I think "Yugao" is an obvious candidate for a piece of writing done before the author ever knew she was going to write a "Tale of Genji" and then edited in afterwards. Not only is the mood of the chapter unusual, but the unbridgeable discrepancy between Yugao's forwardness, in sending out that first poem to Genji, and her utterly meek personality after that (well, all right, she did tease him just once) suggests a more complicated textual history than one first imagines. (Years ago I heard Fujii Sadakazu take roughly this line on the strangeness of the "Yugao" opening.)

Royall Tyler

 from Mindy Varner

Sorry to drop a plug, but wanted to mentioned to those of you who may be interested that Professor Bargen (mentioned by Mr. Glassman in his response to a query regarding the Yugao chapter of Genji monogatari), will be a guest speaker at a conference happening at Yale Feb. 25-26. Her selection as a keynote was largely driven by the excellent book Mr. Glassman has mentioned (A Woman's Weapon: Spirit Possession in the Tale of Genji, 1997).

For more information, or to view the call for papers, please visit our conference website:

from Karel Fiala

After reading Prof. Tyler's message, I feel really shy.I am no specialist in "Genji", or in "Ikiryoo", but primarily a linguist and "Kokugo Gaku sya [国学者]" with a concern for the Heian and Kamakura literature (namely the "Heike Monogatari". However, I love the "Genji Monogatari" and I am translating it now into the Czech language. So without having a certain "reader' s philosophy", concerning this immortal piece of classical lite- rature, it would make no sense to do my work. I will appreciate, if specialists in related disciplines correct my biased "reading" of the passage. 

I think the passage is neither minor or unrelated to the structure of the work as the whole, but that it is also of cue importance for the interpretation of the work. 

1) Genesis of the work I believe that the "Genji Monogatari", at least the part in which Genji lives, in its present version is comparatively well structuralized. So the probable fact of the Yugao chapter, having a specific genesis, does not matter so much for its interpretation in the new context. 

2) The "akumu" problem and "reikai" problem It has been quite generally understood that the world of dreams does not reflect reality directly, but that it is a specific system of symbols. The most evident difference between this world and the rational world is DE-VALUATION OF OPTICAL EVIDENCE. In the "naive" natural logic of semantics of the "everyday real world", the optical evidence, perhaps in combination with touch, seems to have been preferred to any other kind of evidence, including not only hearing, smell, taste, but also faith and reason.It is particularly this optical evidence, which is supposed to betray us more than anything else in our dreams and in touch with the "reikai". There are some things which are more or less clearly visible, but very difficult to identify, interpret and understand.Thus in the Noh, the ghosts, desperately searching for their "salvation", appear on the scene as Buddhist monks, quite real, honorable, and apparently perhaps not so far from the Buddhahood, - and it takes a pretty long time before we learn what they actually are. (By the way, Sooseki, in his sense of humor, has expressed this aspect of the "reikai" in a joke. In "Bottchan" he sees in a a TANUKI an"ikiryoo" of the idea of "Education". The State's obscure concept of "Education" does not become more intelligible by assuming an absurd visible form in the "reikai". On the other hand, the unrelatedness of the form to the content, typical of the "reikai", reminds that even in the real world the idea operates rather as something from the world, which lacks reality. Of course, I realize that this is the "Gongen" interpretation, which has little to do with the original meaning of the term.) What is frightening about such a world, is that what we can see we cannot interpret, and what we believe that we could interpret, we cannot see it anywhere. 

3) The Psychological "Reality" of Genji's Dream Dargen is doubtless right when she applies a psycho-analytic approach to Genji's dream, and finds in the appearence of "ikiryoo" the complex of Genji's guilt towards all the women he "betrayed". Certainly, Murasaki does not know about Freud but her psychological mastery reveals at many passages that the role of the suppressed feeling of "guilt" as a motive of human behavior is not unknown to her. As a Buddhist, Murasaki knows even better: namely that the analysis of the suppressed feelings itself can never offer a complete solution. The basic paradoxes of the human life, which are real, cannot be simply solved by identification and rational description; this is only the first part of the story. Even from this point of view, there is something more in the "G.M." than the feminist analysts would admit.Not only that many women are victims of Genji's "male egoism"(they are), but also Genji is a victim. Not only a victim of his strange lot, due to the fact that his predictable social prospects according to the old "Matriarchal" and the new "Patriarchal" rules do not match each other, but also a victim of women. A victim of those ladies who killed his mother by their jealousy, turning him into an orphan, and also of the cool "love" (if "love" at all) of his "legal" wife, the fact which matters for him much more, than the Don-Juanist interpreters of Genji would have ever been willing to admit. So I understand the psychological meaning of the ghost appearance in the "Yuugao" not only as the appearance of Genji's "guilt", but also of the dark paradox of his own destiny. What Genji suffers of is a distorted form of love, sometimes too "cool" to be called "love", often too unequal in age or social status to be felt so by any of both parts, and in the most tragic moments - love which was transformed into Jealousy and Hatred. It has been said that Genji was unsucessful in politics but rather succesful in love. Paradoxically enough, though rather unsuccesful in politics, he might have been too succesful in it to experience real love. (His relation to Fujitsubo was rather a manifestation of an Oidipus complex, and his relation to Murasaki, besides some similarities with the love to the-above mentioned women, was, of course, rather paternal.) The Psychological Reality as a "Killer" It is easy to see that the description of the psychological facts in classical Japanese literature as a killer, in cases when people die of disease, does not lack real aspects. Commentators explain that Kiyomori, after being identified as the Enemy of the Throne and the person responsible for the arson in Nara, died perhaps of typhus . Kiritsubo, suffering of isolation and booling, has been described as dying of tuberculosis. A role of psychological facts seems quite persuasive in the flow of these stories.

In the case of Yuugao's tragedy, the situation is slightly different. Here Genji's complex of guilt must have been particularly strong.He must have realized that the defenceless Yuugao had become in a sense a victim of a questionable "theoretical experiment", which was suggested in the quasi-academic discussion known as "Shina-sadame-ron". If the readers will pardon my anachronism, I should call it a pre-"Marxist" experiment. On the academic level, the "Shina-sadame ron" seems to have been something extremely novel, broad-minded and socially aware. In the practice, the experiment turned to be rather selfish and irresponsible, particularly to Yuugao herself.(This social quasi-academism of the "Shina-sadame ron" has nothing of the sincere social and generally human concern, like that of Yamanoe no Okura centuries earlier.) The burden of Yuugao's death, as it falls on Genji, changes his character. Therefore he takes care to be gentle to Suetsumubana, and also too rude to the childish Waka Murasaki. Thus, the chapter of "Yuugao" works as a structural element in the present shape of the work. 

4) The "Ontological" Reality of the Dream In spite of all modern interpretations. we must admit that the "Ikiryoo" was considered to be an "ontological" reality, and therefore, it must have been associated, after all, with a concrete living person. However, in reading the passage, which is unsimilar to the usual descriptions of "Ikiryoo", I have the impression that the "Ikiryoo" here is only an abstract property of a person (Jealousy, Hatred), which assumed a human form, rather than the person herself.Therefore, it seems to me rather childish to believe that the lady, whoever she was, was actually "responsible" for the phenomenon, or even concsious of it. The human form does not necessarily reflect the real appearance of the Lady. It might be perhaps justa property, which has become an "Ikiryoo". Of course, there might be myrriads of possible reasons why the Ikiryoo did not show her face clearly: from being a "mononoke" or a dream existence, to being a woman always hiding her face, as we read about it in relation to Suetsumubana, or simply because she was a part of someone who did not want to lose Genji. However, I find one of reasons for this vagueness in the structure of the work. In the Yuugao period of his life, Genji still hopes, at least time by time, in the love of his legal wife.She was the lady whose jealousy would be somehow more justified, more pardonable or even welcomed. He fears that the Ikiryoo is Rokujoo, but he may hope secretly in his heart that she might be Aoi no ue, although he realizes that Aoi's cool love would never suffice to transform itself into an "Ikiryoo". Only when the real Rokujoo kills the real Aoi no ue, the "kake" of the Yuugao story seems to be finally solved. Rokujoo killed Aoi, because her devotion to Genji was much bigger than Aoi's. And only at this moment it becomes definitely clear that it was Rokujoo who killed both Yuugao and Aoi, and that Aoi had never been able to love Genji, or, to put it as Rokujoo must have seen it, had never been "worth" of him. 

5) Love and Death in "G.M." "Genji Monogatari" is a masterpiece of the Heian period, of an an ancient society in which wars, rebelions and executions were unusually rare. Therefore, there is much more love than death in the "G.M.", and particularly, extremely few cases of early, "unnatural" death. But a pending question over this scene is how much of this inflation of "love" deserves really that name. Heian literature lacks not only stories like Romeo and Juliet, but also such like that of Tatibana and Yamato Takeru in Kojiki, stories in which love is associated with the highest sacrifice and paid by death. For instance, "Taketori monogatari" is rather a very "anti-Romeo-and-Juliet" type of story. (Of course, association of love and death in the Waka ever since the Kojiki's poem SANE SASHI... was quite usual, but most of such poems were no more than a part of the scheme of a social game.) In the "G.M." there are some samples of the true love, associated with death. First, Kititsubo-tei's love for Kiritsubo, however borrowed from Li Bo, is the real love, for which he is able to forget his obligation as the ruler and become almost insane. In the "G.M.", however, this love transforms into Jealousy and Hatred of the court ladies, and after all kills Kiritsubo. Second, Rokujoo's egoistic love, for which she does not sacrifice herself but kills others, is not such a pure love. However, Genji accepts it, because it contrasts with Aoi's coolnes, which had driven him into Don Juan's style of life. This, consequently, reinforces his feeling of guilt and self-hatred. Perhaps just for this reason, he had never never able to condemn or refuse Rokujoo's passion. I have suggested here a very subjective interpretation of some facts in the story from a reader's and translater's point of view. Besides, English is neither my native language, nor a language I use often. Therefore, this short notice typed directly into the computer must be far from perfect. Unfortunately, I have no more time to spend on this message. Its purpose is not to participate in a discussion at any rate, but rather to suggest that it is difficult to read a piece of literature without having our own "reader's hypothesis", which, then, should be checked and scholarly corrected.

 from Robert Borgen

[After comment on question of term "premodern"]

As for ghosts in Genji, I was waiting for someone to come up with what might be termed the historian's approach to the problem. In the Heian period, ghosts appeared not only in writings that meant to be fictional but also those that were regarded was factual. I can think of at least one extremely murderous ghost whose lethal activities were recorded in works of historical rather than literary character. Before attempting to interpret the ghosts that wander in Genji, we might first consider the broader question of Heian ghosts, goblins, and spooks in general. At the very least, we must remember that the people of ancient (premodern?) Japan did not regard ghosts as phantoms of the mind but rather as very real and potentially dangerous beings. A more general study of the issue would be very interesting and probably already exists in Japanese, although I haven't checked. In English, one might also look at Jolanta Tubielewicz's Superstitions Magic and Mantic Practices in the Heian Period (Warsaw, 1980), if you can find a copy, in addition to Bargen's study.

Robert Borgen

[incorporates changes later sent to list]

from David Pollack


You're right, how odd of people to forget Michizane, the Fat Boy of all shiryo*

Can we even begin to reconcile the way the nasty things are shown in the Gaki no so*shi and their apparently less ET-like manifestations in Genji and other works? Those are our only visual referents, no? I can't really picture poor Rokujo* hanging around people's rears waiting for a meal.... perhaps the spirits of the aristocracy looked and acted rather less vulgar, as we might expect, even if the entire class doesn't come off so well in the Gaki scrolls.

 from Royall Tyler
Date: Fri, 1 Oct 1999 08:31:02 +1000
Subject: Yugao stuff 

As briefly as possible--

Those of you who are quick to attribute the Yugao apparition and possession to Genji's history of betraying women, please remember that Genji at this point is very young, and that it is not at all clear that he HAS actually betrayed a lot of women. That he should be feeling nervous and guilty makes perfect sense, and I have no difficulty with attributing the apparition to such feelings. The possession, though, is another matter. Is it not more likely to be connected to the legend of oni hitokuchi (Ise m.) and Kawara no In?

Susan Klein rightly noted that the possessions in the tale are atypical of other literature (setsuwa bungaku and so on). Certainly they are grounded in accepted Heian ideas of spirits, mononoke, and so on, but they are also unusual. Why? I think because the author loved making up a good story and, as we all know, was astonishingly good at doing so. No doubt in some ways she did not question the reality, or possible reality, of such things, but material in her poetry as well as in the tale itself makes it clear that any such belief was far from unquestioning. She knew quite well what a bad conscience can do, and she also knew that some alleged possessions are spurious.

I also see the Don Juan theme cropping up. Friends, Genji is not a Don Juan. I see no evidence in the tale to make him one, on the contrary. It is not that I am particularly soft on Genji, so to speak. My article in the next Monumenta Nipponica will make that clear, I think. A great deal that he does is far from admirable. But he is not a ruthless collector of women, like a stud ram in paddock full of ewes.

 from Monica Bethe
Date: Thu, 30 Sep 1999 17:35:26 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: Pre-modern Ghosts 

I am not sure I am addressing this to the right place, but, a not-so-academic book on spectors is Kyoto no Makai o Yuku by Masaharu Kikuchi (Shogakkan, 1999). It has short discussions of various spectors, goblins, ghosts, tengu, etc. and the areas they inhabit in Kyoto.

From: Rein Raud
Date: Fri, 1 Oct 1999 10:02:58 +0200
Subject: Ghosts 

It seems likely that some kind of double feelings about ghosts were around already at the time of the compilation of the Genji. I wouldn't like to bring the textual history of the Ise monogatari into this in any detail, but episode 6 (where the protagonist abducts a girls who is later devoured by ghosts when the protagonist is keeping watch outside a barn) has a later (evidently post-Gosenshu) addition that says that hte persons referred to here as ghost s were actually Fujiwara no Mototsune and Kunitsune, the elder brothers of NijM no kisaki, with whom the girl in question had inbetween been identified. The same extract has been developed in full in the Konjaku. Thus, an obviously meant-to-be-credible ghost story has been downgraded to scandal gossip about Narihira and imperial sexual politics, and the textual ghosts themselves to metaphors. Perhaps this suggests that (a) the attitude of all carriers or the classical culture to ghosts in the texts was not uniform, that there were believers and those who were likely to dismiss them as falsehoods (recall Genji's and Tamakazura's initial positions toward fiction in general) or to explain them away in a more down-to-earth manner, and (b) that ghosts may be used as literary devices to bring into the actional scheme feelings, attitudes and motives that exist only on the emotional level, and thus to blend the emotional world and the fictionally "real" world into a whole. Whether this world is more or less real than reality, is up to the reader. My own feeling is that Murasaki was sophisticated enough to manipulate her written world as she wanted. In our times, there are films and best-sellers featuring unselfish lawyers etc. and some people believe in those too. 

Rein Raud

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