Many things can be said of Murasaki Shikibu’s fictional account of the Heian aristocracy, set in eleventh century Japan. Yet the true heartbeat of The Tale of Genji, is the recurring rhythm of artful seduction that pulsates through Hikaru Genji, i.e. the shining genji, the novel’s main protagonist.
It is thought that Genji’s character is most likely based on the real-life man, His Excellency, the Grand Counsellor, Fujiwara no Korechika. Korechika is described in The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon as a man of incredible charm with a hypnotic effect on women. Shonagon goes on to describe Korechika as arriving at court “wearing a rather soft and supple cloak in the cherry-blossom combination, over deep violet gathered trousers of heavy brocade and white under-robes.” He arranges “the sleeves of his wonderfully glowing deep scarlet-purple damask cloak for (optimal) display” (17).
The fictitious version of Korechika starts life as the son of the emperor. In The Tale of Genji: A Reader’s Guide, Genji or as he is sometimes called, Lord Hikaru is describes as a beautiful son, who is so magnificent that he is a possible rival to the title of the crown prince. Robert Greene in The Art of Seduction refers to Genji as one who never lost certain childlike charms from his personality, an attribute that others find irresistibly alluring.
The first to fall under the Shining Genji’s spell is none other than the emperor of Japan, Genji’s own father:
“The emperor’s thoughts were on his youngest son even when he was with his eldest… (The emperor) made constant inquiry after (Genji)” (7).
Though Genji is described as having “the face of one who should ascend to the highest place and be father to a nation…” (14) He is nevertheless striped of any imperial title and appointed to the non-royal Gin clan. The reason for his fall from grace can be attributed to the fact that Genji’s mother is “…a lady not of the first rank, whom the emperor loved more than any of the others” of all the wives and concubines” (3). Despite all this, Genji retains the position of most beloved son to the emperor.
Notwithstanding this political setback, Genji is far superior in deportment and disposition to most anyone else so “that few find it in themselves to dislike him” (13). As it turns out, he is a child wonder with inexplicable talent, like the musical prodigy Mozart. When Genji is only seven years of age, “he (recites) the ceremonial reading of the Chinese classics” (13). The aristocrats of the royal court had never before heard or seen such talent in one so young.
Not only is Lord Hikaru an extraordinarily handsome man as well as the beloved son of the emperor with uncanny artistic talents, he has seemingly unlimited time and wealth that enables him to retain the wild independence that makes a child so gloriously charming. These are just a few of the ways he is able to have such a provocative effect on most everyone with which he comes in contact.
Copyright 2008 by Ledia Runnels