Paper One Prompt One (Ise Monogatari) There is no doubt that the leading character of Ise Monogatari, while never mentioned by name, was highly admired and adored by women and men alike in the Heian period. The uta monogatari has remained one of Japan’s most famous collections of poetry and prose from the time it was composed ca. 947 up through present day, and it can only be assumed that this is because of the surprisingly “attractive” hero that we follow throughout the story.
So why, you ask, is Narihira such a heartthrob? It’s actually pretty hard to say. In present day,
Narihira’s attributes don’t particularly strike everyone as desirable, but for the sake of this paper, I’m going to try to think in the mindset of a woman straight out of the Heian period.
For starters, not only is Narihira handsome, but he is a man of words. Every woman loves a man who knows his way around a waka, and from the moment Narihira sets foot into manhood, he’s a natural poet and decides that he needs to show his skills off to two very charming sisters residing in the village of Kasuga. Of course, as he was very conflicted by the women being out in broad daylight where he was actually able to view them, his first response is (naturally) to write them a poem on the cloth of his very robes, teasingly blaming them for the feelings of conflict raging inside of him. He writes to them:
Whose fault is it that my feelings are tangled as the dyed patterns on cloth from Michinoku?
Surely not mine…. (Ise Monogatari, Coming of Age, 1)
The ladies, naturally, find this incredibly attractive and so begins Narihira’s life as a playboy.
As if being a poet able to pour every ounce of his heart and soul into his waka wasn’t enough,
Narihira was also a rulebreaker.
Due to the confinement of everyday life in the courts, I could see why someone who lives so far outside of the law would be viewed as attractive. Someone brave enough to do the things that no one else would even think of attempting. Something like, for example, kidnapping someone’s daughter, becoming a thief, sleeping with the Ise Priestess, and having an affair with the wife of the Emperor.
What’s more, is that despite his hardest efforts, he simply could not forget her (Emperor’s wife). He
“prayed to the gods and buddhas, saying, ‘Please put an end to these feelings!’ But his love for her only increased, and his yearning was unbearable”. (Ise