Genji Monogatari, by Lady Murasaki Shikibu, tr. Suematsu Kencho, , at sacred-texts.com
COMPETITIVE SHOW OF PICTURES
The introduction of the late Saigû, the daughter of the Lady of Rokjiô, at Court, was now arranged to take place, with the approval of the Empress-mother (the Princess Wistaria). All the arrangements and preparations were made, though not quite openly, under the eye of Genji, who took a parental interest in her. It may be remembered that the ex-Emperor was once struck by her charms, on the eve of her departure for Ise; and though he never encouraged this fancy to become anything more than an ordinary partiality, he took no small interest in all that concerned her welfare.
When the day of introduction arrived, he made her several beautiful presents, such as a comb-box, a dressing-table, and a casket containing rare perfumes. At her residence all her female attendants, and some others, assembled, who made every preparation with the utmost pains.
In the Palace, the Empress-mother was with her Royal son on this day. He was still a mere boy, and scarcely understood what was going on; but he was now fully informed on the subject by his mother, and was told that a very interesting lady was going to reside in the Palace to attend on him, and that he must be good and kind to her. The presentation took place late in the evening, and henceforth she was called the Niogo of the Ume-Tsubo (plum-chamber), from the name of her apartment.
She was a charming lady, and the Emperor was not without a certain liking for her; yet Lady Kokiden, the daughter of Gon-Chiûnagon (Tô-no-Chiûjiô), who had been introduced some time previously, and consequently was an acquaintance of an older date, was much more frequently preferred by him to the other for society in daily amusement. When Gon-Chiûnagon introduced his daughter, he did not of course do so
without hope of her further elevation; but now Lady Plum came to assume a position through Genji's influence, as if to compete with his daughter for the royal favor; and it was by no means glad tidings for him. It may be here mentioned that Prince Hiôb-Kiô had also, as we have already seen, an intention of introducing one of his daughters at Court; but this hope was doomed to disappointment by the establishing of the two ladies already introduced, and he was induced to defer his intention, at least for the present.
The Emperor was very fond of pictures, and painted with considerable ability. Lady Plum, too, as it happened, possessed the same taste as the Emperor, and used often to amuse herself by painting. If, therefore, he liked ordinary courtiers who exhibited a taste for painting, it was no matter of surprise that he liked to see the delicate hands of the lady occupied in carefully laying on colors. This similarity of taste gradually drew his attention to her, and led to frequent visits to the "plum-chamber." When Gon-Chiûnagon was informed of these circumstances, he took the matter into his own hands. He himself determined to excite a spirit of rivalry. He contrived means to counteract the influence of painting, and commissioned several famous artists of the times to execute some elaborate pictures. Most of these were subjects taken from old romances, as he conceived that these were always more attractive than mere fanciful pictures. He had also caused to be painted a representation of every month of the year, which would also be likely, he thought, to interest the Emperor. When these pictures were finished he took them to Court, and submitted them to his inspection; but he would not agree that he should take any of them to the plum-chamber; and they were all deposited in the chamber of his daughter.
Genji, when he heard of this, said of his brother-in-law, "He is young; he never could be behind others." He was, however, unable to pass the matter over unnoticed. He told the Emperor that he would present him with some old pictures, and returning to his mansion at Nijiô he opened his picture cabinet, where numbers of old and new pictures were kept. From these, with the assistance of Violet, the made a selection of the best. But such pictures as illustrations of the "Long Regrets," or representations of "Ô-shiô-kun," were reserved, because the terminations of these stories were not happy ones.
[paragraph continues] He also took out of his cabinet the sketches which he had made while in Suma and Akashi, and showed them for the first time to Violet, who was a little angry at his not having shown them to her sooner.
It was about the tenth of February, and the face of Nature began to smile with the approach of spring, making the hearts and tempers of people more calm and cheerful; besides, it was just the time when the Court was unoccupied with the keeping of any festival. There could be no better chance than this for such an exhibition of pictures to attract the attention of people enjoying leisure. Genji, therefore, sent his collection of pictures to the Palace in behalf of the lady of the plum-chamber.
This soon created a sensation in the Palace. Most of the pictures that were in the possession of the lady of the plum-chamber were from old romances, and the pictures themselves were of ancient date, being rare, while those of Kokiden were more modern subjects and by living artists. Thus each of them had their special merits, so that it became difficult to say which were more excellent. Talking of these pictures became quite a fashionable subject of conversation of the courtiers of the day. The Imperial-mother happened to be at Court, and when she saw these pictures and heard different persons at Court discussing their relative merits, she suggested that they should divide themselves into two parties, right and left, and regularly to give their judgment. This was accordingly done: Hei-Naishi-no-Ske, Jijiû-no-Naishi, and Shiôshiô-no-Miôbu took the left, on the side of the lady of the plum-chamber; while Daini-no-Naishi-no-Ske, Chiûjiô-no-Miôbu, and Hiôye-no-Miôbu took the right, on the side of the Kokiden.
The first picture selected was the illustration of the " Bamboo Cutter," 1 by the left, as it was the most appropriate to come first for the discussion of its merits, as being the parent of romance To compete with this, that of "Toshikagè," 2 from
[paragraph continues] "The Empty Wood," was selected by the right. The left now stated their case, saying, "The bamboo—indeed, its story too —may be an old and commonly known thing, but the maiden Kakya, in keeping her. purity unsullied in this world, is highly admirable; besides, it was an occurrence that belongs to a pre-historical period. No ordinary woman would ever be equal to her, and so this picture has an excellence." Thereupon the right argued in opposition to this, saying, "The sky, where the maiden Kakya has gone away, may indeed be high, but it is beyond human reach, so we may put it aside. When she made her appearance in this world she was, after all, a creature of bamboo; and, indeed, we may consider her even lower than ourselves. It may also be true that she threw a bright radiance over the inside of a cottage, but she never shone in the august society of a palace. Abe-no-ôshi's 3 spending millions of money in order to get the so-called fire-proof rat, which, when obtained, was consumed in the flames in a moment, is simply ridiculous. Prince Kuramochi's 4 pretended jewel branch was simply a delusion. Besides, this picture is by Kose-no-Ômi, with notes 5 by Tsurayuki. These are not very uncommon. The paper is Kamiya, only covered with Chinese satin. The outer cover is reddish purple, and the centre stick is purple Azedarach. These are very common ornaments. Now Toshikagè, though he had undergone a severe trial from the raging storm, and had been carried to a strange country, arrived at length at the country to which he was originally despatched, and from there returned to his native land, having achieved his object, and having made his ability recognized both at home and abroad. This picture is the life of this man, and it represents many scenes, not only of his country but of foreign ones, which cannot fail to be interesting. We therefore dare to place this one above the other in merit."
The ground of this picture was thick white tinted paper, the outer cover was green, and the centre stick jade. The picture
was by Tsunenori, and the writing by Michikage. It was in the highest taste of the period.
The left made no more protestation against the right.
Next the romance of Ise by the left, and that of Shiô-Sammi by the right, were brought into competition. Here again the relative merit was very difficult to be decided at once. That of the right had apparently more charms than that of the other, since it beautifully represented the society of a more recent period.
Hei-Naishi, of the left, therefore said,
[paragraph continues] Who would run down the fame of Narihira for the sake of the pretentious humbug of our own days?"
Then Daini-no-Naishi-no-Ske, of the right, replied,
Upon this, the Empress-mother interceded. She said, that "The exalted nobility of Lord Hiôye 7 may not, indeed, be passed over without notice, yet the name of Narihira could not altogether be eclipsed by his.
There were several more rolls to be exhibited, and the rival protestations on both sides became very warm, so that one roll occasioned considerable discussion.
While this was going on, Genji arrived on the scene. He suggested to them that if there was any competition at all it should be decided on a specially appointed day, in a more solemn manner, in the presence of the Emperor. This suggestion having been adopted, the discussion came to an end.
The day for this purpose was fixed. The ex-Emperor, who had been informed of this, presented several pictures to the lady of the plum-chamber. They were mostly illustrations of Court Festivals, on which there were explanatory remarks written by the Emperor Yenghi. Besides these, there was one which had been expressly executed at his own order by Kimmochi. This was an illustration of the ceremony which took place at his palace on the departure of the lady for Ise, some time back, when she had gone there as the Saigû. It was also probable that some of his pictures came into the possession of her rival, the Lady Kokiden, through his mother (as the mother of the former was a sister of the latter).
When the day arrived every arrangement was made in the large saloon at the rear of the Palace, where the Imperial seat was placed at the top. The Court ladies of both parties—those of the lady of the plum-chamber, and those of the lady of Kokiden—were arranged respectively left and right, the left, or those of the lady of the plum-chamber, facing southwards, and those of the right, northwards. All the courtiers also took the places allotted to them. Here the pictures were brought. The box, containing those of the left, was of purple Azedarach. The stand on which the box was placed was of safran, and over this was thrown a cover of Chinese brocade with a mauve ground. The seat underneath was of Chinese colored silk. Six young girls brought all this in, and arranged it all in order. Their Kazami (outer dress) was of red and cherry color, with tunics of Wistaria lining (light purple outside, and light green within).
The box which contained the pictures of the right was of "Jin" wood, the stand of light colored "Jin," the cover of Corean silk with a green ground. The legs of the stand, which were trellised round with a silken cord, showed modern and artistic taste. The Kazami of the young girls was of willow lining (white outside and green within), and their tunics were of Kerria japonica lining (or yellow outside and light red within). Both Genji and Gon-Chiûnagon were present, by the Emperor's special invitation, as also the Prince Lord-Lieutenant of Tzkushi, who loved pictures above all things, and he was consequently chosen umpire for this day's competition. Many of the pictures were highly admirable, and it was most difficult to make any preference between them. For instance, if there
was produced by one party a roll of "The Season," which was the masterpiece of some old master, on selected subjects; there was produced also, by the other party, a roll of sketches on paper, which were scarcely inferior to, and more ornamented with flourishing than the ancient works, in spite of the necessary limitation of space which generally makes the wide expanse of scenery almost too difficult to express. Thus the disputes on both sides were very warm.
Meanwhile the Imperial-mother (the Princess Wistaria) also came into the saloon, pushing aside the sliding screen of the breakfast chamber. The criticisms still continued, in which Genji made, now and then, suggestive remarks. Before all was finished the shades of evening began to fall on them. There remained, on the right, one more roll, when the roll of "Suma" was produced on the left. It made Gon-Chiûnagon slightly embarrassed. The last roll of the right was, of course, a selected one, but it had several disadvantages in comparison with that of "Suma." The sketches on this roll had been done by Genji, with great pains and time. They were illustrations of different bays and shores. They were most skilfully executed, and carried away the minds of the spectators to the actual spots. On them illustrative remarks were written, sometimes in the shape of a diary, occasionally mingled with poetical effusions in style both grave and easy. These made a great impression on the Emperor, and on everyone present; and finally, owing to this roll, the left was decided to have won the victory.
Then followed the partaking of refreshments, as was usual on such occasions. In the course of conversation, Genji remarked to the Lord-Lieutenant, "From my boyhood I paid much attention to reading and writing, and perhaps my father noticed that I had benefited by these pursuits. He observed that "few very clever men enjoyed worldly happiness and long life"; perhaps because ability and knowledge are too highly valued in the world to admit of other blessings. True it is, that even a man whose high birth assures him a certain success in life, ought not to be devoid of learning, but I advise you to moderate your exertions. After this time, he took more pains in instructing me in the ways and manners of men of high position than in the minute details of science. For these reasons, though on the one hand I was not quite clumsy, I cannot, on
the other, say in what particular subject I am well versed and efficient. Drawing, however, was a favorite object of my taste and ambition, and I also desired to execute a work to the full extent of my ideas. In the meantime, I enjoyed quiet leisure by the sea-shore, and as I contemplated the wide expanse of scenery, my conception seemed to enlarge as I gazed upon it. This made me take up my brush, but not a few parts of the work have fallen short of those conceptions. Therefore, I thought them altogether unworthy to be shown expressly, though I have now boldly submitted them to your inspection on this good opportunity."
"Nothing can be well learned that is not agreeable to one's natural taste," replied the Lord-Lieutenant. "It is true, but every art has its special instructor, and by this means their methods can be copied by their pupils, though there may be differences in skill and perfection. Among arts, however, nothing betrays one's tastes and nature more than work of pen or brush (writing and painting), and playing the game of Go. Of course men of low origin, and of little accomplishment, often happen to excel in these arts, but not so frequently as persons of position. Under the auspicious care of the late Emperor, what prince or princess could have failed to attain the knowledge of such arts? a care which was directed towards yourself especially. I will not speak of literature and learning too. Your accomplishments comprised the kin, next the flute, the mandolin, and soh-koto—this we all knew, and so, too, the late Emperor said: your painting, however, has been hitherto thought to be mere amusement, but we now have seen your sketches executed with a skill not unequal to the ancient famous draughtsmen in black ink."
It was about the twentieth of the month, and the evening moon appeared in the sky, while they were thus conversing. Her radiance was too weak to make the ground near them bright, but afar-off the sky became palely white. Several musical instruments were sent for from the guardian of the library. Genji played a kin, Gon-Chiûnagon a wagon, the Lord-Lieutenant a soh-koto, and Shiôshiô-no-Miôbu a mandolin. The hiôshi (beating time to music) was undertaken by a courtier. As this went on, the darkness of night began to diminish, and the hues of the flowers in the garden, and the countenance of each of the party, became gradually visible,
while the birds themselves began to chirp in the trees. It was a pleasant dawn. Several presents were made to the company by the Imperial-mother, and to the Lord-Lieutenant a robe was given in addition, as an acknowledgment of his services as judge in the competition. And so the party broke up. The roll of "Suma" was left, as was requested, in the hands of the Imperial-mother. Genji had some more rolls of the same series, but they were reserved for some future occasion.
During the reign of this Emperor every care was taken on the occasion of all Court Festivals, so that future generations should hold that such and such precedents took their origin in this reign. Hence a meeting even such as above described, which was only private in its nature, was carried out in a manner as pleasant and enlightened as possible.
As to Genji, he thought he had obtained a position too exalted, and an influence too great. There were, indeed, several instances of public men surprised by misfortune, who, in premature age, obtained high position and vast influence. He thought of these examples, and though he had hitherto enjoyed his position and authority, as if he regarded them as a compensation for his former fall, he began, as the Emperor was now becoming older, to retire gradually from public life, so as to prepare his mind and thoughts, and devote himself to the attainment of happiness in the world to come, and also for the prolongation of life. For these reasons he ordered a chapel to be built for himself on a mountain side, where he might retire. In the meantime he had the ambition to see his children satisfactorily brought out into the world—an ambition which restrained him from carrying out his wishes of retiring.
It is not easy to understand or define the exact state of his mind at this period.
213:1 A short romance, supposed to be the oldest work of the kind ever written in Japan, as the authoress states. The story is, that once upon a time there was an aged man whose occupation was to cut bamboo. One day he found a knot in a bamboo cane which was radiant and shining, and upon cutting it he found in it a little girl who was named Kakya-hime. He took her home and brought her up. She grew a remarkable beauty. She had many suitors, but she refused to listen to their addresses, and kept her maiden reputation unsullied. Finally, in leaving this world, she ascended into the moon, from which she professed to have originally come down.
213:2 This is another old romance, and Toshikagè is its principal hero. When twelve or thirteen years of age he was sent to China, but the ship in which he was, being driven by a hurricane to Persia, he met there with a mystic stranger, from whom he learned secrets of the "Kin;" from thence he reached China, and afterwards returned to Japan.
214:3 This man was one of the maiden's suitors. He was told by her that if he could get for her the skin of the fireproof rat she might possibly accept his hand. With this object he gave a vast sum of money to a Chinese merchant, who brought him what he professed to be the skin of the fire-proof rat, but when it was put to the test, it burnt away, and he lost his suit.
214:4 This Prince was another suitor of the maiden. His task was to find a sacred island called Hôrai, and to get a branch of a jewelled tree which grew in this island. He pretended to have embarked for this purpose, but really concealed himself in an obscure place. He had an artificial branch made by some goldsmith; but, of course, this deception was at once detected.
214:5 Japanese pictures usually have explanatory notes written on them.
215:6 It seems that this stanza alludes to some incident in the Shiô-Sammi, at the same time praising the picture.
215:7 This seems to be the name of the hero in the story alluded to above.