Diary of Lady Murasaki Response Questions 1. Drawing evidence from the text, describe Lady Murasaki. Who is she? What is important to her? How important is she politically? Why do you think she keeps her diary? What are her frustrations with life at court? How typical/atypical is she as a woman in Heian Japan? Lady Murasaki was a Japanese poet at the Imperial court and served under Empress Shoshi. She writes this diary during her experiences at court and she finds the life of a lady-in-waiting, or a servant that has social certainty, and the events that are unfolded in court are important.
She describes in her diary how she feels helpless at court and she is unhappy with her low rank in society compared to others in the Fujiwara clan which frustrates her, but makes her more inclined to write about it and keep a diary. She is a pretty typical woman in Heian Japan, but she often writes about how the other court women were less educated than her and that she was stronger-willed. 2. What does the text reveal about the political world of Heian Japan? What is the role of the emperor? What is the role of the regent? Which is more ‘important’?
How do people gain and maintain political power? What happens to those who lose political power? During the Heian period of Japan the land was controlled by family clans and whoever was the most powerful family held the most importance. Within the family there is also ranks of political power branching down from the Emperor and Empress, but most of the other ranks are all related to each other through the family clan. The Emperor is the head of the family clan is said to be in that position by a heavenly right, while a regent is more of a governor addressing political issues.
Both are important, but while the Emperor is the symbol of the people and their unity, the regent sparingly makes the differences in how the people get to live. 3. What does the text reveal about the roles of men in Heian Japan? How are they identified? What is their role in the family, in politics, in religion, in military? How much power and what type of power do men have? What do you find surprising about what is considered important/unimportant for men during Heian Japan? Why? Men controlled the majority of society as like any culture during this time period.
The military was solely inhabited by men as was the political power, but women were allowed to be present in court and other social events. They had a good education and if they were in a political position they learned Chinese because it was used for legal documents and record keeping. 4. What does the text reveal about the roles of women in Heian Japan? How are they identified? What is their role in the family, in politics, in religion? How much and what type of power do women have? What do you find surprising about what is considered important/unimportant for women during Heian Japan? Why?
Women during this time were surprisingly better off than in other centuries. They were excluded from public affairs, but involved in court as we can see in the diary. They were also educated and involved with events around the palace such as ceremonies, weddings, and poetry reciting. Women had to know how to dress correctly, but once they did they were expected to learn to dress very formally and elegantly. 5. What does the text reveal about social classes and social mores in Heian Japan? What are the differences between the social classes? How does social class affect the way people live and the political power they wield?
What are the social expectations for men and women? What is good behavior/what is bad behavior? Does any of this surprise you? Most of Japan’s social class was in agriculture and lived outside the city walls and never entered the palace. Within the palace there are a separate set of social classes. The Emperor and Empress will always sit at the top of the ladder, but amongst everyone else there are strict guidelines to follow. Passages in the diary describe the uses of colors in clothing and how some colors shouldn’t be worn by certain social classes. The diary also accounts hat giving presents alter throughout social class. Nobles get the best gift and then the different ranks of courtiers, first rank being the highest and sixth rank one of the lowest. What does the text reveal about religion in Heian Japan? What is the role of religion? What type of religion do you see represented? What are the religious concerns of Lady Murasaki? What do her religious concerns reveal about life in Heian Japan? The religion of Shintoism can be seen with the heavenly right for the Emperor to rule over the people within his family clan name and to protect the imperial family.
During the birth of Fujiwara no Michinaga, towards the beginning, Murasaki writes about the Buddhist priests coming and performing exorcisms and warding off evil. Lady Murasaki later writes that she “immerses [herself] in reading sutras for Amida Buddha”, which shows what kind of religious practices she participates in. All of these religions being present throughout the diary tells that religion is at a point of uncertainty in Heian Japan and there are many influences that come with them.
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