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Literature is one of the main sources of information that describe people the way their predecessors lived and a value system they had. Being one of the integral parts of human culture, it has always been used to manifest peoples thoughts and feelings related to a certain issue or phenomena. Moreover, the difference in mentalities and perspectives peculiar to bearers of various cultures preconditioned the appearance of the unique masterpieces that could help to understand the peculiarities of peoples lives in ancient times. In this regard, when reading a great masterpiece that was created at a certain epoch, a reader could not but dig into the atmosphere peculiar to that period.
Besides, the comprehensive analysis of this creation could also help to acquire an improved understanding of certain phenomena and issues that were topical and attracted peoples attention. For this reason, the investigation of ancient texts might also help us to understand the moral and the approach to a certain issue.
Besides, ancient Japanese literature could be taken as a source that contributes to a better understanding of the main peculiarities of culture and the unique traditions of this state. Numerous works could be considered a part of cultural heritage. Besides, The Tale of Genji and Tales of Times Now Past belongs to the same period and have numerous common features that help to analyze the style peculiar to that epoch and cogitate about the most important phenomena that were interesting for people.
Both these works were created at the Heian period and revolve around similar issues. Moreover, their adherence to the same era explains convergence in style and approaches towards the description of the most important events and phenomena that impacted peoples lives. Their structure is different; however, there are still several characters and representatives of supernatural powers that play a crucial role in the development of a plot and contribute to a better understanding of their nature.
Supernatural in the Japanese literature
Moreover, both these stories give attention to supernatural beings that have an overwhelming impact on peoples lives. Traditionally, Japanese culture was rich in various mythological creatures that communicated with people, impacted their destinies, and altered the existed reality. For this reason, both the above-mentioned texts were not able to ignore the given aspect of culture. Supernatural forces play a significant role in the evolution of a plot and the main characters destiny.
This fact could be taken as a certain distinctive feature peculiar to ancient Japanese texts. The unique and rich mythology is reflected in numerous literary works and folklore. Therefore, there are various approaches to the description of these forces and the role they play. Both good and evil spirits interact with the environment and the main characters and promote a better understanding of certain actions and events.
Tales of Times Now Past
Besides, Tales of Times Now Past revolves around numerous Buddhist and secular motifs and contains several episodes peculiar to folklore. The tales that comprise the collection covers a wide range of topics, historical events, and believes related to the spread of Buddhism and the role supernatural elements play in it. For this reason, there are numerous encounters between human beings and other creatures that could be taken as representatives of these very forces. The main characters are typical for the Japanese society and literature of that period. These are merchants, monks, bandits, warriors, noble people, etc. (Ury 177).
Yet, in their adventures, they often meet such creatures as oni and tengu (Ury 178). Japanese folklore provides different descriptions of these creatures. However, in Tales of Times Now Past tengu tries to cause various troubles in the world and harm travelers and main characters. These evil spirits tend to deceive people with false images and undermine the basis of their faith. For this reason, they could be considered evil forces that try to misinform people and destroy their lives.
The Tale of Genji
In The Tale of Genji supernatural forces are also given great attention. However, their role is different. The Tale is one of the greatest novels of ancient Japanese culture. It consists of 54 parts which are devoted to the precise description of Prince Genjis life and relations with women. He has numerous lovers; however, he is depicted not as a mean seducer. On the contrary, Genji is presented as a nobleman who is desired by many women of that period.
For this reason, he could be taken as the positive character and the main hero of the given work. His actions sometimes might be doubted; however, if to consider the most important peculiarities of that period, they could be taken as ethical and even appropriate. Besides, the paper also provides numerous descriptions of sorts or relations peculiar to that epoch. Prince Genji communicates with various women who belong to different layers of society.
The given structure helps to provide a detailed description of every aspect of the society of that time. However, there are also several other important issues touched upon in the tale. As stated above, the story also provides numerous episodes related to the encounters and interactions with the supernatural. The whole novel evidence the great impact religion and other forces had on Japanese society of that period time. Starting from simple illness and ending with some more complex concerns people tried to obtain the approval of forces that nature was not clear to them. For instance, when Genji fell ill, “all manner of religious services were commissioned, but they did no good” (Shirane 312).
This line evidences that people believed in the great power of these forces and tried to obtain their blessing to be able to survive and improve the quality of their lives. Besides, it is the first significant difference between the Tales of Times and the Tale of Genji. In the second one spirits and the ephemeral world are not so dangerous and even helpful. These forces might bless people and guarantee recovery. However, at the same time, they also might be mean and decisive. Yet, Genji also hears the voices of women who seek revenge and wants to restore justice (Shirane 318). From the given perspective, spirits could be similar to those mentioned in Tales of Times. They also might misinform the main characters and contribute to the reconsideration of some approaches and images.
Besides, there are also differences in the way the representatives of supernatural forces are described in these tales. The first one tends to depict these creatures by the traditional image. In other words, they are taken as elements of traditional folklore. Besides, in the Tale of Genji, these spirits are more personified and given human qualities (Shirane 317). This difference comes from the nature and character of these important novels. The first one could be considered a significant collection of folk tales while the second story is a sort of biography of a legendary hero who also encounters the supernatural and feels its great impact on his life
Altogether, both these tales could be taken as bright examples of the ancient Japanese literature and if the first one revolves around the characters typical for the society of that period, the Tale of Genji presents a unique hero who has several unique features and enters numerous successful relations that help to uncover his important feelings, emotions, and peculiarities of individuality. Genji could be taken as one of the most recognizable characters of the ancient Japanese literature as all his actions are introduced to emphasize the important peculiarities of the society of that time and show relations peculiar to it.
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In conclusion, supernatural forces were given great attention in various literary works. Being an integral part of the culture, oni, tengu, other vengeful spirits, and demons were depicted in different ways and endued with various qualities. However, one of their main purposes is to warn people about the great influence these forces might have on their lives. Genji encounters various spirits that help him to understand the sense of his living. For this reason, one could admit the crucial role supernatural plays in the ancient Japanese literature and various approaches used to show their significance to readers. The Tales of Times and The Tale of Genji perfectly demonstrate this tendency.
Shirane, Haruo. Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginning to 1600 – 1900, New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. Print.
Ury, Marian. Tales of Times Now Past, Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1979. Print.