The book “The Gossamer Years,” written by Karego Nikki, a wife of a nobleman, describing life during the Heian Period in Japan, deserves to be looked at closely at several points. First and foremost, although it is a literary piece of work, it can be considered as a historical truth thanks to the author living at that particular period of time and claim that the given book is a diary which gives intimate details about her own life. Then it introduces a new era in the history and culture of Japan, which brought its attributes, its eccentricity. Finally, it gives the reader food for reflection about the social order, it’s functioning, and the mode of life of people living during that time; it gives valuable insight into the relations between them and into the values prized in their lives. The author defines the given period as one when authorities rely on men as a backbone of society, making them a focal point of the life of the whole community.
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The first thing, which occurs after having read the book, is that men and women living in Heian Period have their own duties, their social functions, and rights, yet, men are superior to women. As women can not wage battles and govern lands, one of their duties is to be a good wife meaning to give birth and raise strong successors. The author claims to be not a good one as she gives birth to an only child. (Nikki, p. 165) Also, women are to sit in their residences and not interfere in men’s business. So, they have nothing to do but either to be keen on literature or to write diaries describing their life day in day out, just like Karego Nikki does, while her husband is involved in politics or affairs which men made public. Limitations in women’s rights are easily traced in the fact that men are allowed to have multiple numbers of wives while women can hardly pick their future husbands. The author’s mother makes her daughter reply to the love letters of a worthy gentleman in whom Karego is not interested in the beginning. Those facts give an impression that women’s rights boil down to their reproductive function while men are to show good awareness in politics are to be able to struggle, and are to show leadership.
Secondly, the institution of marriage is accepted as a simple formality, as it does not change anything in men’s lifestyle. The separation between spouses goes without saying; couples almost do not spend time with each other as men are engaged in their own mankind of activities and women in their woman kind of business. Moreover, women often feel neglected by men, the better part of whom take liberties both to have many wives and love affairs. Besides, for days and weeks, women are left alone. This separation leads to alienation, alienation in its turn, leads to almost a depressive state. The author complains she has a “constantly upsetting person” of a husband (Nikki, p. 229). She feels bored and annoyed with this life; she is not satisfied with her status as a second wife. But being unable to change at least something, she writes a protest in her diary, which is not more than just a drop of water in an ocean of men’s vanity and rule. So, women had to humble their hearts as Karego mentions, “I passed each day from dawn till dusk constantly repressing tears” (Nikki, p. 227) So, this institution is not seeing as a value; there is no way to kindness and gentleness between spouses.
Thirdly, the values prized in society can be defined as masculine. This is inferred considering the demands of that time, which are wars, penetration to the new lands, holding control over their own ones. Consequently, the courage and fortitude of a warrior are needed. Then, as far as good political qualities are valued, authority and power are vital for the time. Every single task is subdued to that objective: either raising children and cultivating a sense of duty in them or getting married to a person. One and the same tasks are to be fulfilled in society. A hierarchy, which is implied, makes everybody care about men and their desires, wishes, and sometimes even whims. The example of that is seen within the plot of the whole book.
Making a conclusion, it might be supposed that the life of the elite class in Heian Period Japan, described from the point of view of a woman, is both not easy and marked by several eccentric characteristics: by gender inequality, found in the society, by an alternative view on the institution of family in general and on marriage in common, by the separation between spouses and neglect of women, by purely masculine values, estimated in the society. Everything mentioned above gives a certain ground to think that men were treated as a foundation stone of Japanese society of that time.
Michitsuna no Haha. Kagero Nikki: the Diary of a Noblewoman of Heian Japan Kagero Nikki: the Diary of a Noblewoman of Heian Japan. Trans. Edward Seidensticker. 1st ed. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 1973.