© John R. Wallace 2008 last updated: 22-sep-08

02 — ははきぎ (帚木 / Hahakigi)
"The Broom Tree" (S)
"The Broom Tree" (T)


This chapter is most famous for its conversation among four young men (Genji, his best friend Tō no Chūjō and two other courtiers) that last through one rainy night. They discuss the good and bad qualities of women as both lovers and wives. (In Japanese this passage is called "a rainy night of deciding levels of quality" 雨夜の品定め, amayo no shina sadame.) Women of too high and too low a rank are criticized and it is generally concluded that beautiful women who do not show off their talents excessively and who restrain their jealousy are in many ways the best. Such women who are discovered in unexpected places and disadvantaged situations are the most exciting. This to some extent fits the description of Utsusemi, an unhappily married women who Genji brings to his bed in this chapter. It is an even more fitting description of Yūgao, Tō no Chūjō's abandoned companion, who Genji will have a tragic relationship with in Chapter 4. Yūgao is mentioned by Tō no Chūjō during the rainy night discussion but not by name. It is not made clear explicitly whether Genji develops an interest in her at this point or in Chapter 4 when he encounters her by chance.

Utsusemi is a woman who resists Genji (unsuccessfully the first time, successfully the second) not because she does not find him appealing but because she is married and, further, feels she is of too low a rank for the relationship to have any promise to it.

Story highlights:

By this chapter Genji is already 17, Captain of the Palace Guards and enjoying his youth as a handsome and desirable young man. What has transpired since the last chapter when he was 12 is not clear. It seems he has had a number of experiences with women, based on his collection of letters and the opening paragraph of the chapter which is not too complimentary of his ways. On the other hand, it is also stated that he is devoted to one woman in particular (to be understood as Fujitsubo).

At the beginning of the rainy night of the fifth month (the rainy season of early summer, mid-June), Genji shares some of his letters his best friend, the Secretary Captain / Tō no Chūjō (頭中将, Tō no Chūjō). For most of this chapter in Japanese, Genji is referred to as 君, kimi and Tō no Chūjō as 中将, Chūjō. Tyler uses Genji, perhaps to avoid the confusion between two "Captains" in a translation, but it should be kept in mind that these two men are of approximately the same rank. This friendship will continue for all of their lives and is a prominent feature of the story. They are companions and rivals in the arts and politics, share women, and have a complicated relationship due to various events having to do with the children they father.

Besides the rainy night scene, Genji’s interest in his wife at Sanjō / Genji's wife (Aoi) is shown to be feeble.

On staying at the Governor of Kii's estate, Genji takes to his quarters a young woman who will be called Cicada Shell (T) / Shell of the Locust (空蝉, Utsusemi). (Utsusemi is the molted skin of the cicada that can be found attached to tree bark; it also refers to a woman's kimono without a woman in it for the formal silk layers are stiff enough that the ensemble can stand on its own even without the support of a human body.) Though not one of Genji’s more serious loves, she will eventually become one of the few women who he installs at his fabulous Rokujō Estate later in his life. In this chapter he only succeeds in sleeping with her once and settles for her younger brother (T/S) (小君, Kogimi) on the second occasion where she avoids him.

Reading notes

Throughout the discussion of women's qualities and behaviors, the hierarchical nature of the five relationships of Confucianism (taken as a norm in Heian aristocratic society), in particular the relationship between husband and wife (and specifically the bond of the woman to her husband), should be kept in mind. It is almost explicit at the beginning of the discussion (page 24 in both the Seidensticker and Tyler translations: "The emperor has trouble, after all, ..." [S]).

The primary speaker on this rainy night -- Chief Left Equerry (T) / guards officer (S) -- is 7 years older than Genji, thus about 24.

Women of learning, and in particular of Chinese learning, are described as unpleasant. The author Murasaki Shikibu was daughter of a scholar of Chinese learning and knew Chinese literature herself but felt it was wise not to show off this knowledge.

This chapter gives us a glimpse of one way Genji seduces his women: he slips into a woman's apartment, speaks sweetly, and does as he wishes despite resistance.

Some modern readers are surprised that Genji sleeps with a boy but the text leaves almost no room to think otherwise. Some have suggested that the reason Chapter 2 was skipped in the Seidensticker abridged version is because of this final paragraph.

Other aspects of Genji to note: he will soon sleep with Tō no Chūjō's abandoned companion Yūgao, and has interest in Utsusemi, who his father had also shown concern about (Seidensticker 41 "My father had thought of inviting her to court" is a mistranslation, Tyler 38 is correct) and, of course, we have the primary example of Fujitsubo, his father's cherished consort. One might argue that he is attracted to women of men who are his political rivals in some way but one might also say that the narrative position is simply an "all in the family" attitude.

Seidensticker 36 "coryza" -- This English word choice was probably chosen to emphasize the woman's erudite speech patterns which are indeed in the original but not as prominently as in the translation. The word for coryza in the original is not particularly unusual though: 風病, fubyō.

Seidensticker 36 "Three Histories" "Five Classics" -- These are Chinese texts.

Comparing Tyler and Seidensticker translations: Especially in expressions of emotion or descriptions of emotional states and character the original Japanese can be vague or intentionally indistinct or the words used have such a broad spectrum of possible meanings to allow considerable room for interpretation. In such cases Seidensticker and Tyler, not surprisingly, generate rather different English renditions. For example compare Seidensticker 24 "The soft, feminine ones are likely to assume a great deal. The man seeks to please, and the result is that the woman is presently looking elsewhere. That is the first difficult in a woman." with Tyler 25 "Take this for sweetly feminine wiles, and passion will lure you into playing up to her, at which point she turns coy. This, I think, is the worst flaw a girl can have." (なよびかに女しと見れば、あまり情にひきこめられて、とりなせば、あだめく。これをはじめの難とすべし。) The basic narrative line is similar while the nuances are not.