Suetsumuhana

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The suetsumuhana (safflower)

Suetsumuhana (末摘花?) is the archaic Japanese word for the safflower. It is known now as Benibana (紅花?).

It is also the name of a female character in Murasaki Shikibu's epic novel The Tale of Genji. The sixth chapter of it is named after her. She is also known as the Safflower Princess. In some English translations she appears as Princess Hitachi. Prince Genji was briefly attracted to her, until she lowered her fan to reveal her nose. However, he eventually felt sorry for her and helped support her.

The incident with the Safflower Princess's nose has always been a source of comic relief for readers of the "Tale of Genji". In the manga comics, the extremely shy princess is always depicted as being quite unattractive, the amorous prince having fallen in love first because of her voice and the way she plays the koto. The arrangements of her jūnihitoe robes were however described as fitting those of an older lady. (She was hidden in the beginning behind the sudare screen, however as part of the courtly Heian rituals, the 12-layered sleeves were allowed to peek from under the screen. Based on the colour-arrangements, the suitor could see what kind of taste and status his lady had.)

Modern scholars however speculate that Suetsumuhana's nose, which was described in the "Genji" as being red and that of an elephant, probably resembles today's European noses.[citation needed] The ideal of female beauty in Heian was to have very fine, thin noses, as depicted in the painted scrolls. Anything that fell outside this courtly beauty ideal must have been seen as utterly obscene.

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