The Tale of Genji (源氏物語 Genji Monogatari ) is a classic work of Japanese literature attributed to the Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu in the early eleventh century, around the peak of the Heian Period. It is sometimes called the world's first novel, the first modern novel, the first psychological novel or the first novel still to be considered a classic, though this issue is a matter of debate (see Stature below).
The first partial translation of Genji Monogatari into English was by Suematsu Kenchō. A free translation of all but one chapter was produced by Arthur Waley. Edward Seidensticker made the first complete translation into English, using a more literal method than Waley. The most recent English translation, by Royall Tyler (2001), also tries to be faithful to the original text.
The Genji was written chapter by chapter in installments, as Murasaki delivered the tale to women of the aristocracy (the yokibito). It has many elements found in a modern novel: a central character and a very large number of major and minor characters, well-developed characterization of all the major players, a sequence of events happening over a period of time covering the central character's lifetime and beyond. The work does not make use of a plot; instead, much as in real life, events just happen and characters evolve simply by growing older. One remarkable feature of the Genji, and of Murasaki's skill, is its internal consistency, despite a dramatis personae of some four hundred characters. For instance, all characters age in step and all the family and feudal relationships are consistent among all chapters.
One complication for readers and translators of the Genji is that almost none of the characters in the original text is given an explicit name. The characters are instead referred to by their function or role (e.g. Minister of the Left), an honorific (e.g. His Excellency), or their relation to other characters (e.g. Heir Apparent), which may all change as the novel progresses. This lack of names stems from Heian-era court manners that would have made it unacceptably familiar and blunt to freely mention a character's name. Modern readers and translators have, to a greater or lesser extent, used various nicknames to keep track of the many characters. See List of characters from The Tale of Genji.
|“||The Tale of Genji, as translated by Arthur Waley, is written with an almost miraculous naturalness, and what interests us is not the exoticism — the horrible word — but rather the human passions of the novel. Such interest is just: Murasaki's work is what one would quite precisely call a psychological novel. [...] I dare to recommend this book to those who read me. The English translation that has inspired this brief insufficient note is called The Tale of Genji.||”|
—Jorge Luis Borges, The Total Library
The Tale of Genji is an important work of Japanese literature, and numerous modern authors have cited it as inspiration. It is noted for its internal consistency, psychological depiction, and characterization. The novelist Yasunari Kawabata said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: "The Tale of Genji in particular is the highest pinnacle of Japanese literature. Even down to our day there has not been a piece of fiction to compare with it".
The Genji is also often referred to as "the first novel", though there is considerable debate over this — some of the debate involving whether Genji can even be considered a "novel". Some consider the psychological insight, complexity and unity of the work to qualify it for "novel" status while simultaneously disqualifying earlier works of prose fiction. Others see these arguments as subjective and unconvincing. Related claims, perhaps in an attempt to sidestep these debates, are that Genji is the "first psychological novel" or "historical novel", "the first novel still considered to be a classic" or other more qualified terms.
The novel and other works by Lady Murasaki are standard staple in the curricula of Japanese schools. The Bank of Japan issued the 2000 Yen banknote in her honor, featuring a scene from the novel based on the 12th century illustrated handscroll.
The debate over how much of the Genji was actually written by Murasaki Shikibu has gone on for centuries and is unlikely to ever be settled unless some major archival discovery is made. It is generally accepted that the tale was finished in its present form by 1021, when the author of the Sarashina Nikki wrote a famous diary entry about her joy at acquiring a complete copy of the tale. She writes that there are over fifty chapters and mentions a character introduced near the end of the work, so if other authors besides Murasaki Shikibu did work on the tale, the work was done very near to the time of her writing. Murasaki Shikibu's own diary includes a reference to the tale, and indeed the application to herself of the name 'Murasaki' in an allusion to the main female character. That entry confirms that some if not all of the diary was available in 1008 when internal evidence suggests convincingly that the entry was written.
Yosano Akiko, the first author to make a modern translation of the Genji, believed that Murasaki Shikibu had only written chapters One to Thirty-three, and that chapters Thirty-five to Fifty-four were written by her daughter Daini no Sanmi. Other scholars have doubted the authorship of chapters Forty-two to Forty-four (particularly Forty-four, which contains rare examples of continuity mistakes).
According to Royall Tyler's introduction to his English translation of the work, recent computer analysis has turned up "statistically significant" discrepancies of style between chapters 45–54 and the rest, and also among the early chapters. But this discrepancy can also be explained by a change in attitude of the author as she grew older, and the earlier chapters are often thought to have been edited into their present form some time after they were initially written.
One of the frequent arguments made against the multiple authorship idea is that the Genji is a work of such genius that someone of equal or greater genius taking over after Murasaki is implausible.
The work recounts the life of a son of a Japanese emperor, known to readers as Hikaru Genji, or "Shining Genji". For political reasons, Genji is relegated to commoner status (by being given the surname Minamoto) and begins a career as an imperial officer. The tale concentrates on Genji's romantic life and describes the customs of the aristocratic society of the time. Much is made of Genji's good looks.
Genji was the second son of a certain ancient emperor and a low-ranking concubine (known to the readers as Lady Kiritsubo). His mother dies when Genji is three years old, and the Emperor cannot forget her. The Emperor then hears of a woman ("Lady Fujitsubo"), formerly a princess of the preceding emperor, who resembles his deceased concubine, and later she becomes one of his wives. Genji loves her first as a stepmother, but later as a woman. They fall in love with each other, but it is forbidden. Genji is frustrated because of his forbidden love to the Lady Fujitsubo and is on bad terms with his wife (Aoi no Ue). He also engages in a series of unfulfilling love affairs with other women. In most cases, his advances are rebuffed, his lover dies suddenly during the affair, or he finds his lover to be dull in each instance. In one case, he sees a beautiful young woman through an open window, enters her room without permission, and forces her to have sex with him. Recognizing him as a man of unchallengeable power, she makes no resistance, saying only that "Someone might hear us". He retorts, "I can go anywhere and do anything."
Genji visits Kitayama, the northern rural hilly area of Kyoto, where he finds a beautiful ten-year-old girl. He is fascinated by this little girl ("Murasaki"), and discovers that she is a niece of the Lady Fujitsubo. Finally he kidnaps her, brings her to his own palace and educates her to be his ideal lady; like the Lady Fujitsubo. During this time Genji also meets the Lady Fujitsubo secretly, and she bears his son. Everyone except the two lovers believes the father of the child is the Emperor. Later, the boy becomes the Crown Prince and Lady Fujitsubo becomes the Empress, but Genji and Lady Fujitsubo swear to keep their secret.
Genji and his wife Lady Aoi reconcile and she gives birth to a son, but she dies soon after. Genji is sorrowful, but finds consolation in Murasaki, whom he marries. Genji's father, the Emperor, dies; and his political enemies, the Minister of the Right and the new Emperor's mother ("Kokiden") take power in the court. Then another of Genji's secret love affairs is exposed: Genji and a concubine of his brother, the Emperor Suzaku, are discovered when they meet in secret. The Emperor confides his personal amusement at Genji's exploits with the woman ("Oborozukiyo"), but is duty-bound to punish his half-brother. Genji is thus exiled to the town of Suma in rural Harima province (now part of Kobe in Hyōgo Prefecture). There, a prosperous man from Akashi in Settsu province (known as the Akashi Novice) entertains Genji, and Genji has a love affair with Akashi's daughter. She gives birth to a daughter. Genji's sole daughter later becomes the Empress.
In the Capital, the Emperor is troubled by dreams of his late father and something begins to affect his eyes. Meanwhile, his mother grows ill, which weakens her powerful sway over the throne. Thus the Emperor orders Genji pardoned, and he returns to Kyoto. His son by Lady Fujitsubo becomes the emperor and Genji finishes his imperial career. The new Emperor Reizei knows Genji is his real father, and raises Genji's rank to the highest possible.
However, when Genji turns 40 years old, his life begins to decline. His political status does not change, but his love and emotional life are slowly damaged. He marries another wife, the "Third Princess" (known as Onna san no miya in the Seidensticker version, or Nyōsan in Waley's). She bears the son of Genji's nephew later ("Kaoru"). Genji's new marriage changes the relationship between him and Murasaki, who now wishes to become a nun.
Genji's beloved Murasaki dies. In the following chapter, Maboroshi ("Illusion"), Genji contemplates how fleeting life is. Immediately after Maboroshi, there is a chapter entitled Kumogakure ("Vanished into the Clouds") which is left blank, but implies the death of Genji.
The rest of the work is known as the "Uji Chapters". These chapters follow Niou and Kaoru, who are best friends. Niou is an imperial prince, the son of Genji's daughter, the current Empress now that Reizei has abdicated the throne, while Kaoru is known to the world as Genji's son but is in fact fathered by Genji's nephew. The chapters involve Kaoru and Niou's rivalry over several daughters of an imperial prince who lives in Uji, a place some distance away from the capital. The tale ends abruptly, with Kaoru wondering if the lady he loves is being hidden away by Niou. Kaoru has sometimes been called the first anti-hero in literature.
As mentioned in the previous section, the tale ends abruptly, in mid-sentence. Opinions have varied on whether the ending was the intended ending of the author.
Arthur Waley, who made the first English translation of the whole of The Tale of Genji, believed that the work as we have it was finished. Ivan Morris, author of The World of the Shining Prince, believed that it was not complete, but that only a few pages or a chapter at most were "missing". Edward Seidensticker, who made the second translation of the Genji, believed that it was not finished, and that Murasaki Shikibu did not have a planned story structure with an "ending" and would simply have gone on writing as long as she could.
Because it was written to entertain the Japanese court of the eleventh century, the work presents many difficulties to modern readers. First and foremost, Murasaki's language, Heian Period court Japanese, was highly inflected and had very complex grammar. Another problem is that naming people was considered rude in Heian court society, so none of the characters are named within the work; instead, the narrator refers to men often by their rank or their station in life, and to women often by the color of their clothing, or by the words used at a meeting, or by the rank of a prominent male relative. This results in different appellations for the same character depending on the chapter.
Another aspect of the language is the importance of using poetry in conversations. Modifying or rephrasing a classic poem according to the current situation was expected behavior in Heian court life, and often served to communicate thinly veiled allusions. The poems in the Genji are often in the classic Japanese tanka form. Many of the poems were well known to the intended audience, so usually only the first few lines are given and the reader is supposed to complete the thought herself, much like today we could say "when in Rome..." and leave the rest of the saying ("...do as the Romans do") unspoken.
As with most Heian literature, the Genji was probably written mostly (or perhaps entirely) in kana (Japanese phonetic script) and not in Chinese characters because it was written by a woman for a female audience. Writing in Chinese characters was at the time a masculine pursuit; women were generally discreet when using Chinese symbols, confining themselves mostly to pure Japanese words.
Outside of vocabulary related to politics and Buddhism, the Genji contains remarkably few Chinese loan words. This has the effect of giving the story a very even, smooth flow. However, it also introduces confusion: there are a number of words in the "pure" Japanese vocabulary which have many different meanings and, for modern readers, context is not always sufficient to determine which meaning was intended.
Murasaki was neither the first nor the last writer of the Heian period, nor was the Genji the earliest example of a "monogatari". Rather, the Genji stands above other tales of the time in the same way that William Shakespeare's plays outshine other Elizabethan drama.
The complexities of the style mentioned in the previous section make it unreadable by the average Japanese person without dedicated study of the language of the tale. Therefore translations into modern Japanese and other languages solve these problems by modernizing the language, unfortunately losing some of the meaning, and by giving names to the characters, usually the traditional names used by academics. This gives rise to anachronisms; for instance Genji's first wife is named Aoi because she is known as the lady of the Aoi chapter, in which she dies.
Both scholars and writers have tried translating it. The first translation into modern Japanese was made by the poet Yosano Akiko. Other known translations were done by the novelists Jun'ichirō Tanizaki and Fumiko Enchi.
Because of the cultural difference, reading an annotated version of the Genji is quite common, even among Japanese. There are several annotated versions by novelists, including Seiko Tanabe, Osamu Hashimoto and Jakucho Setouchi. Many works, including a manga series and different television dramas, are derived from The Tale of Genji. There have been at least five manga adaptations of the Genji. A manga version by Waki Yamato, Asakiyumemishi (The Tale of Genji in English), is widely read among Japanese youth, and another version, by Miyako Maki, won the Shogakukan Manga Award in 1989.
Most Japanese high-school students read a little bit of the Genji (the original, not a translation) in their Japanese classes.
In 2008, WorldCat identifies 88 editions of this book. The five major translations into English are each slightly different — mirroring the personal choices of the translator and the period in which the translation was made. Each version has its merits, its detractors and its advocates; and each is distinguished by the name of the translator. For example, the less widely circulated version translated by Marutei Tsurunen would typically be referred to as "the Tsurunen Genji".
Major English translations in chronological order:
The novel is traditionally divided in three parts, the first two dealing with the life of Genji, and the last dealing with the early years of two of Genji's prominent descendants, Niou and Kaoru. There are also several short transitional chapters which are usually grouped separately and whose authorship is sometimes questioned.
The last and therefore 54th chapter "The Floating Bridge of Dreams" is argued sometimes a separate part from the Uji part by the modern scholars. It seems to continue the story from the previous chapters, but has an unusually abstract chapter title. It is the only chapter whose title has no clear reference within the text, but this may be because the chapter is unfinished. (This question is more difficult because we do not know exactly when the chapters acquired their titles.)
The English translations here are taken from the Edward Seidensticker and the Royall Tyler translations. The first version refers to Seidensticker's edition, the second, to Tyler's. It is not known for certain when the chapters acquired their titles. Early mentions of the Tale refer to chapter numbers, or contain alternate titles for some of the chapters. This may suggest that the titles were added later. The titles are largely derived from poetry that is quoted within the text, or allusions to various characters.
|1||Kiritsubo (桐壺)||"Paulownia Court"||"Paulownia Pavilion"|
|2||Hahakigi (帚木)||"Broom Tree"|
|3||Utsusemi (空蝉)||"Shell of the Locust"||"Cicada Shell"|
|4||Yūgao (夕顔)||"Evening Faces"||"Twilight Beauty"|
|5||Wakamurasaki (若紫)||"Lavender"||"Young Murasaki"|
|7||Momiji no Ga (紅葉賀)||"Autumn Excursion"||"Beneath the Autumn Leaves"|
|8||Hana no En (花宴)||"Festival of the Cherry Blossoms"||"Under the Cherry Blossoms"|
|10||Sakaki (榊)||"Sacred Tree"||"Green Branch"|
|11||Hana Chiru Sato (花散里)||"Orange Blossoms"||"Falling Flowers"|
|14||Miotsukushi (澪標)||"Channel Buoys"||"Pilgrimage to Sumiyoshi"|
|15||Yomogiu (蓬生)||"Wormwood Patch"||"Waste of Weeds"|
|16||Sekiya (関屋)||"Gatehouse"||"At The Pass"|
|17||E Awase (絵合)||"Picture Contest"|
|18||Matsukaze (松風)||"Wind in the Pines"|
|19||Usugumo (薄雲)||"Rack of Clouds"||"Wisps of Cloud"|
|20||Asagao (朝顔)||"Morning Glory"||"Bluebell"|
|22||Tamakazura (玉鬘)||"Jeweled Chaplet"||"Tendril Wreath"|
|23||Hatsune (初音)||"First Warbler"||"Warbler's First Song"|
|26||Tokonatsu (常夏)||"Wild Carnation"||"Pink"|
|29||Miyuki (行幸)||"Royal Outing"||"Imperial Progress"|
|30||Fujibakama (藤袴)||"Purple Trousers"||"Thoroughwort Flowers"|
|31||Makibashira (真木柱)||"Cypress Pillar"||"Handsome Pillar"|
|32||Mume ga E (梅枝)||"Branch of Plum"||"Plum Tree Branch"|
|33||Fuji no Uraba (藤裏葉)||"Wisteria Leaves"||"New Wisteria Leaves"|
|34||Wakana: Jō (若菜上)||"New Herbs, Part I"||"Spring Shoots I"|
|35||Wakana: Ge (若菜下)||"New Herbs, Part II"||"Spring Shoots II"|
|36||Kashiwagi (柏木)||"Oak Tree"|
|38||Suzumushi (鈴虫)||"Bell Cricket"|
|39||Yūgiri (夕霧)||"Evening Mist"|
|X||Kumogakure (雲隠)||"Vanished into the Clouds"|
|42||Niō Miya (匂宮)||"His Perfumed Highness"||"Perfumed Prince"|
|43||Kōbai (紅梅)||"Rose Plum"||"Red Plum Blossoms"|
|44||Takekawa (竹河)||"Bamboo River"|
|45||Hashihime (橋姫)||"Lady at the Bridge"||"Maiden of the Bridge"|
|46||Shī ga Moto (椎本)||"Beneath the Oak"|
|47||Agemaki (総角)||"Trefoil Knots"|
|48||Sawarabi (早蕨)||"Early Ferns"||"Bracken Shoots"|
|50||Azumaya (東屋)||"Eastern Cottage"|
|51||Ukifune (浮舟)||"Boat upon the Waters"||"A Drifting Boat"|
|52||Kagerō (蜻蛉)||"Drake Fly"||"Mayfly"|
|53||Tenarai (手習)||"Writing Practice"|
|54||Yume no Ukihashi (夢浮橋)||"Floating Bridge of Dreams"|
The additional chapter between 41 and 42 in some manuscripts is called 雲隠 (Kumogakure) which means "Vanished into the Clouds" — the chapter is a title only, and is probably intended to evoke Genji's death. Some scholars have posited the existence of a chapter between 1 and 2 which is now lost, which would have introduced some characters that (as it stands now) appear very abruptly.
Later authors have composed additional chapters, most often either between 41 and 42, or after the end.
The original manuscript written by Murasaki Shikibu is no longer extant. Numerous copies, totaling around 300 according to Ikeda Kikan, exist with differences between each. It is thought that Shikibu often went back and edited early manuscripts introducing discrepancies with earlier copies.
In the 13th century, two major attempts by Minamoto no Chikayuki and Fujiwara Teika were made to edit and revise the differing manuscripts. The Chikayuki manuscript is known as the Kawachibon; edits were many beginning in 1236 and completing in 1255. The Teika manuscript is known as the Aobyōshibon; its edits are more conservative and thought to better represent the original. These two manuscripts were used as the basis for many future copies.
The Beppon category represents all other manuscripts not belonging to either Kawachibon or Aobyōshibon. This includes older but incomplete manuscripts, mixed manuscripts derived from both Kawachibon and Aobyōshibon, and commentaries.
On March 10th, 2008, it was announced that a late Kamakura period manuscript was found in Kyōto.  It is the sixth chapter "Suetsumuhana" and is 65 pages in length. Most remaining manuscripts are based on copies of the Teika manuscript which introduced revisions in the original. This newly discovered manuscript belongs to a different lineage and was not influenced by Teika. Professor Yamamoto Tokurō who examined the manuscript said, "This is a precious discovery as Kamakura manuscripts are so rare." Professor Katō Yōsuke said, "This is an important discovery as it asserts that non-Teika manuscripts were being read during the Kamakura period."
On October 29th, 2008, Konan Women's University announced that a mid-Kamakura period manuscript was found.   It is the 32nd chapter, Umegae, and is recognized as the oldest extant copy of this chapter dating between 1240-1280. This beppon manuscript is 74 pages in length and differs from Aobyōshi manuscripts in at least four places, raising the "possibility that the contents may be closer to the undiscovered Murasaki Shikibu original manuscript".
A twelfth century scroll, the Genji Monogatari Emaki, contains illustrated scenes from the Genji together with handwritten sōgana text. This scroll is the earliest extant example of a Japanese "picture scroll": collected illustrations and calligraphy of a single work. The original scroll is believed to have comprised 10-20 rolls and covered all 54 chapters. The extant pieces include only 19 illustrations and 65 pages of text, plus nine pages of fragments. This is estimated at roughly 15% of the envisioned original. The Tokugawa Art Museum in Nagoya has three of the scrolls handed down in the Owari branch of the Tokugawa clan and one scroll held by the Hachisuka family is now in the Gotoh Museum in Tokyo. The scrolls are designated National Treasures of Japan. The scrolls are so fragile that they normally are not shown in public. The original scrolls in the Tokugawa Museum are going to be shown from November 21 to November 29 in 2009. Since Heisei 13, they have been displayed in the Tokugawa Museum always for around one week in November. An oversize English photoreproduction and translation was printed in limited edition by Kodansha International (Tale of Genji Scroll, ISBN 0-87011-131-0).
Other notable versions are by Tosa Mitsuoki, who lived from 1617 to 1691. His paintings are closely based on Heian style from the existing scrolls from the 12th century and are fully complete. The tale was also a popular theme in Ukiyo-e prints from the Edo period.
The Tale of Genji has been translated into cinematic form several times. In 1951 by director Kōzaburō Yoshimura, in 1966 by director Kon Ichikawa, and in 1987 by director Gisaburo Sugii. The latter is an animated film that is not a complete version, and basically covers the first 12 chapters, while adding in some psychological motivation that is not made explicit in the novel.
In 2001 Tonko Horikawa made an adaptation with an all-female cast. In the movie, Sennen no Koi - Hikaru Genji Monogatari ("Genji, A 1000-Year Love"), Murasaki tells the Genji story to a girl as a lesson on men's behavior. The 1955 Kenji Mizoguchi film Yokihi (or Princess Yang Kwei-fei) can be seen as a sort of prequel to Genji.
The Tale of Genji has also been adapted into an opera by Miki Minoru, composed during 1999 and first performed the following year at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, with original libretto by Colin Graham (in English), later translated into Japanese by the composer.