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Genji 10-13


Chapter 10 Sasaki / The Sacred Tree. In which Genji’s father the Kiritsubo emperor dies, and Genji’s life takes a dramatic turn for worse. The Rokujô lady leaves society accompanying her daughter Akikonomu, who has been appointed a priestess, to the temple. Since the new emperor is Kikoden’s son, she and the Minister of the Right have their way. Fujisubo commissions religious services in hopes of freeing herself from Genji’s attentions and exhausts every device to avoid him. But she realizes the only way is to take up religious order and to be a nun. Relinquishing her title is the only way to resolve the implacable hostility of Kokiden. Fuijisubo’s decision resonates the opening theme that recurs throughout the book: The heart of a parent is not darkness, and yet he wanders lost in thoughts upon his child.” [13] Genji is exiled for being caught in Oborozukiyo’s bed.

Chapter 11 Hana Chiru Sato 花散里 / The Orange Blossoms. In which Genji sleeps with Reikeiden and her sister Hanachirusato. This chapter marks the unbroken succession of reverses and afflictions of Genji’s life after his exile from the court.

Chapter 12 Suma 須磨 / Suma. In which Genji goes into exile after being caught in Oborozukiyo’s bed. His chief sorrows and worries, as the line on p.13 has foreshadowed, are for his son with Fujisudo. But as time passes, the emperor and others in the court find that Genji has been in their thoughts.

Chapter 13 Akashi 明石 / Akashi. In which Genji impregnates the Akashi lady. This chapter marks Genji’s return from exile. The messenger from Akashi and dream of the old emperor convince Genji to leave the shore of Akashi. At the same tithe late emperor also appears in the emperor’s dream for Genji’s restoration. The New Year marks the issue of amnesty that will bring Genji back to the court.

References to Chinese Poetry. The Tale of Genji demonstrates the strong influence of Chinese literature on Japan during the time period.When his friends and brothers praise his Chinese poems during the early days of his exile, Queen Kokiden is infuriated. She quotes (p.251 Edward Seidensticker) a very famous phrase from the Shih Chi chronicle of the reign of Chin Shih-huang-ti that a enuch planning rebellion showed the high courtiers a deer and required them to call it a horse, and so assured himself that they feared him. In another occasion, when Genji plays koto himself, he reflects on the lady, Wang Chao-jun, one of the four beauties, who was dispatched to the Huns from the harem of the Han emperor Yuan-ti because she had failed to bribe the artists who did portraits of court ladies, and the emperor therefore thought her ill favored. While Genji himself fell out of favor because of his own wrongdoing, the references to Chinese classics abound in the book but they do not make less of the Japanese traditions that this novel professes.

Genji 5-9


Chapter 5 Wakamurasaki 若紫 / Lavender. In which Murasaki is introduced. Murasaki, at least ten years of his junior, has a striking resemblance to Fujisubo for whom he yearned.  “The child must stand in the place of one whom she resembled.” For this reason alone, Genji decided to bring her to the court with him, although the suit for the hand of a mere did occur to him as being capricious. Meanwhile, Genji’s wife, Aoi, continued to treat him with such indifference that he thought her “the stiffest, remotest person in the world.” Fujisubo lamented the burden of her sin, since she had been meeting Genji at night in secrecy.

Chapter 6 Suetsumuhana 末摘花 / Safflower. In which Suetsumuhana is introduced. The princess of Hitachi is unresponsive and outrageously shy toward Genji’s flurry of letters.

Chapter 7 Momiji no Ga 紅葉賀 / An Autumn Excursion. In which Genji and Fujitsubo’s son is born, and Genji has an affair with Naishi. Fuijisubo was tormented by feelings of guilt and apprehension, to the point that she felt she had fallen under a maiignant spell. The baby she bore for Genji, whom the Emperor had mistaken as his, became a source of boundless guilt. As the Emperor made plan for his abdication, Genji sadly reflected that Fujisudo was now in an unassailable position that she was beyond his reach. Genji’s bearing a son with the Emperor’s concubine is as creepy as his sexual issue with an older lady, Naishi.

Chapter 8 Hana no En 花宴 / The Festival of the Cherry Blossoms. In which Genji sleeps with Oborozukiyo, the lady of the misty moon. She was the sister of Kokiden, the mother of the Crown Prince, who would become the new emperor. With the new reign Genji’s career languished, and while he must be more discreet about his romantic escapades as he rose in rank, he became more promiscuous to me. The Queen’s sister? What about the love he swore for Fuijisubo?

Chapter 9 Aoi / Heartvine. In which Genji’s wife Aoi is killed by the Lady Rokujô’s ghost and Genji has sex with Murasaki. Lady Rokujô was present at the Kamo Festival, slighted by the entourage of Genji’s wife. Was it literally Lady Rokujô’s ghost it was, or she could practice black magic? Whatever the cause must be, the spirit that impregnated Aoi eluded the power of the most skilled exorcist. Did the Rokujô minister the spirit? The ancient Japanese did believe that the soul of one so lost in sad thoughts could trouble another body.

His promiscuity is beyond control. Very creepy indeed. While he despises all the polygamous affairs that were rife in court life, he himself was also engaged in such libertine escapades. He’s total hypocrite to me.

Genji 1-4 Addendum

I was searching for a genealogical chart for the novel and I came up with a detailed one from this Japanese website. According to the website, the chart is reproduced from Richard Bowring,  Murasaki Shikibu: The Tale of Genji. (Cambridge, 1988) I include a picture file below:

GenjiChartThe genealogy shows that Genji has two formal marriages, with Aoi (Chapter 2), the Akashi lady (Chapter 13, to be read), and the Third Princess (much later). For the following week, I plan to read to the end of Chapter 9, Aoi /Heart-to-Heart, since Chapters 7 and 8 are relatively short.

Chapter 1 Kiritsubo 桐壺 / The Paulownia Pavilion. In which Genji is born, his mother dies, and Fujitsubo, the emperor’s concubine, is introduced.

Chapter 2 Hahakigi 帚木 / The Broom Tree. In which men tell stories about women of different ranks and Genji meets Utsusemi, the wife of Iyo-no-suke a provincial governor, and was courted in vain by Genji.

Chapter 3 Utsusemi 空蝉 / The Shell of the Locust. In which Genji crawls into the bed of Utsusemi’s stepdaughter by accident. He seduces her by mistake.

Chapter 4 Yûgao 夕顔 / The Evening Faces. In which Yûgao, a beautiful girl who lives near Genji’s old nurse’s house, is killed by the Rokujô Lady’s ghost (not known at first), and Genji takes charge of Tamakazura, the daughter of Yûgao and Tô no Chûjô.

Further Reading:
Jackie’s First Impressions
CB James’s Thoughts

Genji 1-4


I was off a slow start so I’m trailing behind. My intention was to peruse the translation by Royall Tyler. I have found Edward Seidensticker’s writing more accessible to the understanding of the plot. Like any epic novel that covers a continuous period in history, The Tale of Genji does not follow a structure of plot. The book just unfolds as characters age naturally on a chronological path. Some of my observations and thoughts:

  • Although Genji was the Emperor’s most beloved son, but that his mother did not belong to the first rank in the court, she was deprived of backing. The emperor’s doting on her after Genji’s birth only accelerated her fall because her detractors were many. Once again it shows that palace is notoriously a web of conflicting backroom politics. Every dalliance is an act of political consequence.
  • The Tale of Genji depicts court life in 11th century, the Heian era of Japanese history. That it was contemporary of the Tang Dynasty in China, numerous references are made to Chinese poetry, which achieved its golden age during Tang Dynasty. Numerous references to Yang Kuei-fei, one of the Four Beauties in ancient China, are made to illuminate that ladies are to live in a life with no luster. They are to submit and to feign ignorance.
  • Genji’s flight from one love affair to another is distantly reminiscent of that of Jia Bao-yu in The Dream of the Red Chambers, the greatest epic novel ever written in Chinese history. But obviously Genji has predated by at least six centuries. His dangerous passion and romantic impulses have rendered him wasted. Maybe the source of his restlessness is the forbidden love between him and Fujisubo, whom his father the emperor has taken as a concubine after Genji’s mother died.
  • One of the most confusing aspects of the book is the anonymous girls, women, mistresses, and daughters that are dotted in the narratives. Only some of the most significant female characters are named. The lack of accountability also suggests how uncertain the world was for women at that time. They were like bits of driftwood at the mercy of men.
  • Another theme that is proven to be pivotal in understanding the book is incarnation. “What legacy from a former life could have brought him to this mortal peril?” [ES translation p.78] Genji himself is caught up in the ever turning wheel of pessimistic Buddhism. Through his purposeless navigation from one affair to another, a sense of evanescence is evoked from the reading.

Further Reading:
Jackie’s First Impressions
CB James’s Thoughts

Read Along: The Tale of Genji

GenjiThat I was in the middle of the controversial Chapter 6 of The Satanic Verses barred me from starting The Tale of Genji, the latest read-along selection. I’m reading the Penguin Classics deluxe edition, translated by Royall Tyler. All references, quotes, and discussion of events henceforward would refer to this edition. I do notice there are abridged editions of this book.

From the editorial note:
Written in the eleventh century, this exquisite portrait of courtly life in medieval Japan is widely celebrated as the world’s first novel. Genji, the Shining Prince, is the son of an emperor. He is a passionate character whose tempestuous nature, family circumstances, love affairs, alliances, and shifting political fortunes form the core of this magnificent epic. Royall Tyler’s superior translation is detailed, poetic, and superbly true to the Japanese original while allowing the modern reader to appreciate it as a contemporary treasure. Supplemented with detailed notes, glossaries, character lists, and chronologies to help the reader navigate the multigenerational narrative, this comprehensive edition presents this ancient tale in the grand style that it deserves.

The Tale of Genji is divided into two separate stories. The first part of the story is about Prince Genji, the son of the emperor and a low ranking consort who dies due to her rivals’ jealousy. The second part of the story are the grandchildren of Genji and it takes place after Genji has died. At 1216 pages, the book is divided into 54 chapters, I plan to attempt 3 to 4 chapters a week. The first four chapters total about 80 pages. This easy pace hopefully will put us at the finishing line in early fall. Show a hand if you’re reading along!