The Tale of Genji

Introduction

The Tale of Genji is an ancient Japanese writing credited to the Japanese novelist Murasaki Shikibu in the early 11th century. The book is sometimes referred to as the world’s first novel and its specific classification and influence in both the eastern and western cultures has been a subject of dispute. It was originally written in court Japanese but has undergone several translations to date, even undergoing a translation into modern Japanese as the original language was too complex to be comprehended by average Japanese.

Plot

Genji narrates the life of a son of a Japanese royal leader, referred to as Hikaru Genji. Genji is demoted to a commoner status on political grounds and starts an occupation as an imperial official. The account focuses on Genji’s romantic life and illustrates the conventions of the aristocratic society of this period, a lot is referred to in relation to Genji’s attractiveness.

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Genji was the second child of some ancient royal leader and a low-grade mistress, known as Lady Kiritsubo. His mother passes on when Genji is only three. Genji’s father then gets to know of a lady (Lady Fujitsubo), previously a princess of the former emperor, who bears resemblance to his dead mistress, he later marries her. Genji falls in love with his stepmother, against tradition. Genji is upset due to his illegal love to Lady Fujitsubo and is on a collision course with his wife. He also has affairs with other women and in most of these cases, his advances are met with repulsion, the woman he loves dies, or the woman is boring.

Genji makes a trip to the rural area of Kyoto where he finds an attractive ten-year-old girl (Murasaki) and learns that she is a niece of Lady Fujitsubo. He abducts her, brings her to his palace, and trains her to be his wife. Genji continues to meet Lady Fujitsubo secretly and they have a son together. Everyone except the two believes the boy is the emperor’s son. The boy later becomes the prince and Fujitsubo becomes the Empress.

Genji and his wife resolve their dispute and she bears a son, but he dies soon. Genji is distressed , but is comforted by Murasaki, who becomes his wife. Genji’s father passes on and his political rivals transfer power to the courts. Genji is later exiled to a nearby town (Suma) when he is found secretly meeting a mistress of his brother. While in Suma, Genji has an affair with a woman who bears him a daughter- his only daughter.

The Emperor forgives Genji and he returns to Kyoto, and his son with Fujitsubo assumes the position of emperor. The new Emperor recognizes that Genji is his actual father and promotes him to the highest position possible.

Genji’s life begins to collapse when he turns 40. He marries another woman and this changes his relationship with Murasaki, who now desires to be a nun. Murasaki passes on.

In the subsequent chapter, Maboroshi, Genji considers how short life is. The next chapter, Kumogakure, is left blank and symbolizes Genji’s demise. The rest of the chapters focus on Niou and Kaoru, who are close friends. Niou is a royal prince while Kaoru is identified by people as Genji’s son but the real father is Genji’s nephew. The two are fighting over several daughters of a royal prince in Uji, a far-off town. The story ends suddenly, with Kaoru wondering if Niou is hiding the woman he adores.

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