Tale of Genji

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A statue of Murasaki Shikibu at Uji Bridge, a site associated with the "Floating Bridge of Dreams," the final chapter of the Genji

The Tale of Genji, or Genji Monogatari, is a fifty-four chapter fictional tale often described as the first novel in world history. Written sometime around 1000-1010 CE by the court lady Murasaki Shikibu, it features the fictional Imperial prince Hikaru Genji (lit. "the shining [prince] of the Minamoto clan") and in the course of its tale, reveals to readers today much about the Heian period Imperial Court, the Heian capital, the palace, and the life of courtiers, as well as about the aesthetic tastes of courtiers of the time.

The earliest surviving copies of the text date to roughly 1200 CE, about two hundred years after the Genji is believed to have been originally written; scholarly debate continues as to the authorship of latter chapters, and as to changes which may have been made in the intervening two centuries.

Structure & Content

The tale as a whole covers roughly 75 years of time, with the first 41 chapters focusing on Genji himself, and relating the events of his life from birth (in the first chapter) until the age of 52[1] (in chapter 41). Three transitional chapters, sometimes said to be potentially inauthentic, take place following Genji's death, and the remaining ten chapters focus on over 20 years in the life of Kaoru, the grandson of one of Genji's close friends, who most within the story believe to be instead Genji's own son. These last ten chapters are known as the "Uji Chapters," as they take place not in Kyoto (the Heian capital), but in the nearby city of Uji. Some have suggested these latter chapters - quite different in setting, in main characters, and in tone - to have been written by someone else, perhaps Murasaki's daughter, Daini no Sammi; however, others, citing the unprecedented nature and masterful character of the Genji, express doubt that anyone other than Murasaki could so simply produce such excellent literature, in a form not that different from the earlier chapters, when no other surviving works of literature from the time are at all comparable in form, or in quality.

While many aspects of the story contain elements of historical accuracy, much is also purely fictitious, beginning with the figure of Genji himself. However, many scholars suggest that Genji may have been based on a genuine individual, and that the identity of the model may have been known to Shikibu's original intended audience - her fellow court ladies and other members of the Court; this would help to explain certain gaps in Murasaki's description of Genji, as she may have assumed her readers would know who she was talking about. One of the primary candidates for potentially having been this model is Fujiwara no Michinaga, a distant relative of Murasaki's, and a particularly prominent figure at court during her life.


The ghost of Yûgao, as depicted in an 1886 print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi
  • Hikaru Genji 光源氏
  • Akashi Princess 明石の姫君, also known as the Akashi girl 明石女御, the Akashi Empress 明石中宮 - daughter of Genji and Lady Akashi, and mother of Kaoru
  • Akikonomu 秋好中宮 - daughter of Lady Rokujô, consort to Emperor Reizei, first cousin to Genji and Asagao
  • Asagao 朝顔 - one of Genji's first cousins; daughter of Emperor Kiritsubo's brother
  • Bennokimi 弁の君 - someone in service to Kashiwagi, and later, the Uji princesses Oigimi and Nakanokimi
  • The Eighth Prince 八の宮 - one of Genji's brothers; father of Ukifune, and of the Uji princesses Oigimi and Nakanokimi
  • Emperor Kiritsubo 桐壺帝 - Genji's father; is succeeded by Emperor Suzaku in Chapter 9
  • Emperor Suzaku 朱雀帝 - one of Genji's brothers; takes the throne in Chapter 9 and abdicates in Chapter 14 in favor of Reizei
  • Emperor Reizei 冷泉帝 - believed to be one of Genji's brothers, but actually Genji's son by Fujitsubo. Takes the throne in Chapter 14, and abdicates in Chapter 35.
  • Emperor Regnant* 今上帝 - The emperor who rules after Emperor Reizei, from Chapter 35 through Chapter 54, is unnamed. A son of Emperor Suzaku, he marries the Akashi Princess, who thus becomes the Akashi Empress
  • Lady Akashi (Akashi no kata) 明石の方 - one of Genji's lovers, mother of the Akashi Princess; daughter of a former governor of Akashi
  • Lady Aoi (Aoi no Ue) 葵上 - Genji's first wife; sister to Tô no Chûjô, mother of Yûgiri. Killed by the spirit of Lady Rokujô
  • Lady of Ômi 近江の君 - a long-lost daughter of Tô no Chûjô
  • Lady Rokujô 六条御息所 - one of Genji's lovers; a widow of Genji's uncle. Her spirit kills Lady Aoi
  • Kaoru 薫 - the grandson of Tô no Chûjô and son of Kashiwagi by the Akashi Princess, though he goes through life passing for Genji's son.
  • Kashiwagi 柏木 - son of Tô no Chûjô, husband of the Second Princess, father of Kaoru
  • Kiritsubo, or the Kiritsubo Consort 桐壺(更衣) - Imperial consort to Emperor Kiritsubo; one of Genji's first lovers, Genji is attracted to Kiritsubo in part because of her strong resemblance to his mother. Kiritsubo and Genji have a son who grows up to be the Emperor Reizei
  • Kôbai 紅梅 - one of Kashiwagi's brothers
  • Kojijû 小侍従 - a woman in service to the Third Princess
  • Kokiden 弘徽殿女御 - wife of Emperor Fujitsubo, mother of Emperor Suzaku
  • Koremitsu 藤原惟光 - Fujiwara no Koremitsu, a man in service to Genji, and a close confidant, who grew up alongside Genji and had the same wetnurse
  • Kumoinokari 雲居の雁 - wife of Yûgiri, daughter of Tô no Chûjô
  • Makibashira 真木柱 - wife of Prince Hotaru
  • Murasaki 紫上 - daughter of Prince Hyôbu
  • Prince Hotaru 蛍兵部卿宮 - brother to Genji, and husband to Makibashira
  • Prince Hyôbu 兵部卿宮- brother of Fujitsubo and father of Murasaki
  • Prince Niou 匂宮 - son of the Akashi Empress & the emperor who succeeds Reizei
  • Princess Omiya 大宮 - Genji's father's sister. Mother to Tô no Chûjô and Lady Aoi.
  • The Second Princess 女二宮 - daughter of Emperor Suzaku, wife of Kashiwagi
  • The Third Princess 女三宮 - daughter of Emperor Suzaku, wife of Genji, mother of Kaoru
  • Rokunokimi 六の君 - daughter of Yûgiri, wife of Prince Niou
  • Tamakazura 玉鬘 - daughter of Tô no Chûjô and Yûgao
  • Tô no Chûjô 頭中将 - one of Genji's closest friends; son of Princess Omiya, brother of Lady Aoi, father of Kashiwagi, Kôbai, Kumoinokari, Tamakazura, and the Lady Ômi
  • The Uji Princesses, Oigimi and Nakanokimi 宇治の大君、中君- daughters of the Eighth Prince, nieces of Genji's
  • Ukifune 浮舟 - unrecognized daughter of the Eighth Prince, half-sister to the Uji princesses
  • Yûgao 夕顔 - a lady of lower rank, who becomes a lover of Tô no Chûjô; together, they have a daughter, Tamakazura
  • Yûgiri 夕霧 - son of Lady Aoi & Genji

Chapters & Plot


  • Edward Seidensticker, "Introduction," The Tale of Genji, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, 1976) pp. vii-xv.
  1. That is, by the traditional Japanese age calculation.

External Links