Murasaki Shikibu

Murasaki Shikibu

Overview
Murasaki Shikibu (c. 973 – c. 1014 or 1025) was a Japanese novelist, poet and lady-in-waiting
Lady-in-waiting
A lady-in-waiting is a female personal assistant at a royal court, attending on a queen, a princess, or a high-ranking noblewoman. Historically, in Europe a lady-in-waiting was often a noblewoman from a family highly thought of in good society, but was of lower rank than the woman on whom she...

 at the Imperial court
Emperor of Japan
The Emperor of Japan is, according to the 1947 Constitution of Japan, "the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people." He is a ceremonial figurehead under a form of constitutional monarchy and is head of the Japanese Imperial Family with functions as head of state. He is also the highest...

 during the Heian period
Heian period
The is the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185. The period is named after the capital city of Heian-kyō, or modern Kyōto. It is the period in Japanese history when Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese influences were at their height...

. She is best known as the author of The Tale of Genji
The Tale of Genji
is a classic work of Japanese literature attributed to the Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu in the early 11th 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...

, written in Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

 between about 1000 and 1012. Murasaki Shikibu is a nickname; her real name is unknown, but she may have been Fujiwara Takako, who was mentioned in a 1007 court diary as an imperial lady-in-waiting.

She was raised in her father's household where she learned Chinese, the written language of government, from which women were traditionally excluded.
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Unforgettably horrible is the naked body. It really does not have the slightest charm. Category:Authors Category:Japanese poets

Encyclopedia
Murasaki Shikibu (c. 973 – c. 1014 or 1025) was a Japanese novelist, poet and lady-in-waiting
Lady-in-waiting
A lady-in-waiting is a female personal assistant at a royal court, attending on a queen, a princess, or a high-ranking noblewoman. Historically, in Europe a lady-in-waiting was often a noblewoman from a family highly thought of in good society, but was of lower rank than the woman on whom she...

 at the Imperial court
Emperor of Japan
The Emperor of Japan is, according to the 1947 Constitution of Japan, "the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people." He is a ceremonial figurehead under a form of constitutional monarchy and is head of the Japanese Imperial Family with functions as head of state. He is also the highest...

 during the Heian period
Heian period
The is the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185. The period is named after the capital city of Heian-kyō, or modern Kyōto. It is the period in Japanese history when Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese influences were at their height...

. She is best known as the author of The Tale of Genji
The Tale of Genji
is a classic work of Japanese literature attributed to the Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu in the early 11th 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...

, written in Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

 between about 1000 and 1012. Murasaki Shikibu is a nickname; her real name is unknown, but she may have been Fujiwara Takako, who was mentioned in a 1007 court diary as an imperial lady-in-waiting.

She was raised in her father's household where she learned Chinese, the written language of government, from which women were traditionally excluded. She married in her mid to late twenties and gave birth to a daughter before her husband died, two years after they were married. It is uncertain when she began to write The Tale of Genji, probably while she was married or shortly after she was widowed. In about 1005, Murasaki was invited to serve as a lady-in-waiting to Empress Shōshi
Empress Shōshi
or Empress Shōshi , , also known as , the eldest daughter of Fujiwara no Michinaga, was Empress of Japan from c. 1000 to c. 1011...

 at the Imperial court, probably because of her reputation as a writer. She continued to write during her service, adding scenes from court life to her work. After five or six years, she left court and retired with Shōshi to the Lake Biwa
Lake Biwa
is the largest freshwater lake in Japan, located in Shiga Prefecture , northeast of the former capital city of Kyoto. Because of its proximity to the ancient capital, references to Lake Biwa appear frequently in Japanese literature, particularly in poetry and in historical accounts of battles.-...

 region. Scholars differ on the year of her death; although most agree on 1014, others have suggested she was alive in 1025.

Murasaki wrote The Diary of Lady Murasaki, a volume of poetry, and The Tale of Genji. Within a decade of its completion, Genji was distributed throughout the provinces; within a century it was recognized as a classic of Japanese literature
Japanese literature
Early works of Japanese literature were heavily influenced by cultural contact with China and Chinese literature, often written in Classical Chinese. Indian literature also had an influence through the diffusion of Buddhism in Japan...

, and had become a subject of scholarly criticism. Early in the 20th century her work was translated; a six-volume English translation was completed in 1933. Scholars continue to recognize the importance of her work, which reflects Heian court society at its peak. Since the 13th century her works have been illustrated by Japanese artists and well-known ukiyo-e
Ukiyo-e
' is a genre of Japanese woodblock prints and paintings produced between the 17th and the 20th centuries, featuring motifs of landscapes, tales from history, the theatre, and pleasure quarters...

 woodblock masters.

Early life


Murasaki Shikibu was born c. 973 in Kyoto
Kyoto
is a city in the central part of the island of Honshū, Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area.-History:...

, Japan, into the northern Fujiwara clan descending from Fujiwara no Yoshifusa
Fujiwara no Yoshifusa
, also known as Somedono no Daijin or Shirakawa-dono, was a Japanese statesman, courtier and politician during the Heian period.When Yoshifusa's grandson was enthroned as Emperor Seiwa, Yoshifusa was assumed the role of regent for the young monarch...

, the first 9th-century Fujiwara regent. The Fujiwara clan dominated court politics until the end of the 11th century through strategic marriages of Fujiwara daughters into the imperial family and the use of regencies. In the late 10th century and early 11th century, Fujiwara no Michinaga
Fujiwara no Michinaga
represents the highpoint of the Fujiwara regents' control over the government of Japan.-Early life:He was the fourth or fifth son of Fujiwara no Kaneie by his wife Tokihime, daughter of Fujiwara no Nakamasa...

 arranged his four daughters into marriages with emperors, giving him unprecedented power. Murasaki's great-grandfather, Fujiwara no Kanesuke
Fujiwara no Kanesuke
Fujiwara no Kanesuke was a middle Heian waka poet and Japanese nobleman. He is designated as a member of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals and one of his poems is included in the famous anthology Hyakunin Isshu...

, had been in the top tier of the aristocracy, but her branch of the family gradually lost power and by the time of Murasaki's birth was at the middle to lower ranks of the Heian aristocracy—the level of provincial governors. The lower ranks of the nobility were typically posted away from court to undesirable positions in the provinces, exiled from the centralized power and court in Kyoto.

Despite the loss of status, the family had a reputation among the literati through Murasaki's paternal great-grandfather and grandfather, both of whom were well-known poets. Her great-grandfather, Fujiwara no Kanesuke, had poems included in two Imperial anthologies
Nijuichidaishu
The are Japan's twenty one imperial collections of Japanese poetry written by noblemen. The following texts listed in chronological order constitute the Nijūichidaishū:...

—the Collections of 36 Poets
Thirty-six Poetry Immortals
The Thirty-six Poetry Immortals are a group of Japanese poets of the Nara, Asuka and Heian periods selected by Fujiwara no Kintō as exemplars of Japanese poetic ability. There are five female poets among them...

and the Yamato Monogatari
Yamato Monogatari
is a collection of tales and waka poetry from the Heian period of Japan. The exact date of the completion of the text is unknown, but it majority of the text was completed in the year 951 by an unknown author...

(Tales of Yamoto). Her great-grandfather and grandfather both had been friendly with Ki no Tsurayuki
Ki no Tsurayuki
was a Japanese author, poet and courtier of the Heian period.Tsurayuki was a son of Ki no Mochiyuki. He became a waka poet in the 890s. In 905, under the order of Emperor Daigo, he was one of four poets selected to compile the Kokin Wakashū, an anthology of poetry.After holding a few offices in...

, who became notable for popularizing verse written in Japanese. Her father, Fujiwara no Tametoki
Fujiwara no Tametoki
was a Japanese poet, scholar of Chinese and the father of Murasaki Shikibu . He served as the governor of Echizen Province, during which time he had a daughter Murasaki in 970 or 973....

, attended the State Academy and became a well-respected scholar of Chinese classics and poetry, and whose own verse was anthologized. He entered public service around 968 as a minor official and in 996 was given a governorship. He stayed in service until about 1018. Murasaki's mother was descended from the same branch of northern Fujiwara as Tametoki. The couple had three children, a son and two daughters.
The names of women were not recorded in the Heian era
Heian period
The is the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185. The period is named after the capital city of Heian-kyō, or modern Kyōto. It is the period in Japanese history when Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese influences were at their height...

. Murasaki's real name is not known; as was customary for women of the period, she went by a nickname, Murasaki Shikibu. Women took nicknames associated with a male relative: "Shikibu" refers to , the Ministry of Ceremonials where her father was a functionary; "Murasaki" may be derived from the color violet associated with wisteria
Wisteria
Wisteria is a genus of flowering plants in the pea family, Fabaceae, that includes ten species of woody climbing vines native to the eastern United States and to China, Korea, and Japan. Aquarists refer to the species Hygrophila difformis, in the family Acanthaceae, as Water Wisteria...

, the meaning of the word fuji, although it is more likely that "Murasaki" was a court nickname. Michinaga mentions the names of a few ladies-in-waiting in a 1007 diary entry; one, Fujiwara Takako (Kyōshi), may be Murasaki's real name.

In Heian-era Japan, husbands and wives kept separate households; children were raised with their mothers, although the patrilineal system was still followed. Murasaki was unconventional because she lived in her father's household, most likely on Teramachi Street in Kyoto, with her younger brother Nobunori. Their mother died, perhaps in childbirth, when the children were quite young. Murasaki had at least three half-siblings raised with their mothers; she was very close to one sister who died in her twenties.

Murasaki was born at a period when Japan was becoming more isolated, after missions to China had ended and a stronger national culture was emerging. In the 9th and 10th centuries, Japanese gradually became a written language through the development of kana
Kana
Kana are the syllabic Japanese scripts, as opposed to the logographic Chinese characters known in Japan as kanji and the Roman alphabet known as rōmaji...

, a syllabary
Syllabary
A syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent syllables, which make up words. In a syllabary, there is no systematic similarity between the symbols which represent syllables with the same consonant or vowel...

 based on abbreviations of Chinese characters. In Murasaki's lifetime men continued to write in Chinese
Chinese character
Chinese characters are logograms used in the writing of Chinese and Japanese , less frequently Korean , formerly Vietnamese , or other languages...

, the language of government, but kana became the written language of noblewomen, setting the foundation for unique forms of Japanese literature
Japanese literature
Early works of Japanese literature were heavily influenced by cultural contact with China and Chinese literature, often written in Classical Chinese. Indian literature also had an influence through the diffusion of Buddhism in Japan...

.

Chinese was taught to Murasaki's brother as preparation for a career in government, and during her childhood, living in her father's household, she learned and became proficient in classical Chinese
Classical Chinese
Classical Chinese or Literary Chinese is a traditional style of written Chinese based on the grammar and vocabulary of ancient Chinese, making it different from any modern spoken form of Chinese...

. In her diary she wrote, "When my brother ... was a young boy learning the Chinese classics, I was in the habit of listening to him and I became unusually proficient at understanding those passages that he found too difficult to understand and memorize. Father, a most learned man, was always regretting the fact: 'Just my luck,' he would say, 'What a pity she was not born a man! With her brother she studied Chinese literature
Chinese literature
Chinese literature extends thousands of years, from the earliest recorded dynastic court archives to the mature fictional novels that arose during the Ming Dynasty to entertain the masses of literate Chinese...

, and she probably also received instruction in more traditional subjects such as music, calligraphy
Calligraphy
Calligraphy is a type of visual art. It is often called the art of fancy lettering . A contemporary definition of calligraphic practice is "the art of giving form to signs in an expressive, harmonious and skillful manner"...

 and Japanese poetry
Waka (poetry)
Waka or Yamato uta is a genre of classical Japanese verse and one of the major genres of Japanese literature...

. Murasaki's education was unorthodox. Confucianism
Confucianism
Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius . Confucianism originated as an "ethical-sociopolitical teaching" during the Spring and Autumn Period, but later developed metaphysical and cosmological elements in the Han...

 taught that women were unintelligent; generally they were not educated and never in Chinese, which they were considered to be incapable of learning. She was aware that others saw her as "pretentious, awkward, difficult to approach, prickly, too fond of her tales, haughty, prone to versifying, disdainful, cantankerous and scornful". Asian literature scholar Thomas Inge believes she had "a forceful personality that seldom won her friends."

Marriage


Aristocratic Heian women lived restricted and secluded lifes, allowed only to speak to men when they were close relatives or household members. Murasaki's autobiographical poetry shows that she socialized with women but had limited contact with men other than her father and brother; she often exchanged poetry with women but never with men. Unlike most noblewomen of her status, she did not marry on reaching puberty; instead she stayed in her father's household until her mid-twenties or perhaps even to her early thirties.

In 966 when her father was posted to a four-year governorship in Echizen Province
Echizen Province
was an old province of Japan, which is today the northern part of Fukui Prefecture. It was sometimes called , with Etchū and Echigo Provinces.Echizen is famous for washi . A text dated AD 774 mentions the washi made in this area. Echizen-produced Washi is still the most commonly sold traditional...

, Murasaki went with him, although it was uncommon for a noblewoman of the period to travel such a distance on a trip that could take as long as five days. She returned to Kyoto, probably in 998, to marry her father's friend Fujiwara no Nobutaka (c. 950 – c. 1001), a much older second cousin. Descended from the same branch of the Fujiwara clan, he was a court functionary and bureaucrat at the Ministry of Ceremonials, with a reputation for dressing extravagantly and as a talented dancer. In his late forties at the time of their marriage, he had multiple households with an unknown number of wives and offspring. Gregarious and well-known at court, he was involved in numerous romantic relationships that may have continued after his marriage to Murasaki. As was customary, she would have remained in her father's household where her husband would have visited her. Nobukata had been granted more than one governorship, and by the time of his marriage to Murasaki he was probably quite wealthy. Accounts of their marriage vary: Richard Bowring
Richard Bowring
Professor Richard John Bowring PhD, Litt.D is Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge, Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Cambridge and an Honorary Fellow of Downing College.-Education:*1960-64 Blundell's School...

 writes that the marriage was happy, but Japanese literature scholar Haruo Shirane sees indications in her poems that she resented her husband.
The couple's daughter, Kenshi (Kataiko), was born in 999. Two years later Nobutaka died during a cholera
Cholera
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking or eating water or food that has been contaminated by the diarrhea of an infected person or the feces...

 epidemic. As a married woman Murasaki would have had servants to run the household and care for her daughter, giving her ample leisure time. She enjoyed reading and had access to romances such as The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter
The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter
, also known as , is a 10th century Japanese folktale. It is considered the oldest extant Japanese narrative and an early example of proto-science fiction....

and the Tales of Ise. Scholars believe she may have started writing The Tale of Genji
The Tale of Genji
is a classic work of Japanese literature attributed to the Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu in the early 11th 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...

before her husband's death; it is known she was writing after she was widowed, perhaps in a state of grief. In her diary she describes her feelings after her husband's death: "I felt depressed and confused. For some years I had existed from day to day in listless fashion ... doing little more than registering the passage of time .... The thought of my continuing loneliness was quite unbearable".

According to legend, Murasaki retreated to Ishiyama-dera
Ishiyama-dera
is a Shingon temple in Ōtsu in Japan's Shiga Prefecture. It was constructed around 762 CE, and is said to have been founded by Rōben. The temple contains a number of cultural assets...

 at Lake Biwa
Lake Biwa
is the largest freshwater lake in Japan, located in Shiga Prefecture , northeast of the former capital city of Kyoto. Because of its proximity to the ancient capital, references to Lake Biwa appear frequently in Japanese literature, particularly in poetry and in historical accounts of battles.-...

, where she was inspired to write The Tale of Genji on an August night while looking at the moon. Although scholars dimiss the factual basis of the story of her retreat, Japanese artists often depicted her at Ishiyama Temple staring at the moon for inspiration. She may have been commissioned to write the story and may have known a exiled courtier in a similar position to her hero Prince Genji. Murasaki would have distributed newly written chapters of Genji to friends who in turn would have re-copied them and passed them on. By this practice the story became known and she gained a reputation as an author.

In her early to mid-thirties, she became a lady-in-waiting
Lady-in-waiting
A lady-in-waiting is a female personal assistant at a royal court, attending on a queen, a princess, or a high-ranking noblewoman. Historically, in Europe a lady-in-waiting was often a noblewoman from a family highly thought of in good society, but was of lower rank than the woman on whom she...

, , at court, most likely because of her reputation as an author. Chieko Mulhern writes in Japanese Women Writers, a Biocritical Sourcebook that scholars have wondered why Murasaki made such a move at a comparatively late period in her life. Her diary evidences that she exchanged poetry with Michinaga after her husband's death, leading to speculation that the two may have been lovers. Bowring sees no evidence that she was brought to court as Michinaga's concubine
Concubinage
Concubinage is the state of a woman or man in an ongoing, usually matrimonially oriented, relationship with somebody to whom they cannot be married, often because of a difference in social status or economic condition.-Concubinage:...

, although he did bring her to court without following official channels. Mulhern thinks Michinaga wanted to have Murasaki at court to educate his daughter Shōshi.

Court life



Heian culture and court life reached a peak early in the 11th century. The population of Kyoto grew to around 100,000 as the nobility became increasingly isolated at the Heian Palace
Heian Palace
The Heian Palace was the original imperial palace of Heian-kyō , the capital of Japan, from 794 to 1227. In Japan, this palace is called Daidairi...

 in government posts and court service. Courtiers became overly refined with little to do, insulated from reality, preoccupied with the minutiae of court life, turning to artistic endeavors. Emotions were commonly expressed through the artistic use of textiles, fragrances, calligraphy, colored paper, poetry, and layering of clothing in pleasing color combinations—according to mood and season. Those who showed an inability to follow conventional aesthetics quickly lost popularity, particularly at court. Popular pastimes for Heian noblewomen—who adhered to rigid fashions of floor-length hair, whitened skin and blackened teeth—included having love affairs, writing poetry and keeping diaries. The literature that Heian court women wrote is recognized as some of the earliest and among the best literature written in the Japanese canon
Canon (fiction)
In the context of a work of fiction, the term canon denotes the material accepted as "official" in a fictional universe's fan base. It is often contrasted with, or used as the basis for, works of fan fiction, which are not considered canonical...

.

Rival courts and women poets


When in 995 Michinaga's two brothers Fujiwara no Michitaka
Fujiwara no Michitaka
, the first son of Kaneie, was a Kugyō of the Heian period. He served as regent for the Emperor Ichijō, and later as Kampaku...

 and Fujiwara no Michikane
Fujiwara no Michikane
Fujiwara no Michikane , the son of Kaneie, was a kugyo and bonze of the Heian period.When his nephew took the throne as Emperor Ichijō in 994, he returned from monastic life and took the government position of Udaijin...

 died leaving the regency vacant, Michinaga quickly won a power struggle against his nephew Fujiwara no Korechika
Fujiwara no Korechika
, the second son of Michitaka, was a kugyo of the Heian period. His mother was Takashina no Takako, also known as Kō-no-Naishi . His sister Teishi was married to Emperor Ichijō, and Korechika aspired to become the regent for his young brother-in-law after his father's death...

  (brother to Teishi
Fujiwara no Teishi
Fujiwara no Teishi was an Empress consort of Japan. She was the consort of Emperor Ichijō of Japan.- Sources :...

, Emperor Ichijō
Emperor Ichijo
was the 66th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession.Ichijō's reign spanned the years from 986 to 1011.-Traditional narrative:Before he ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne, his personal name was Kanehito-shinnō....

's wife) , and, aided by his sister Senshi, he assumed power. Teishi had supported her brother Korechika, who was later discredited and banished from court, causing her to lose power. Four years later Michinaga sent Shōshi, his eldest daughter, to Emperor Ichijō's harem when she was about 12. A year after placing Shōshi in the imperial harem, in an effort to undermine Teishi's influence and increase Shōshi's standing, Michinaga had her named Empress although Teishi already held the title. As historian Donald Shively
Donald Shively
Donald Howard Shively was an American academic, historian, Japanologist, author and professor emeritus of East Asian Languages and cultures at University of California, Berkeley.-Early life:...

 explains, "Michinaga shocked even his admirers by arranging for the unprecedented appointment of Teishi (or Sadako) and Shōshi as concurrent empresses of the same emperor, Teishi holding the usual title of "Lustrous Heir-bearer" kōgō and Shōshi that of "Inner Palatine" (chūgū), a toponymically derived equivalent coined for the occasion". About five years later, Michinaga brought Murasaki to Shōshi's court, in a position that Bowring describes as a companion-tutor.

Heian Imperial court life was immensely fashionable, but also dissolute. Court women lived in seclusion, were known by nicknames and, through strategic marriages, were used to gain political power. Despite their seclusion, some women wielded considerable influence, often achieved through competitive salon
Salon (gathering)
A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste and increase their knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to...

s, dependent on the quality of the attendants. Ichijō's mother and Michinaga's sister, Princess Senshi, had an influential salon, and Michinaga probably wanted Shōshi to surround herself with skilled women such as Murasaki to build a rival salon.
Shōshi was 16 to 19 when Murasaki joined her court. According to Arthur Waley
Arthur Waley
Arthur David Waley CH, CBE was an English orientalist and sinologist.-Life:Waley was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England, as Arthur David Schloss, son of the economist David Frederick Schloss...

, Shōshi was a serious-minded young lady, whose living arrangements were divided between her father's household and her court at the Imperial Palace. She gathered around her talented women writers such as Izumi Shikibu
Izumi Shikibu
was a mid Heian period Japanese poet. She is a member of the . She was the contemporary of Murasaki Shikibu, and Akazome Emon at the court of Joto Mon'in.-Early life:...

  and Akazome Emon
Akazome Emon
was a Japanese waka poet who lived in the mid-Heian period. She is a member both of the and the .-Biography:Emon is though to be the daughter of Akazome Tokimochi, but her biological father was likely her mother's first husband, Taira Kanemori. Emon was born before her mother's marriage to...

—the author of an early vernacular
Vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

 history, The Tale of Flowering Fortunes
Eiga monogatari
is a Japanese monogatari, or epic, which relates events in the life of courtier Fujiwara no Michinaga. It is believed to have been written by a number of authors, over the course of roughly a century, from 1028 to 1107....

. The rivalry that existed among the women is evident in Murasaki's diary who wrote disparagingly of Izumi: "Izumi Shikibu is an amusing letter-writer; but there is something not very satisfactory about her. She has a gift for dashing off informal compositions in a careless running-hand; but in poetry she needs either an interesting subject or some classic model to imitate. Indeed it does not seem to me that in herself she is really a poet at all."

Sei Shōnagon
Sei Shonagon
Sei Shōnagon , was a Japanese author and a court lady who served the Empress Teishi around the year 1000 during the middle Heian period. She is best known as the author of The Pillow Book .-Name:...

, author of the The Pillow Book
The Pillow Book
is a book of observations and musings recorded by Sei Shōnagon during her time as court lady to Empress Consort Teishi during the 990s and early 11th century in Heian Japan. The book was completed in the year 1002....

, had been in service as lady-in-waiting to Teishi when Shōshi came to court; it is possible that Murasaki was invited to Shōshi's court as a rival to Shōnagon. Teishi died in 1001, before Murasaki entered service with Shōshi, so the two writers were not there concurrently, but Murasaki, who wrote about Shōnagon in her diary, certainly knew of her, and to an extent was influenced by her. Shōnagon's The Pillow Book may have been commissioned as a type of propaganda to highlight Teishi's court, known for its educated ladies-in-waiting. Japanese literature scholar Joshua Mostow believes Michinaga provided Murasaki to Shōshi as an equally or better educated woman, so as to showcase Shōshi's court in a similar manner.

The two writers had different temperaments: Shōnagon was witty, clever, and outspoken; Murasaki withdrawn and sensitive. Entries in Murasaki's diary show that the two may not have been on good terms. Murasaki wrote, "Sei Shōnagon ... was dreadfully conceited. She thought herself so clever, littered her writing with Chinese characters, [which] left a great deal to be desired." Keene thinks that Murasaki's impression of Shōnagon could have been influenced by Shōshi and the women at her court because Shōnagon served Shōshi's rival empress. Furthermore, he believes Murasaki was brought to court to write Genji in response to Shōnagon's popular Pillow Book. Murasaki contrasted herself to Shōnagon in a variety of ways. She denigrated the pillow book genre and, unlike Shōnagon who flaunted her knowledge of Chinese, Murasaki pretended not to know the language.

"Our Lady of the Chronicles"


Although Chinese culture and art was unfashionable, some Chinese ballads continued to be popular, including those written by Bai Juyi—mostly because of their simple use of language. Murasaki taught Chinese to Shōshi who was interested in Chinese art and Juyi's ballads. Upon becoming Empress, Shōshi installed screens decorated with Chinese script, causing outrage because knowing Chinese was considered the language of men, far removed from the women's quarters. The study of Chinese was thought to be unladylike and went against the notion that only men should have access to the literature. Women were supposed to read and write only in Japanese, which separated them through language from government and the power structure. Murasaki, with her unconventional classical Chinese education, was one of the few women available to teach Shōshi classical Chinese. Bowring writes it was "almost subversive" that Murasaki knew Chinese and taught the language to Shōshi. Murasaki, who was reticent about her Chinese education, held the lessons between the two women in secret, writing in her diary, "Since last summer ... very secretly, in odd moments when there happened to be no one about, I have been reading with Her Majesty ... There has of course been no question of formal lessons ... I have thought it best to say nothing about the matter to anybody."
Murasaki most likely earned her second nickname, "Our Lady of the Chronicles" (Nihongi
Nihon Shoki
The , sometimes translated as The Chronicles of Japan, is the second oldest book of classical Japanese history. It is more elaborate and detailed than the Kojiki, the oldest, and has proven to be an important tool for historians and archaeologists as it includes the most complete extant historical...

 no tsubone)
, for teaching Shōshi Chinese literature. A lady-in-waiting who disliked Murasaki accused her of flaunting her knowledge of Chinese and began calling her "Our Lady of the Chronicles"—an allusion to the Chronicles of Japan—after an incident in which chapters from Genji were read aloud to the Emperor and his courtiers, one of whom remarked that the author showed a high level of education. Murasaki wrote in her diary, "How utterly ridiculous! Would I, who hesitate to reveal my learning to my women at home, ever think of doing so at court?" Although meant to be insulting, Mulhern believes Murasaki was probably flattered by the nickname.

The attitude toward the Chinese language was contradictory. In Teish's court, Chinese had been flaunted and considered a symbol of imperial rule. Yet, in in Shōshi's salon there was a great deal of hostility towards the language—perhaps due to political expedience during a period when Chinese began to be rejected in favor of Japanese—even though Shōshi herself was a student of the language. The hostility may have affected Murasaki and her opinion of the court, and forced her to hide her knowledge of Chinese. Unlike Shōnagon, who was both ostentatious and flirtatious, as well as outspoken about her knowledge of Chinese, Murasaki seems to have been humble, an attitude which possibly impressed Michinaga. Although Murasaki used Chinese and incorporated it in her writing, she publicly rejected the language, a commendable attitude during a period of burgeoning Japanese culture.
Murasaki seems to have been unhappy with court life and was withdrawn and somber. No surviving records show that she entered poetry competitions; she appears to have exchanged few poems or letters with other women during her service. In general, unlike Sei Shōnagon, Murasaki gives the impression in her diary that she disliked court life, the other ladies-in-waiting, and the drunken revelry. She did, however, become close friends with a lady-in-waiting named Lady Saisho, and she wrote of the winters that she enjoyed, "I love to see the snow here".

According to Waley, Murasaki may not have been unhappy with court life in general but bored in Shōshi's court. He speculates she would have preferred to serve with the Lady Senshi, whose household seems to have been less strict and more light-hearted. In her diary, Murasaki wrote about Shōshi's court, "[she] has gathered round her a number of very worthy young ladies ... Her Majesty is beginning to acquire more experience of life, and no longer judges others by the same rigid standards as before; but meanwhile her Court has gained a reputation for extreme dullness".
Murasaki disliked the men at court whom she thought to be drunken and stupid. However, some scholars, such as Waley, are certain she was involved romantically with Michinaga. At the least, Michinaga pursued her and pressured her strongly, and her flirtation with him is recorded in her diary as late as 1010. Yet, she wrote to him in a poem, "You have neither read my book, nor won my love." In her diary she records having to avoid advances from Michinaga—one night he snuck into her room, stealing a newly written chapter of Genji. However, Michinaga's patronage was essential if she was to continue writing. Murasaki described his daughter's court activities: the lavish ceremonies, the complicated courtships, the "complexities of the marriage system", and in elaborate detail, the birth of Shōshi's two sons.

It is likely that Murasaki enjoyed writing in solitude. She believed she did not fit well with the general atmosphere of the court, writing of herself: "I am wrapped up in the study of ancient stories ... living all the time in a poetical world of my own scarcely realizing the existence of of other people .... But when they get to know me, they find to their extreme surprise that I am kind and gentle". Inge says that she was too outspoken to make friends at court, and Mulhern thinks Murasaki's court life was comparatively quiet compared to other court poets. Mulhern speculates that her remarks about Izumi were not so much directed at Izumi's poetry but at her behavior, lack of morality and her court liaisons, of which Murasaki disapproved.

Rank was important in Heian court society and Murasaki would not have felt herself to have much, if anything, in common with the higher ranked and more powerful Fujiwaras. In her diary, she wrote of her life at court: "I realized that my branch of the family was a very humble one; but the thought seldom troubled me, and I was in those days far indeed from the painful consciousness of inferiority which makes life at Court a continual torment to me." A court position would have increased her social standing, but more importantly she gained a greater experiences to write about. Court life, as she experienced it, is well-reflected in the chapters of Genji written after she joined Shōshi. Her nickname, Murasaki, was most probably given at a court dinner in an incident she recorded in her diary: in c. 1008 the well-known court poet Fujiwara no Kintō
Fujiwara no Kinto
, also known as Shijō-dainagon, was a Japanese poet, admired by his contemporaries and a court bureaucrat of the Heian period. His father was the regent Fujiwara no Yoritada and his son Fujiwara no Sadayori...

 inquired after the "Young Murasaki"—an allusion to the character named Murasaki in Genji—which would have been considered a compliment from a male court poet to a female author.

Later life and death



When Emperor Ichijō died in 1011, Shōshi retired from the Imperial Palace to live in a Fujiwara mansion Biwa mansion, most likely accompanied by Murasaki, who is recorded as being there with Shōshi in 1013. George Aston
William George Aston
William George Aston was a British diplomat, author and scholar-expert in the language and history of Japan and Korea.-Early life:...

 explains that when Murasaki retired from court she was again associated with Ishiyama-dera: "To this beautiful spot, it is said, Murasaki no Shikibu retired from court life to devote the remainder of her days to literature and religion. There are sceptics, however, Motoöri
Motoori Norinaga
was a Japanese scholar of Kokugaku active during the Edo period. He is probably the best known and most prominent of all scholars in this tradition.-Life:...

 being one, who refuse to believe this story, pointing out ... that it is irreconcilable with known facts. On the other hand, the very chamber in the temple where the Genji was written is shown—with the ink-slab which the author used, and a Buddhist Sutra
Sutra
Sūtra is an aphorism or a collection of such aphorisms in the form of a manual. Literally it means a thread or line that holds things together and is derived from the verbal root siv-, meaning to sew , as does the medical term...

 in her handwriting, which, if they do not satisfy the critic, still are sufficient to carry conviction to the minds of ordinary visitors to the temple."

Murasaki may have died in 1014. Her father made a hasty return to Kyoto from his post at Echigo Province
Echigo Province
was an old province in north-central Japan, on the shores of the Sea of Japan. It was sometimes called , with Echizen and Etchū Provinces. Today the area is part of Niigata Prefecture, which also includes the island which was the old Sado Province. This province was the northernmost part of the...

 that year, possibly because of her death. Writing in A Bridge of Dreams: A Poetics of "The Tale of Genji", Shirane mentions that 1014 is generally accepted as the date of Murasaki Shikibu's death and 973 as the date of her birth, making her 41 when she died. Bowring considers 1014 to be speculative, and believes she may have lived with Shōshi until as late as 1025. Waley agrees given that Murasaki may have attended ceremonies with Shōshi held for her son, Emperor Go-Ichijō
Emperor Go-Ichijo
was the 68th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession.Go-Ichijō's reign spanned the years from 1016 through 1036.This 11th century sovereign was named after Emperor Ichijō and go- , translates literally as "later;" and thus, he is sometimes called the "Later Emperor Ichijō"...

 around 1025.

Murasaki's brother Nubonori died in around 1011, which, combined with the death of his daughter, may have prompted her father to resign his post and take vows at Miidera
Mii-dera
', formally called ', is a Buddhist temple located at the foot of Mount Hiei, in the city of Ōtsu, in Shiga Prefecture. It is only a short distance from both Kyoto, and Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake. The head temple of the Tendai Jimon sect, it is something of a sister temple to Enryakuji, at...

 temple where he died in 1029. Murasaki's daughter entered court service in 1025 as a wet nurse
Wet nurse
A wet nurse is a woman who is used to breast feed and care for another's child. Wet nurses are used when the mother is unable or chooses not to nurse the child herself. Wet-nursed children may be known as "milk-siblings", and in some cultures the families are linked by a special relationship of...

 to the future Emperor Go-Reizei
Emperor Go-Reizei
was the 70th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession.Go-Reizei's reign spanned the years 1045–1068.This 11th century sovereign was named after the 10th century Emperor Reizei and go- , translates literally as "later;" and thus, he is sometimes called the "Later Emperor...

 (1025–68). She went on to become a well-known poet as Daini no Sanmi.

Works


Three works are attributed to Murasaki: The Tale of Genji
The Tale of Genji
is a classic work of Japanese literature attributed to the Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu in the early 11th 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...

, The Diary of Lady Murasaki and Poetic Memoirs, a collection of 128 poems. Her work is considered important because her writing reflects the creation and development of Japanese writing during a period when Japanese shifted from an unwritten vernacular to a written language. Until the 9th century Japanese language texts were written in Chinese character
Chinese character
Chinese characters are logograms used in the writing of Chinese and Japanese , less frequently Korean , formerly Vietnamese , or other languages...

s using the writing system. A revolutionary achievement was the development of kana
Kana
Kana are the syllabic Japanese scripts, as opposed to the logographic Chinese characters known in Japan as kanji and the Roman alphabet known as rōmaji...

, a true Japanese script, in the mid to late 9th century. Japanese authors began to write prose in their own language, which led to genres such as tales and poetic journals . Historian Edwin Reischauer
Edwin O. Reischauer
Edwin Oldfather Reischauer was the leading U.S. educator and noted scholar of the history and culture of Japan, and of East Asia. From 1961–1966, he was the U.S. ambassador to Japan.-Education and academic life:...

 writes that genres such as the monogatari were distinctly Japanese and that Genji, written in kana, "was the outstanding work of the period".

Diary and poetry


Murasaki began her diary after she entered service at Shōshi's court. Much of what we know about her and her experiences at court comes from the diary, which covers the period from about 1008 to 1010. The long descriptive passages, some of which may have originated as letters, cover her relationships with the other ladies-in-waiting, Michinaga's temperament, the birth of Shōshi's sons—at Michinaga's mansion rather than at the Imperial Palace—and the process of writing Genji, including descriptions of passing newly written chapters to calligraphers
Calligraphy
Calligraphy is a type of visual art. It is often called the art of fancy lettering . A contemporary definition of calligraphic practice is "the art of giving form to signs in an expressive, harmonious and skillful manner"...

 for transcriptions. Typical of contemporary court diaries written to honor patrons, Murasaki devotes half to the birth of Shōshi's son Emperor Go-Ichijō, an event of enormous importance to Michinaga: he had planned for it with his daughter's marriage which made him grandfather and de facto regent to an emperor.

Poetic Memoirs is a collection of 128 poems Mulhern describes as "arranged in a biographical sequence". The original set has been lost. According to custom, the verses would have been passed from person to person and often copied. Some appear written for a lover—possibly her husband before he died—but she may have merely followed tradition and written simple love poems. They contain biographical details: she mentions a sister who died, the visit to Echizen province with her father and that she wrote poetry for Shōshi. Murasaki's poems were published in 1206 by Fujiwara Teika, in what Mulhern believes to be the collection that is closest to the original form; at around the same time Teika included a selection of Murasaki's works in an imperial anthology, New Collections of Ancient and Modern Times.

The Tale of Genji


Murasaki is best known for her The Tale of Genji, a three-part novel spanning 1100 pages and 54 chapters, that is thought have taken a decade to complete. The earliest chapters were possibly written for a private patron either during her marriage or shortly after her husband's death. She continued writing while at court and probably finished while still in service to Shôshi. She would have needed patronage to produce a work of such length. Michinaga provided her with costly paper and ink, and with calligraphers. The first handwritten volumes were probably assembled and bound by ladies-in-waiting.
In his The Pleasures of Japanese Literature, Keene claims Murasaki wrote the "supreme work of Japanese fiction" by drawing on traditions of court diaries, and earlier monogatari—written in a mixture of Chinese script and Japanese script—such as The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter
The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter
, also known as , is a 10th century Japanese folktale. It is considered the oldest extant Japanese narrative and an early example of proto-science fiction....

or The Tales of Ise
The Tales of Ise
is a Japanese collection of tanka poems and associated narratives, dating from the Heian period. The current version collects 125 sections, with each combining poems and prose, giving a total of 209 poems in most versions....

. She drew on and blended styles from Chinese histories, narrative poetry and contemporary Japanese prose. Adolphson writes that the juxtaposition of formal Chinese style with mundane subjects resulted in a sense of parody
Parody
A parody , in current usage, is an imitative work created to mock, comment on, or trivialise an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation...

 or satire
Satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

, giving her a distinctive voice. Genji follows the traditional format of monogatari—telling a tale—particularly evident in its use of a narrator
Narrator
A narrator is, within any story , the fictional or non-fictional, personal or impersonal entity who tells the story to the audience. When the narrator is also a character within the story, he or she is sometimes known as the viewpoint character. The narrator is one of three entities responsible for...

, but Keene claims Murasaki developed the genre far beyond its bounds, and by doing so created a form that is utterly modern. The story of the "shining prince" Genji is set in the late 9th to early 10th centuries, and Murasaki eliminated from it the elements of fairy tales and fantasy frequently found in earlier monogatari.

The themes in Genji are common to the period, and are defined by Shively as encapsulating "the tyranny of time and the inescapable sorrow of romantic love". The main theme is that of the fragility of life, "the sorrow of human existence", —she used term over a thousand times in Genji. Keene speculates that in her tale of the "shining prince", Murasaki may have created for herself an idealistic escape from court life, which she found less than savory. In Prince Genji she formed a gifted, comely, refined, yet human and sympathetic protagonist
Protagonist
A protagonist is the main character of a literary, theatrical, cinematic, or musical narrative, around whom the events of the narrative's plot revolve and with whom the audience is intended to most identify...

. Keene writes that Genji gives a view into the Heian period; for example love affairs flourished, although women typically remained unseen behind screens, curtains or .

Helen McCullough describes Murasaki's writing as of universal appeal and believes The Tale of Genji "transcends both its genre and age. Its basic subject matter and setting—love at the Heian court—are those of the romance, and its cultural assumptions are those of the mid-Heian period, but Murasaki Shikibu's unique genius has made the work for many a powerful statement of human relationships, the impossibility of permanent happiness in love ... and the vital importance, in a world of sorrows, of sensitivity to the feelings of others." Prince Genji recognizes in each of his lovers the inner beauty of the woman and the fragility of life, which according to Keene, makes him heroic. The story was popular: Emperor Ichijō had it read to him, even though it was written in Japanese. By 1021 all the chapters were known to be complete and the work was sought after in the provinces where it was scarce.

Legacy


Murasaki's reputation and influence have not diminished since her lifetime when she, with other Heian women writers, was instrumental in developing Japanese into a written language. Her writing was required reading for court poets as early as the 12th century as her work began to be studied by scholars who generated authoritative versions and criticism. Within a century of her death she was highly regarded as a classical writer. In the 17th century, Murasaki's work became emblematic of Confucian
Confucius
Confucius , literally "Master Kong", was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher of the Spring and Autumn Period....

 philosophy and women were encouraged to read her books. In 1673 Kumazawa Banzan argued that her writing was valuable for its sensitivity and depiction of emotions. He wrote in his Discursive Commentary on Genji that when "human feelings are not understood the harmony of the Five Human Relationships is lost."
The Tale of Genji was copied and illustrated in various forms as early as a century after Murasaki's death. The Genji monogatari emaki, is a late Heian era 12th century handscroll
Emakimono
, often simply called , is a horizontal, illustrated narrative form created during the 11th to 16th centuries in Japan. Emakimono combines both text and pictures, and is drawn, painted, or stamped on a handscroll...

, consisting of four scrolls, 19 paintings, and 20 sheets of calligraphy. The illustrations, definitively dated to between 1110 and 1120, have been tentatively attributed to Fujiwara no Takachika and the calligraphy to various well-known contemporary calligraphers. The scroll is housed at the Gotoh Museum
Gotoh Museum
The is a private museum in the Kaminoge district of Setagaya on the southwest periphery of Tokyo. It was opened in 1960, displaying the private collection of Keita Gotō, chairman of the Tokyu Group...

 and the Tokyo National Museum
Tokyo National Museum
Established 1872, the , or TNM, is the oldest and largest museum in Japan. The museum collects, houses, and preserves a comprehensive collection of art works and archaeological objects of Asia, focusing on Japan. The museum holds over 110,000 objects, which includes 87 Japanese National Treasure...

.

Female virtue was tied to literary knowledge in the 17th century, leading to a demand for Murasaki or Genji inspired artifacts, known as genji-e. Dowry
Dowry
A dowry is the money, goods, or estate that a woman brings forth to the marriage. It contrasts with bride price, which is paid to the bride's parents, and dower, which is property settled on the bride herself by the groom at the time of marriage. The same culture may simultaneously practice both...

 sets decorated with scenes from Genji or illustrations of Murasaki became particularly popular for noblewomen: in the 17th century genji-e symbolically imbued a bride with an increased level of cultural status; by the 18th century they had come to symbolize marital success. In 1628, Tokugawa Iemitsu
Tokugawa Iemitsu
Tokugawa Iemitsu was the third shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty. He was the eldest son of Tokugawa Hidetada, and the grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Iemitsu ruled from 1623 to 1651.-Early life :...

's daughter had a set of lacquer
Lacquerware
Lacquerware are objects decoratively covered with lacquer. The lacquer is sometimes inlaid or carved. Lacquerware includes boxes, tableware, buttons and even coffins painted with lacquer in cultures mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere.-History:...

 boxes made for her wedding; Prince Toshitada received a pair of silk genji-e screens
Folding Screen
A folding screen , is a piece of free-standing furniture which consists of several frames or panels connected by hinges. It can be made in a variety of designs and with different kinds of materials. Screens have many practical and decorative uses...

, painted by Kanō Tan'yū as a wedding gift in 1649.

Murasaki became a popular subject of paintings and illustrations highlighting her as a virtuous woman and poet. She is often shown at her desk in Ishimyama Temple, staring at the moon for inspiration. Tosa Mitsuoki
Tosa Mitsuoki
was a Japanese painter.-Tosa Mitsuoki:Tosa Mitsuoki was the successor of the Tosa school after his father, Tosa Mitsunori . Mitsuoki brought the Tosa school to Kyoto after around 50 years in Sakai. When the school was settled in Sakai, Mitsunori painted for townsmen...

 made her the subject of hanging scrolls
Emakimono
, often simply called , is a horizontal, illustrated narrative form created during the 11th to 16th centuries in Japan. Emakimono combines both text and pictures, and is drawn, painted, or stamped on a handscroll...

 in the 17th century. The Tale of Genji became a favorite subject of Japanese woodblock artists for centuries with artists such as Hiroshige
Hiroshige
was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist, and one of the last great artists in that tradition. He was also referred to as Andō Hiroshige and by the art name of Ichiyūsai Hiroshige ....

, Kiyonaga
Torii Kiyonaga
This article is about the ukiyo-e artist; for samurai named Kiyonaga, see Naito Kiyonaga and Koriki Kiyonaga. was a Japanese ukiyo-e printmaker and painter of the Torii school. Originally Sekiguchi Shinsuke, the son of an Edo bookseller, he took on Torii Kiyonaga as an art-name...

, and Utamaro
Utamaro
was a Japanese printmaker and painter, who is considered one of the greatest artists of woodblock prints . His name was romanized as Outamaro. He is known especially for his masterfully composed studies of women, known as bijinga...

 illustrating various editions of the novel. While early Genji art was considered symbolic of court culture, by the middle of the Edo period
Edo period
The , or , is a division of Japanese history which was ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family, running from 1603 to 1868. The political entity of this period was the Tokugawa shogunate....

 the mass-produced ukiyo-e prints made the illustrations accessible for the samurai
Samurai
is the term for the military nobility of pre-industrial Japan. According to translator William Scott Wilson: "In Chinese, the character 侍 was originally a verb meaning to wait upon or accompany a person in the upper ranks of society, and this is also true of the original term in Japanese, saburau...

 classes and commoners.

In Envisioning the "Tale of Genji" Shirane observes that "The Tale of Genji has become many things to many different audiences through many different media over a thousand years ... unmatched by any other Japanese text or artifact." The work and its author were popularized through its illustrations in various media: emaki (illustrated handscrolls); (screen paintings), ukiyo-e (woodblock prints); films, comics, and in the modern period, manga
Manga
Manga is the Japanese word for "comics" and consists of comics and print cartoons . In the West, the term "manga" has been appropriated to refer specifically to comics created in Japan, or by Japanese authors, in the Japanese language and conforming to the style developed in Japan in the late 19th...

. In her fictionalized account of Murasaki's life, The Tale of Murasaki: A Novel, Liza Dalby
Liza Dalby
Liza Crihfield Dalby is an American anthropologist and novelist specializing in Japanese culture. For her graduate studied, Dalby studied and performed fieldwork in Japan of the geisha community which she wrote about in her Ph.D dissertation. Since that time she has written five books. Her first...

 has Murasaki involved in a romance during her travels with her father to Echizen Province.
The Tale of the Genji is recognized as an enduring classic. McCullough writes that Murasaki "is both the quintessential representative of a unique society and a writer who speaks to universal human concerns with a timeless voice. Japan has not seen another such genius." Keene writes that The Tale of Genji continues to captivate, because, in the story, her characters and their concerns are universal. In the 1920s, when Waley's translation was published, reviewers compared Genji to Austen
Jane Austen
Jane Austen was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature, her realism and biting social commentary cementing her historical importance among scholars and critics.Austen lived...

, Proust
Marcel Proust
Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust was a French novelist, critic, and essayist best known for his monumental À la recherche du temps perdu...

, and Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

. Mulhern says of Murasaki that she is similar to Shakespeare, who represented his Elizabethan England
Elizabethan era
The Elizabethan era was the epoch in English history of Queen Elizabeth I's reign . Historians often depict it as the golden age in English history...

, in that she captured the essence of the Heian court and as a novelist "succeeded perhaps even beyond her own expectations." Like Shakespeare, her work has been the subject of reams of criticism and many books.

Kyoto held a year-long celebration commemorating the 1000th anniversary of Genji in 2008, with poetry competitions, visits to Tale of Genji Museum in Uji and Ishiyama-dera (where a life size rendition of Murasaki at her desk was displayed), and women dressing in traditional 12-layered Heian court and ankle-length hair wigs. The author and her work inspired museum exhibits and Genji manga spin-offs. The design on the reverse of the first 2000 yen note commemorated her and The Tale of Genji. A plant
Callicarpa japonica
Japanese Beautyberry is a tree with purple berry fruits. The flowers can range from pink to white. And, this species is native to Japan. They are cultivated as ornamental trees. Moreover, they are popularly grown in gardens and parks.-Medicinal uses:The berries are not edible for human beings, but...

 bearing purple berries has been named after her.

A Genji Album, only in the 1970s dated to 1510, is housed at Harvard University. The album is considered the earliest of its kind and consists of 54 paintings by Tosa Mitsunobu
Tosa Mitsunobu
was a Japanese painter, the founder of the Tosa school of Japanese painting. Born into a family that had traditionally served as painters to the Imperial court, he was head of the court painting bureau from 1493 to 1496. In 1518 he was appointed chief artist to the Ashikaga shogunates.- External...

 and 54 sheets of calligraphy on shikishi paper in five colors, written by master calligraphers. The leaves are housed in a case dated to the Edo period
Edo period
The , or , is a division of Japanese history which was ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family, running from 1603 to 1868. The political entity of this period was the Tokugawa shogunate....

, with a silk frontispiece painted by Tosa Mitsuoki, dated to around 1690. The album contains Mitsuoki's authentication slips for his ancestor's 16th-century paintings.

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    William George Aston was a British diplomat, author and scholar-expert in the language and history of Japan and Korea.-Early life:...

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    Richard Bowring
    Professor Richard John Bowring PhD, Litt.D is Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge, Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Cambridge and an Honorary Fellow of Downing College.-Education:*1960-64 Blundell's School...

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    Donald Keene
    Donald Lawrence Keene is a Japanologist, scholar, teacher, writer, translator and interpreter of Japanese literature and culture. Keene was University Professor Emeritus and Shincho Professor Emeritus of Japanese Literature at Columbia University, where he taught for over fifty years...

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    Helen Craig McCullough
    Helen Craig McCullough was an eminent scholar of classical Japanese poetry and prose. Born in California, she graduated from Berkeley in 1939 with a degree in political science. After the outbreak of World War II, she entered the U.S. Navy’s Japanese Language School in Boulder, Colorado...

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