A Text Summary and Commentary
Genji monogatari, or The Tale of Genji, began with a brief description of Genji’s mother before his birth. Genji, it is implied, was destined to be different from the beginning. The first paragraph got right to the point about his mother. “The grand ladies [of the Heian court] with high ambitions thought her a presumptuous upstart, and lessor ladies were still more resentful. Everything she did offended someone.” Regardless of these obstacles Emperor Kiritsubo was enamored by her and his favorite concubine bore him his second son.
Kiritsubo-no-koi, Genji’s mother, began to get ill from the pressures of the court system and childbirth. At age three Genji had his Third Birthday Celebration and wore trousers for the first time. Kiritsubo-no-koi moved into her parent’s house to recover from her illness, but soon died.
When Genji was four, his older brother, Suzaku the first born son of Emperor Kiritsubo, became Crown Prince. But all eyes were on Genji. The people of the court could not believe such a beautiful child could be born into the world and Murasaki Shikibu goes into great detail and great length about the wonder he has caused. “As he grew up [Genji] was so superior of mien and disposition that few could find it in themselves to dislike him” (Shikibu, 5).
Genji’s formal education takes place and his childhood takes place in a matter of pages. At age eight, Emperor Kiritsubo asked a Korean fortune teller to predict the future of young Genji. “It is the face of one who should ascend to the highest place and be father to a nation,” the minister told the Emperor. Politically, Genji represented a threat to the Crown Prince and feeling the pressure he left home as a liege subject under the family name Minamoto, which indicated that he used to be a member of the Imperial Family.
When Genji was eleven, Emperor Kiritsubo got a new consort, Fujitsubo-no-Nyogo (age 16) who strongly resembled Genji’s late mother. Genji absolutely adored her, but knows that his attraction was forbidden as she was the consort to his father.
When Genji turned twelve, he had his Coming of Age Ceremony and was married, by little choice, to Aoi-no-Ue (age 16) the daughter of the Minister of the Left. His new father-in-law the Minister of the Left was very good to him and in the first half of the novel he became one of Genji’s finest supporters. This in spite of the fact that Genji was so busy with “adventures” and other diversions that he seldom spent any time at all at the Sanjo mansion of his bride.
Nijo-in, Kiritsubo-no-Koi’s former residence, was refurbished and given to Genji after his marriage. It was not uncommon for the men in that era to spend very little time at home, nor was it unacceptable for him to have under him several consorts and mating partners. A man of Genji’s social rank would be in a position to have a wife who would have no choice but to sit at home behind curtains and wait for him to return. As we see in the text, not only would she have to wait quietly for him, but she would have to be ready for his return at his whim, and so would the other ladies. Even at seventeen Genji would have several women patiently laying out clothes for him, hoping he would choose their bedroom in which to sleep.
Japanese courtly convention prohibited women from openly exposing their face to others. The women would be veiled behind curtains and fans to hide their faces. So, looking at the dress of the person to whom your were speaking would sometimes be the only recognizable factor. In Genji’s case it was often his perfumes that gave away his identity.
Once at age seventeen when he was at Kiritsubo-no-Kami’s residence, Genji meet Utsuemi. In his hormonally driven tradition, Genji planned on having a distraction with Utsuemi. That night he crept into the bushes and peeped through the curtains to see Utsuemi and Nokiba-no-Ogi playing a popular Japanese strategy game, “Go.” As the lights went out that night, Genji crept into the bedroom of Utsuemi and accidentally seduced Nokiba-no-Ogi. She could not see him due to the darkness, but she recognized him as Genji due to his perfume. In order to save face, once he found out she wasn’t the girl he came for, Genji told her she was the one he wanted.
“The ancients used to say that a secret love runs deeper than an open one.” He was most persuasive. “Think well of me. I must worry about appearances, and it is not as if I could go where my desires take me. And you: there are people who would not at all approve. That is sad. But you must not forget me” (Shikibu, 54).
From here he told her that she could write to him when he wrote to her. As we learn more and more, Genji kept in touch with all of his partners. It was the convention of the time to do so in poetry, and at the time of ‘meeting’ they would swap fans. He would also support them in some financial fashion, which is not all together clearly laid out.
In the spring proceeding Genji’s affair with Yugao that he took part in the “Rainy Night Discussion of Women’s Rank” a dialogue that has become famous among Genji scholars. It was here that he was unintentionally encouraged in his reverie with women by his more experienced male companions. Their stories suggest that ideal women were almost unattainable rarities. Genji was fascinated with the idea of the hunt for the ideal woman. The men told tales of jealous, unassertive, and wise women (note they are grouped together as undesirable). Genji’s best friend, To-no-Chujo’s rant took the form of a “doleful complaint about a woman, whom he characterized as quite unassertive, who inexplicably disappeared along with the daughter she bore him” (Bargen, 37). In To-no-Chujo’s story he referred to the nameless woman as Tokonatsu and her daughter as Nadeshiko, which are synonyms for the same flower, Dianthus superbus.
That same year Genji paid a visit to Lady Rokujo, who we find to be one of the most complex female characters within the novel. Lady Rokujo was the widow of Prince Zembo, brother of Genji’s father and Princess Omiya. Prince Zembo is evidently dead before the novel begins but his relation to the Emperor gave Lady Rokujo the political clout she needed to be a powerful player in the scheme of things in Heian-kyo. She was the lifetime mistress of Genji whose jealousy was so strong that her spirit was projected at different times to attack and in some cases kill Genji’s other romantic interests.
Once while at Rokujo-in with the Lady of Rokujo he paid a visit to his old nurse, his retainer Koremitsu’s mother, who was ill. It is while he was sitting with his old nurse in her house at Gojo-in he meets Yugao, a synonym for a white flower - Lagenaria siceraria, who lives with her.
With the help of his servant and confidant, Koremitsu, he began a affair with Yugao and they exchanged poetry often. As the poem writing became more frequent and the affair continued to Genji’s liking, he made plans to move her to Nijo-in in an attempt to secure their relationship. All the while her true identity remains unknown to Genji due to her unassertiveness. Genji was reminded by her of To-no-Chujo’s woman in the “Rainy Night Discussion of Women’s Rank” tale, but purposely avoided making any connection, not wanting to realize that this was the same woman who alluded his best-friend. Now you can understand why both ladies had the flower names.
When he finally did move her to Nijo-in, the evil and jealous spirit of the Rokujo-lady possessed and killed her. Genji then learned that women can be dangerous if made jealous by men. As you read on, either here or in the text, you’ll find that this lesson was soon forgotten.
Doris G. Bargen points out in her book Spirit Possession in The Tale of Genji that jealousy was as common as concubines in Heian Japan, so the reading audiences reaction to the Roku-jo Lady’s evil spirit would have been with less shock than our own (Bargen, 39).
While still in a sorrowful mood of morning, Genji sat one night staring into the foggy night. As was often the case he had romance on his mind. From the darkness he heard a koto playing softly and was intrigued. He later found out the player was a maiden by the name of Naishi (she will become important later).
In the third month of Genji’s eighteenth year he goes quietly to Kitayama. Genji “did not often go on such expeditions, for he was on such rank that freedom of movement was not permitted him” (Shikibu, 84). The irony of this power that General Genji held from his bloodline and office was his restriction of movement due to the intense ceremony required to maintain a distance from the commoners. Genji was known for his avoidance of these annoyances. In this case he purposely ‘dressed down’ so he could avoid ceremony.
Koremitsu: “A certain bishop, I am told, has been living there in seclusion for the last two years or so.”
Genji: “Someone who calls for ceremony - and ceremony is hardly possible in these clothes. He must not know I am here” (Shikibu, 85).
But the bishop did find out and Genji politely explained that he was not avoiding him, but rather protecting the honor of the soothsayer who he went came to see on the mountain. He explained that if he was not healed then no damage would be done if none knew he came to this man for healing. “Such is his reputation that I hated to risk marring it by failing to recover” (Shikibu, 89). Genji’s silver tongue not only got him off the hook, but he found himself inside the house of the bishop and in love with his ten year-old daughter, Murasaki. Genji makes plans for “the child [who] must stand in place of the one who she so resembled” (Shikibu, 89). He was comparing her to his mother, and his mother’s replacement Fujitsubo.
Later that same summer Genji meet with Fujitsubo while she was away from the court. From this encounter, Fujitsubo has a child, who the Emperor thought was his own.
Since childhood To-no-Chujo and Genji shared a mutual friendly and not-so-friendly competition. Like two boys who were always trying to out do each other, To-no-Chujo and Genji were constantly rallying for first place. Genji was a natural winner and time and time again we saw To-no-Chujo red with friendly envy. “To-no-Chujo was a handsome youth who carried himself well, but beside Genji he was like a nondescript mountain shrub beside a blossoming cherry” (Shikibu, 133). This time To-no-Chujo had Genji right where he wanted him.
It was the in the winter that Genji found Naishi, the koto player from earlier, and spent the night at her house. Do the Japanese convention working mostly in Genji’s favor, but not always, it was not until the morning that Genji found himself actually looking at her and disappointed with her appearance. Her perfume was fine, but her face was not.
To-no-Chujo had long resented Genji’s self-righteous way of chiding him for his own adventures. The proper face Genji showed the world seemed to hide rather a lot. To-no-Chujo had been on the watch for an opportunity to give his friend a little of what he deserved. Now it had come. The sanctimonious one would now be taught a lesson.
It was late, and a chilly wind had come up. Genji had dozed off, it seemed. To-no-Chujo slipped into the room. Too nervous to have more than dozed off, Genji heard him, but did not suspect who it would be. The superintendent of palace repairs, he guessed, was still visiting her. Not for the works would he have the old man catch him in the company of the old woman (Shikibu, 146).
As it turned out, To-no-Chujo leaped from behind the curtain wielding his sword. Both he and Genji whaled out in laughter as they fled the scene, each one leaving behind by accident a piece of their clothing. “Somewhat rumpled, they went off together, the best of friends. But as Genji went to bed he felt that he had been the loser, caught in such a very compromising position” (Shikibu, 147).
In the ninth month of Genji’s eighteenth year the grandmother of Murasaki, the nun of Kitayama, died. Murasaki was the daughter, through concubine, of Prince Hyobu who was both a son of the former emperor and the brother of Fujitsubo. Which explains why she and Fujitsubo look so much alike. Toward the end of winter that year Genji planned to take Murasaki from her home and place her in his Nijo-in to avoid complicating things with her father.
It was Genji’s intention to raise a perfect wife. He convinced Murasaki’s women that his intentions were nothing but noble and ensured that her presence and identity at Nijo-in would be kept a secret. Not even Murasaki knew the identity of the mysterious woman at Nijo-in, nor did she know that she was only ten. Prince Hyobu was led to believe that she and her nurse ran into the country in sorrow over the Grandmother’s death.
The nurse Shonagon apologized to Genji for Murasaki’s childish ways and tried to talk him out of taking her to his home, but Genji was set in his ways.
Must you continue to be so reticent and apologetic? I have made my own feelings very clear, over and over again. It is precisely the childlike quality that delights me most and makes me think I must have her for my own. You may think me complacent and self-satisfied for saying so, but I feel sure that we were joined in a former life. Let me speak to her, please” (Shikibu, 103).
Eventually, after much discussion, Murasaki was taken with Genji back to Nijo-in to live in secrecy for Genji. “You are not to sulk now, and make me unhappy. Would I have done all this for you if I were not a nice man? Young ladies should do as they are told.” And so the lessons began (Shikibu, 109). In other words, if you can’t find one like the men in the “Rainy Night Discussion of Women’s Rank” sought after, raise one.
Soon after Murasaki’s move Fujitsubo fell ill, “heavy with child” she was weakened. It was rumored that she was to be another victim of the Rokujo Lady’s evil spirit. While Genji was visiting her he met her brother, Prince Hyobukyo (father of Murasaki), who was still unsuspecting of his daughters real location.
Soon after this Fujitsubo bore a baby boy to the emperor (or so he thought). Reizei had an incredible resemblance to Genji, but the emperor was sure that it was due to beauty. He stated that all people of incredible beauty must look alike. Genji and Fujitsubo anguished over their sin.
In the seventh month of Genji’s nineteenth year, Fujitsubo became the Empress. This set Fujitsubo and Genji’s son up for the position of Crown Prince (future Emperor).
In the eye’s of the court “they were, Genji and the little prince, like the sun and the moon side by side in the heavens” (Shikibu, 149).
Time pressed on and the tale continued on this very similar route. Grand detail of court life-style, politics, clothing, jealousy and an overwhelming presence of sex for Genji.
When Genji turned twenty-two, his father, Emperor Kiritsubo, abdicated in favor of his eldest son, Suzaku (age 24). In the celebration and procession that followed the Rokujo Lady and Aoi-no-Ue (Genji’s first wife) went into a sort of battle. This battle took the form of a political conflict between their carriage barriers. Each of the men want to get their lady in closer to the line of sight of the new Emperor and General Genji as they pass by in procession. Lady Aoi took the lead position due to her position, while Lady Rokujo demanded the front spot for tenor and loyalty. Aoi won. Genji was angry at Aoi for being jealous. “He was sorry for the Rokujo lady and angry at his wife” (Shikibu, 163). That summer Aoi was attacked by Lady Rokujo’s jealous spirit.
During Lady Aoi’s illness “Genji had been persuaded [through personal guilt] to stop his nocturnal wondering” (Shikibu, 169). She was pregnant with Genji’s boy and after his birth she died. Genji swore to the Minister of the Left that he would not let him down and other political words, but after a brief period of morning he returned to Nijo-in and took Murasaki (age 14- Japanese years) as his wife.
He swore allegiance to Murasaki and promises to never leave her. This, like the lesson about jealous women, was soon forgotten.
Months later, at twenty-three, Genji visited Lady Rokujo at Nonomiya Shrine to question her about her evil spirits. Her power over him was great and at age thirty, Lady Rokujo remained a major player in the life of Genji.
In the eleventh month Genji’s father, former Emperor Kiritsubo died, and with him the protection from enemies that Genji enjoyed did too. Among the Emperor’s last requests were for shelter and protection for his son the Crown Prince. He advised that Genji be the one to be put in charge of his up-bringing. Fitting, since Genji was the real father.
Fujitsubo then became a nun and Genji went to Urin-in Temple to try and forget his love for her. But does not.
I am putting these details in, Dr. Dummas, to emphasis the incredible amount of playing around that Genji got to do. At one point in the story he was nearly raping a girl and said, “There is no use crying out, I am allowed to do whatever I want.” “You must be Genji?” she replied, and they fell silent together. That’s 1000 AD romance.
Genji continued to visit each of his ladies regularly and in keeping with his promise to Murasaki, spent most the time (daytime) with her.
One night he was caught by the Minister of the Right in bed with his daughter. She had been promised to the Crown Prince, Genji’s son, and Genji had “ruined her” (virginity-wise). Moreover, the Minister of the Right was insanely jealous of the Minister of the Left during the reign of Emperor Kiritsubo. Now that he was dead, the Minister of the Right was the one in power and The Left was lower. He was going to use this incident with Genji to get back at the Minister of the Left for years of political pain. Genji must be punished, he thought, and so he planned to drive him into exile.
To avoid further conflict Genji went into self-exile. Of Genji’s character at this point we knew one thing for certain; he loved love, and hated hate. It seemed to be a recurring theme in the text for Genji to avoided conflict. He was protected from it, and avoided what he’s not protected from. He toured around town and visited each of his ladies to tell them he was leaving, then went to say good-bye to Murasaki.
While in Suma, Genji had promised to be true to Murasaki. He couldn’t. Eventually, even on a desolate island, Genji found a woman who begged him to take her in.
Genji dreaded having Murasaki learn of the affair. He still loved her more than anyone, and he did not want her to make even joking reference to it. She was a quiet, docile lady, but she had more than once been unhappy with him. Why, for the sake of brief pleasure, had he caused her pain? (Shikibu, 264)
So it would seem that during exile Genji had learned his lessons and he began to make preparations to return to the city.
In the third month of his twenty-seventh year Genji performed the purification ceremony on the beach at Suma. During his prayers he and his men are struck with an instantaneous fierce storm. His father appeared to him in the hurricane and told him to leave his exile in Suma.
Genji gave a prayer to Sumiyoshi, the God of the sea, to stop the storm. He did. These, non-spectacular conversations with the hundreds of Gods litter the pages of The Tale of Genji and point out, incidentally, how attached the people were supernatural intervention.
The next year, after returning, Genji was promoted to Palace Minister when Emperor Suzaku, his older brother, abdicated in favor of Reizei. Emperor Reizei remember, was thought by the world to be Genji’s brother, but was actually his son by Fujitsubo. None knew this.
Right after that, Akashi-no-Kimi bore the future Empress Akashi to Genji. If you were reading this story straight through, like I was, you would see clearly the foreboding of the Korean fortune teller when Genji was eight, who said Genji would be father to a nation. He was related to or sleeping with everyone or their wife. Genji had his genes in everything.
Time crept on.
While making his rounds to all his women Genji found Lady Rokujo ill. While previously she had forbidden Genji to meet her daughter, now she asked him to take care of her. “Please count her among those who are important to you,” she asked. So Genji went against the wishes of the former Emperor Suzaku (big risk) to take her in as a consort and hid her. He and Fujitsubo planned to give her to Emperor Reizei. In the spring, she is given to Emperor Reizei.
Genji, then in his thirtieth year, began to feel insecure about his continued successes. He decided to build a temple where he would retire from the secular world. Although the temple for him was completed, Genji was not able to retreat from the world so soon.
He had Nijo-in rebuilt also and then invited more of his ladies to the city to live closer to him. Akashi-no-Kimi had recently given birth to a daughter for Genji. She moved to the new house by the Oi river and after revisiting her Genji decided to take his newly born daughter back to his principle residence at Sanjo-in.
When he got there he found Murasaki heart-broken. Now more evidence of his infidelity was living in her house.
When Genji’s temple at Katsura was completed he invited many of his friends there to entertain. Here’s the terrible part. He called on Murasaki, through a messenger, to bring up his new daughter Akashi-no-Himegiimi to show her off. He then called for Akashi-no-Kimi, her mother, to come to Nijo-in to live.
After dealing with the pressure of convincing Murasaki to give in and take care of the child, “as she should”, Genji did bring the Akashi Lady to his palace. Life in the Heian court then returned to Genji’s wanderings, poem exchanges, and nocturnal adventures.
In the spring of Genji’s thirty-second year, Aoi’s father, the Minister of the Left past away. Soon after that Fujitsubo died. “She seemed much younger than her thirty-seven years. It was even sadder, because she was so youthful, that she might be dying. As she had said, it was a dangerous year” (Shikibu, 338).
After that it was only a matter of time before Emperor Reizei learned that he was the son of Fujitsubo and Genji from one of his priests. He then abdicated in favor of Genji, but Genji refused. He tried to make Genji the Prime Minister, but he refused. Only To no Chujo was then promoted to Vice Minister.
When Yugiri became twelve he had his coming of age ceremony. Genji was married at this age, but his son, Yugiri, studied more Chinese and entered the (unnamed) University.
In his thirty-fifth year, Genji’s Rokujo-in was rebuilt. He, Murasaki, Akashi-no-Himegimi, and Empress Akikonomu moved in. This same spring, along with his usually stream of brilliant poetry, Genji sent new clothes to all his ladies.
Poetry, flowers and song were common gifts among friends and lovers, but “poetry was not perhaps what he had the most experience with” (Shikibu, 391). With that in mind, Genji sent off to see them in person.
For the new year Genji exchanged poems of good wishes with Murasaki and told Akashi-no-Himegimi to write some to her mother. Genji then visited each of his ladies to wish them a New Year personally.
He invited the Heian court dancers and poets to Rokujo-in for a New Year’s party. Everyone turned out and it was politics as usual.
The equestrian archery was freer and more varied than at the palace. The officers of the guard joined in, and everyone sat entranced through the afternoon. The women may not have understood all the finer points, but the uniforms of even the common guardsmen were magnificent and the horsemanship was complicated and exciting. The grounds were very wide, fronting also on Murasaki’s Southeast quarter, where young men were watching. There was music and dancing, Chinese polo music and the Korean dragon dance. As the night came on, the triumphal music rang out high and wild. The guardsmen were richly rewarded according to their several ranks. It was late when the assembly dispersed (Shikibu, 419).
This was the year of the parties I guess, since only two months after that
Murasaki had a boating party in her garden.
Murasaki had prepared the floral offerings. She chose eight of her prettiest girls to deliver them, dressing four as birds and four as butterflies. The birds brought cherry blossoms in silver vases, the butterflies yamabuki in gold vases. In wonderfully rich and full bloom, they completed a perfect picture. As the party the hillock to Akikonomu’s end of the lake, a breeze came up to scatter a few cherry petals. The skies were clear and happy, and the little girls were charming in the delicate spring haze (Shikibu, 422-423).
Each of the guests received and gave gifts. “Murasaki had had lavish gifts for her guests too. But I fear that the details would be tiresome” (Shikibu, 423).
It was at his wife’s party that Genji became attracted Tamakazura, the daughter of To-no-Chujo and the Lady of Evening Faces. She was extraordinarily beautiful and “Genji was beginning to think that she was too good to let go” (Shikibu, 425).
That summer Tamakazura received several letters from hopeful suitors. Genji heard of this and in the spirit of sexual competition told her that he was attracted to her, which only embarrassed her. “Since she was not in a position to turn him away, she could only pretend that she did not know what was happening” (Shikibu, 430).
This last passage is important for the feel of the text to the non-reader because it let you know some of the politics that Murasaki Shikibu was living with. She did not criticize or pass judgment, she told us how it was. If you read it again, seeing now the politics that prevented her from speaking out, you can see how incredibly sad it was for the these women to not be able to control even their most private fates. “Since she was not in a position to turn him away, she could only pretend that she did not know what was happening” (Shikibu, 430).
And so the leisure of court life continued. Genji wandered about from lady to lady, according to tradition, and the ladies, including his principle wife, saying nothing. Now that his son, Yugiri, was of age Genji had to be more careful about his presence.
Because Genji had so few children he had plenty of time for the ones his had. Yugiri was becoming a young man fast and Genji started to feel the threat of his manhood creeping up on him. He had to keep Yugiri distant from his ladies as much as possible. Genji feared the friendships Yugiri developed as a youth was growing into something else now that he had discovered women’s “comfort”.
When Genji was thirty-six Yugiri “saw over a low screen that a door was open in the main hall.” He proceeded to hear a woman’s (Murasaki’s) voice and even though he knew he would be trespassing on his father’s ground, stopped to “look at the woman inside. Her noble beauty made him think of wild cherry blooming through the hazes of spring” (Shikibu, 458). Yugiri was in love with his father’s wife. He thought to himself as he dodged his father’s approach that he couldn’t believe to be the son of such a perfect man who could conquer such a perfect woman. “Nowhere could there be a nearer approach to perfection than the two of them” (Shikibu, 459).
That night there was a typhoon. “Great branches were rent from trees with terrifying explosions” (Shikibu, 459). Yugiri, thinking like the Japanese of the time did that the weather was controlled by angry and happy Gods, thought it was because he sinned against his father. The next morning when Genji sent Yugiri to Empress Akikonomu’s to find out if there was any damage over there he was happy to go on the errand to show his loyalty. As the mother of Genji’s best-friend/rival, To-no-Chujo, Empress Akikonomu was expecting To-no-Chujo to come to protect her in the storm. His absence heightened her opinion of Genji for his concern. Genji liked this since he and To-no-Chujo were always at odds.
Remember Tamakazura? It is not for two years that Genji finally decided to tell To-no-Chujo that she was his daughter. A month after that Genji arranged for the two to meet at her coming of age ceremony.
By this time Yugiri had fallen deeply in love with her. Genji loved her too but wanted a better life for her than as one of his ladies and so decided not to pursue her any more. She received several letters from even more suitors than had courted her two years ago, but only responded to Prince Hotaru’s poems. In vain.
The next several years of Genji’s life went by as usual as we observed Tamakazura’s inability to control her own fate.
First General Higekuro managed to take her in as a consort, to which she could not object. Higekuro’s principle wife, Kita-no-kata, lit and threw incense at him when she heard he was going to see her. Incense was often burned to ward off evil spirits so this was not only the proverbial throwing of the breakable vase at the husband but also a gesture of calling him an evil spirit. Their marriage was not a model one.
Higekuro was the crown prince’s maternal uncle, lower in the royal esteem only than Genji and To-no-Chujo. In his early thirties, he was married to the eldest daughter of Prince Hyobu and so was Murasaki’s brother-in-law. It need not have been cause for embarrassment that his wife was three or four years his senior, but for some reason he had never been really fond of her. He called her “the old woman” and would have been happy enough to divorce her (Shikibu, 488-489).
Kita-no-Kata’s father then took her back into his house along with the children. This gesture seems more familiar to contemporary marital affairs than any of the rest of the book suggests. One might be able to better explore how common this was if the use of the language wasn’t so restricted at the time this was penned. The texts at the time were written to be read aloud in court for entertainment. Even in a written language that was almost exclusively female the writers would have to write in a way to be accepted orally. Men would not have liked to hear about women acting out against them, so it does not show up often. It would be interesting to know if it happened more often though, then we’d know more about the oppression of women then and some of motivation Murasaki Shikibu had for writing in this style.
Anyway, General Higekuro was soon pressured by the Emperor to turn Tamakazura over to him as consort. This did not last long, General Higekuro soon took her back to his home.
That winter Tamakazura bore a baby boy to either the Emperor or Higekuro, we are not told which.
This began the time of resolution in the novel. To-no-Chujo began to be less disapproving of Yugiri. At the one year memorial service of Omiya he permitted Yugiri to marry his daughter Kumoi-no-Kari. Later that month Akashi no Himegimi entered court as a consort to the Crown Prince. His daughter by Akashi is consort to his brother’s son. Cousin connection were not looked upon as odd, they would actually be tools to build political power in Heian Japan (Bargen, 117). After this, Akashi-no-Kimi (Himegimi’s mother) met Murasaki, who had raised her daughter, for the first time.
That autumn Genji was promoted to the exalted position of retired Emperor and To-no-Chujo was made Prime Minister. Winter came and Emperor Reizei, Genji’s son through his secret love for Fujitsubo, and former Emperor Suzaku, Genji’s brother, came for an official visit to Genji’s palace at Rokujo. It was Genji’s fortieth birthday, and the Emperor’s gift to him was his daughter, Onna-san-no-Miya (age 14), who just had her coming of age ceremony. The next day Former Emperor Genji told Murasaki of his new wife.
That was the end of the resolution period. Murasaki’s sorrow was answered in turn by evil possession for Genji’s love of Onna-san-no-Miya. At a football (soccer/volley-ball) game at Rokujo-in To-no-Chujo’s son, Kashiwagi sees Genji’s new wife for the first time and was in love before he could stop looking. Remember now that the ladies are supposed to be kept covered, so him “seeing” her implies a predisposition to wrong doing on his part.
Years later Emperor Reizei abdicated in favor of Emperor Suzaku’s son, the Crown Prince. His son with Akashi-no-Himegimi now became the new Crown Prince.
Murasaki became very ill in Genji’s forty-seventh year. In the confusion caused by her illness, and due to Genji’s renewed pledge to loyalty, Kashiwagi was able to visit with Onna-san-no-Miya. He then takes her eldest sister, Ochiba-no-Miya, as his wife so he could stay closer to Onna-san.
With Murasaki not getting any better, Genji moved her to Nijo-in to see if the new scenery would heal her. He and Akashi-no-Himegimi stayed there to take of care.
Onna-san-no-Miya was pregnant by this time from her visitor last year and Genji found a letter in her room confirming the identity of the father. But before Genji could confront him Kashiwagi gets deathly ill from guilt. A guilt that Genji had avoided feeling for forty-eight years. Still on his death bed, Kashiwagi sent Onna-san-no-Miya love letters. His wife, her sister, apparently out of the picture at this point, does not show up again the tale.
Onna-san-no-Miya bore, Kaoru, a strong boy for Genji, but he was Kashiwagi’s. Then she too fell ill from the labors of child birth and guilt over betrayal of her husband. Former Emperor Suzaku came and granted her position as a nun. This would absolve her of her sins according to their Shinto/Buddhist beliefs.
When Kashiwagi died his last request was to Genji’s son Yugiri. He asked him to intercede with Genji about his anger but does not reveal to Yugiri why, so he died without absolution of his sins (see reading on Buddhist reincarnation).
Genji fumed for a year, but after his forty-ninth birthday he had a change of heart and supported the one-year memorial service of Kashiwagi. Murasaki, still sick from years ago, pled with Genji to become a nun. “This summer she was near prostration. Though there were no marked symptoms and though there was none of the unsightliness that usually goes along with emancipation, she was progressively weaker” (Shikibu, 715). Murasaki was dying, and her ladies knew it.
To Genji “the numbing grief made the world itself seem like a twilight dream” (Shikibu, 718). He made the decision to renounce the secular world once again, but again failed. In the end we find Genji silently reading through the hundreds of letter and poems of love and apology he had written to Murasaki.
As Genji saddened over his sins against his love he slowly burned each of the letters he wrote her. To the Japanese, the ashes of paper rise to the heavens to join the souls of the people in the afterlife. That’s why you’ll see paper boats and food being burned at funerals and memorials. It is not clear here, however, if Genji was burning the letters so they could be with Murasaki, or so he could escape the guilt they represented.
At fifty-two “the shining Genji was dead, and there was no one quite like him” (Shikibu, 735).