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Posts Tagged ‘genji monogatari’


The New York Times is a bit behind the times, as usual, when it comes to articles on Japanese culture. I was in Kyoto & Uji back in May, seven months ago, and celebrations relating to the supposed 1000th anniversary of the Tale of Genji had been in full swing for months… and only now does the Times put out an article on the subject.

Still, it’s a pretty nice introduction to the Genji, and a peek at a few of the things that were going on in the Kyoto area last year in celebration, along with some nice but not stunning photos. It is a shame they didn’t publish this earlier, it being a Travel section. It would have been good info for tourists to help them plan a trip to Kyoto during the festivities, though it is too late now.

Across Japan, the anniversary has been marked by music festivals, parades, a chrysanthemum-doll competition and a hairstyle show featuring looks popular in Lady Murasaki’s time. In Kyoto, the festivities have included “Genji”-themed poetry readings, moon-viewings and even performance art, which I have chosen.

A walk through central Kyoto in November underscored the novel’s lasting power. Posters of the ingénue Yuki Shibamoto, the face of the national celebration, gazed from windows in office buildings and bridal shops. At the Museum of Kyoto, visitors inspected illustrated scrolls and painted screens from across the centuries depicting Genji’s exploits, and they walked out with playing cards and refrigerator magnets bearing images of Japan’s own Casanova.

(Photo at the top of the page my own. Taken in Uji Station.)

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How fortunate, what a lucky chance, that in this, the 1000th anniversary of the year generally accepted as that in which Murasaki Shikibu completed her epic Genji monogatari, a version of the text older and more complete than any before uncovered should turn up.

Here’s the article at the Asahi Shinbun’s English website: Discovery of ‘Genji’ text causes a stir. I was hoping that the International Herald Tribune would carry the story, as they so often do Asahi stories, since the Asahi does an atrocious job of keeping online archives of their articles accessible.

But, moving on. As the article says, the Tale of the Genji, oft claimed to be the first example of a “novel” in world history, and easily one of the most famous, most well-known, if not most widely-read classics of Japanese literature, is currently only known from versions written in the Kamakura and Muromachi periods, and later, centuries after the original was completed. Even the earliest of these is believed (and now, I suppose, known) to contain a great many edits and changes from the original. Indeed, the version which we now know is believed by many scholars (though many disagree) to be incomplete.

This new discovery, dated to the mid-Kamakura period (so, mid-13th century), does not solve all the mysteries or provide all the answers. In fact, I’d imagine it raises more questions than it answers. It does contain many bits missing from later versions.

I’ve never read the Genji (I’d have to read it in translation; that’s a great undertaking as is), though it is on my list (a very long list it is, though, I must admit). I’m curious to see what more comes out of this discovery. I hope that I have the fortune to be informed as to developments in the research.

Another article about another recently discovered Genji manuscript, from Sankei News: 鎌倉後期の源氏物語写本見つかる (10 March 2008).

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