The Tale of Genji
by Murasaki Shikibu

Synopsis

This synopsis will contain spoilers!

The Emperor (the Kiritsubo Emperor) begins to favor a particular intimate (Kiritsubo) more than all others, in spite of her lack of rank or nobility. She gives birth to Genji. At the age of 3, Genji's mother passes away. Suzaku (son of the Kokiden Consort), the Emperor's eldest son, is named Heir Apparent even though Genji is his favorite. Genji is made a commoner (given the name Minamoto) and removed from imperial lineage. Fujitsubo becomes the consort of the Emperor at 16. I will not mention it again, but Genji is constantly referred to as being extremely handsome and beautiful, and is referred to as Shining Genji, at times.

At 12 Genji marries Aoi, sister of Tō no ChÅ«jō. At 17, Genji and his friends discuss their ideal woman, especially the desire to find a jewel hidden away somewhere. Genji also reflects, internally, on how to him Fujitsubo is the ideal woman. Next, Genji comes across Utsusemi, but she refuses to give in to his demands repeatedly. In the summer, Genji comes across YÅ«gao, the young woman who Tō no ChÅ«jō said was his "jewel". She and Tō no ChÅ«jō have a baby daughter, but he no longer visits her. Genji sleeps with her, and takes her away to his home. A spirit kills her in the night. Utsusemi leaves the city with her husband.

Genji (18) hears Suetsumuhana play her kin and he gets his first look at Murasaki (who looks strikingly like Fujitsubo). Genji sleeps with Fujitsubo, getting her pregnant. He later meets Suetsumuhana in person, only to discover she is extremely unattractive (she has a giant, red nose) and is old-fashioned. After Murasaki's grandmother dies, Genji kidnaps her and takes her to his home where he begins to care for her (she's still very young).

Fujitsubo gives birth to Reizei, Genji's son (though the Emperor thinks it is his son). Later that year Fujitsubo becomes Empress. The next year Genji (20) sleeps with Oborozukiyo for the first time, and then again a month or so later. In Genji's 21st year, his father steps down, Suzaku becomes Emperor and Rezei is appointed Heir Apparent. Suzaku's mother and Genji's enemy, the Kokiden consort, is now very powerful politically.

When Genji is 22, his wife Aoi becomes pregnant. She gives birth to a boy, YÅ«giri, but then dies afterwards. Even though Genji was never particularly fond of Aoi, he mourns her intensely when she is gone (at her Father's house). After returning home after mourning Aoi, Genji consummates his marriage with Murasaki. She seems slightly perturbed.

Meanwhile, the Rokujō Haven has taken her daughter to be the priestess of Ise. When Genji is 23, his father dies. Oborozukiyo becomes Mistress of Staff for Suzaku in Genji's 24th year, and Fujitsubo becomes a nun. This upsets Genji. When Genji is 25, Aoi's father resigns as Minster of the Left. Oborozukiyo is at home, due to feeling ill, and Genji visits her frequently. This is particularly bad because her status as Mistress of the Staff effectively makes her a consort or intimate for Suzaku. They get caught, however, and due to pressure from the Kokiden consort, Genji exiles himself to Suma in order to avoid a worse fate.

While in exile, Genji encounters a vicious storm and a dream encouraging him to leave Suma. He does so, heading to Akashi, where he meets the Akashi Priest (the Novice) and his wife and daughter (Akashi). He sleeps with Akashi, and gets her pregnant. Back at the City, Suzaku get ill and begins to feel guilty over Genji's exile (he had promised their father he would provide for Genji) and so he calls Genji back out of exile. He is given the title of Acting Grand Counselor. He is now 28.

The next year, after Reizei comes of age, Suzaku abdicates making Reizei the new Emperor. Suzaku's son (with the Shōkyōden Consort) becomes Heir Apparent. Akashi then gives birth to a girl. When the Rokujō Haven returns from Ise with Akikonomu (her daughter), she is very ill so she asks Genji to provide for her daughter. Genji agrees, and then the Rokujō Haven dies. When Genji is 31, he outmaneuvers Tō no Chūjō to make Akikonomu a consort for Reizei. Later in the year, the Akashi Lady leaves the country with her daughter (who Genji has received a prophecy will become and Empress) and moves near the city. Genji goes to visit her and convinces her to allow Murasaki to raise their daughter as her own.

Genji is 32. Aoi's father dies, then Fujitsubo becomes sick and dies. After Fujitsubo dies, a monk reveals to Reizei that Genji is actually his father. After learning this, Reizei hints to Genji that he should abdicate so that Genji can rule. Genji, however, wants to live his life at leisure, without the pressure of court, and so he declines.

When Genji is 33, Yūgiri comes of age, but Genji embarrasses by giving him only the sixth rank. He has a precocious sexual relationship with his cousin, Kumoi no Kari (Tō no Chūjō's daughter), and Tō no Chūjō separates them upon finding out. Yūgiri feels bitter because he thinks his low rank is the reason he's not worthy of Kumoi no Kari. Meanwhile, Reizei makes Akikonomu Empress.

Genji, 35, completes his Rokujō estate. He has Hanachirusato, Suetsumuhana, Murasaki, and later Akashi move there, each in separate homes. Tamakazura, the lost daughter of Yūgao, moves to the City. Genji discovers her and brings her to Rokujō (to live with Hanachirusato) where he starts raising her as a daughter.

In Genji's 36th year, there are lots of parties at the Rokujō estate. Numerous men start courting Tamakazura, and Genji gives into temptation and tries to court her as well. Meanwhile, Tō no Chūjō, still unaware of Tamakazura's existence, accepts another lost child of his from Ōmi. She is humorously crass and uncivilized. For the first time in his life, Yūgiri sees Murasaki, and is impressed with her beauty. He understands why Genji would work so hard to hide her from even his son.

Genji (37) lets Tō no Chūjō know that Tamakazura is at Rokujō. Ōmiya (Tō no Chūjō's mother) dies. In spite of plans to send Tamakazura to the palace, she marries Higekuro. This makes Higekuro's current wife furious (she dumps a container of ashes on his head in protest). Tamakazura still goes to the palace, but for a shorter time, and not as a consort, as would have been the case originally. The next year, she gives birth to a son.

Genji is now 39. This year, Tō no Chūjō finally gives in to Yūgiri's longing for Kumoi no Kari, and he allows the two to marry. Later, Genji's daughter enters the palace where her mother (the Akashi Lady) joins her. This also provides the opportunity for the Akashi Lady and Murasaki to meet for the first time. Though they have reason to be jealous of each other, they find respect for each other and become friends over time. Genji now has the rank of a Retired Emperor. At the end of the year, Suzaku becomes a monk, leaves the City, and entrusts the future of his third (and favorite) daughter (Onna no Miya) to Genji.

Early the next year Genji (40) moves Onna no Miya to Rokujō and marries her. This disappoints Murasaki (who believes she won't live up to Onna no Miya's imperial rank). There are a lot of celebrations for Genji's 40th year. When he's 41, his daughter gives birth to a boy. During a party at Rokujō, Kashiwagi (Tō no Chūjō's oldest son) sees Onna no Miya and falls for her.

4 years pass, then Reizei steps down, Suzaku's son takes over, and Genji's (46) grandson (the son of the Consort) is made Heir Apparent. Murasaki, however, becomes ill and Genji (47) takes her to his home at Nijo. He spends a lot of time there with her, ignoring his wife Onna no Miya. Kashiwagi (who had just married Suzaku's second daughter Ochiba), meanwhile, is able to sleep with her and she becomes pregnant with his child. This upsets Onna no Miya intensely, but Genji takes this as she is upset he has not been there to visit her. Murasaki seems to be getting better, so he spends some time with Onna no Miya. Murasaki appears to die, but then the spirit of the Rokujō Haven is expelled from her, and she returns to life. Kashiwagi gets sick over guilt of having betrayed Genji and slept with Onna no Miya.

Onna no Miya gives birth the next year to a son (Kaoru) and then immediately becomes a nun to deal with her own guilt. Kashiwagi dies from his guilt induced sickness. Genji is 48. Nothing much else happens in Genji's 48th, 49th, or 50th years. When Genji is 51, Murasaki weakens considerably, but Genji will not allow her to become a nun (because he wants to enter religion, but won't for the sake of Murasaki). She soon dies. The next year, Genji(52) prepares to take his vows. There is a gap of 8 years and a completely blank chapter ("Vanished into the Clouds"). The title implies Genji's death. During this time Tō no ChÅ«jō, Higekuro, Suzaku and Hotaru die as well.

From this point forward, the story follows Kaoru (14), the son of Kashiwagi and Onna no Miya. From 14 to 21, life is pretty uneventful for Kaoru. We are introduced to Niou, the Third Prince of the Consort and the current Emperor and the favorite of Murasaki, who is both friends and rivals with Kaoru (much like Genji and Tō no Chūjō once were).

Kaoru (22) goes to visit Hachi no Miya (the Eighth Prince) in Uji. He is a holy layman who Kaoru visits to improve his own religious endeavors. Kaoru wants to leave the world and enter religion. While there, he sees Hachi no Miya's two daugthers, ÅŒigimi (24) and Naka no Kimi (22). He falls in love with ÅŒigimi and begins to court her. He also learns from Ben, a gentlewoman, that he is really Kashiwagi's son, and not Genji's. Over the next year, Kaoru continues to visit Hachi no Miya, and Niou sends letters to Naka no Kimi to court her. Later in the year, Hachi no Miya dies, but not before asking Kaoru to provide for his daughters. He also intimates he should marry one (or both) of them. With this encouragement, Kaoru tells ÅŒigimi how he feels, but she rejects him.

Kaoru (24) learns that the Emperor wants him to marry his second princess, but he still wants to marry ÅŒigimi. He continues to try to court her, but she rejects him. He does not force the situation. Niou, meanwhile, sleeps with Naka no Kimi. The two men continue to visit and write, but ÅŒigimi falls ill. She dies near the end of the year, and Kaoru is heartbroken.

Niou brings Naka no Kimi back with him to the City. She is soon pregnant. Naka no Kimi wishes to be back at Uji, and asks Kaoru (25) to take her back. He refuses, but not before Niou starts to suspect that they are involved. Kaoru falls for her, because he wants to replace ÅŒigimi, but he does not act on his desires. Towards the end of the year, Kaoru learns from Naka no Kimi and Ben about Ukifune - a third, but unrecognized, daughter of Hachi no Miya.

Kaoru (26) marries the Second Princess. While visiting Uji to oversee the construction of a temple there, Kaoru has the opportunity to spy on Ukifune. Meanwhile, Ukifune's plan to marry her to Lieutenant fails, and so she sends Ukifune to Naka no Kimi (her half-sister). Naka no Kimi encourages Kaoru to marry her (so as to get the attention off of her), and Kaoru decides to pursue her since she so closely resembles ÅŒigimi. One night while at Naka no Kimi's, Niou finds her and attempts to seduce her. Kaoru learns of this and moves her to Uji.

Some time passes, and Niou eventually finds Ukifune at Uji. He sleeps with her, pretending to be Kaoru (27 - who has not slept with her), but in the morning the truth is discovered. Kaoru sees some letters between Ukifune and Niou, discovering that they are having an affair. In order to stop him, Kaoru posts guards at Uji. They succeed in preventing Niou from returning to her. Overcome with guilt, and trauma of being caught between the two men, Ukifune decides to drown herself. She disappears, and a funeral is held without her body.

The Prelate of Yokawa finds Ukifune, weeping and near death, when he is forced to stop to rest at Uji when his mother (in her 80s) begins to feel ill. He returns her to his mother's home, where his sister takes her in to replace her own dead daughter. Niou and Kaoru mourn Ukifune, believing she is dead. The Prelate is able to exorcise a spirit of a monk from Ukifune, and she begins to recover. However, she does not want to reveal her past to the Prelate's sister. Ukifune begs the Prelate to make her into a nun to make dealing with Kaoru and Niou easier or less likely. The Prelate meets with the Empress and tells her about Ukifune.

Kaoru (28) meets with the Empress, and she tells him that Ukifune is still alive. He then goes and speaks with the Prelate, who confirms what the Empress has told him. Kaoru sends a note to Ukifune, and then her half-brother, but she refuses to meet with him. He grieves his loss and the rejection yet again.

Reviews

The Tale of Genji - Paperback

There is so much to say about The Tale of Genji, that it's ridiculous to even pretend like I can get everything in during this small critique. I'll ...

- July 25, 2010

Quotes

"How true it is that bitter experience yields fond memories!"

Murasaki Shikibu in The Tale of Genji

"In a certain reign (whose can it have been?) someone of no very great rank, among all His Majesty's Consorts and Intimates, enjoyed exceptional favor."

Murasaki Shikibu the First Line of The Tale of Genji

"That appears to be what is in the book."

Murasaki Shikibu the Last Line of in The Tale of Genji

Originally Published Jan. 1, 1021

Paperback edition:

1182 pages - Nov. 26, 2002

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