AboutThe Tale of Genji in the Twenty-first Century
The Tale of Genji (Genji-monogatari), written by a court lady, Murasaki Shikibu, is the product of an aristocrats culture that flourished during the eleventh century at the height of the Heian Period (794-1192) in Japan. It is not only one of the great achievements of Heian culture, but also of Japanese literature as a whole. Recognized as one of the oldest novels in the world, it is concerned with the life and loves of Prince Genji and the affairs of his children and grandchildren. It is written in a prose style, with a vocabulary of more than 12,000 words, with nearly 800 embedded poems.
The Tale of Genji has been narrated and read in a variety of forms for over one thousand years. Today, many Japanese read at least some parts of the story from several modern Japanese translations. It has been studied intensively as well and more than a hundred articles and books on it are published every year. The text is well known outside Japan. Since Arthur Waley's fine English translation of 1925, it has been published in more than thirty different languages.
In the twelfth century, picture scrolls of the story delighted the aristocracy. In the seventeenth century, during the Edo Era, books of woodcut prints were produced and captured the imaginations of ordinary people.
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the Internet version created for the UNESCO website is reaching out to each one of us. Please enjoy it to your heart's content.
(Mari Nagase) The woodcuts of Harumasa Yamamoto
Paintings concerning the Tale of Genji appeared in the twelfth century, first as picture scrolls and illustrated books. Later, in the Kamakura and Muromachi Eras, scenes from the story were painted on folding screens, folding fans and furniture. In the Edo Era, wooden engraving became popular. In 1650, Harumasa Yamamoto (1610 - 82), who was a distinguished worker in gold lacquer, published a sixty-volume woodcut printed book of the Tale of Genji, which was composed of 227 paintings and his own edited text.
Themes of his paintings were obviously adapted from the various artifacts that the Tale of Genji had inspired over hundreds of years. One can also trace back a strong influence to the paintings of Ise-monogatari, produced a few decades before Harumasa's. But the fact that Yamamoto's great artistic techniques exceeded his predecessors' is reflected in each graphic detail. Known as a poet and a specialist of the classics, he published a sixty-volume "Lists of synonymous phrases" and proofread manuscripts of "Man-yo-shu."
(Taken from the notes by Nobutaka Takada & Toshio Ikeda, "Report of the Library of Tsurumi University", No.85)