Support the news

The Tale of Genji45:42
Download

Play
Ukiyo-e triptych print, a joint work of Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) and Utagawa Hiroshige, identified as a modern version of the Tale of Genji in snow scenes. (Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)
Ukiyo-e triptych print, a joint work of Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) and Utagawa Hiroshige, identified as a modern version of the Tale of Genji in snow scenes. (Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

The story goes that a thousand years ago, Japanese imperial lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu, sat down in the moonlight of a temple outside Kyoto and began to write. Her great tale — of love and longing and court intrigue — is often called the world's first novel. In Japan, they’ve been celebrating its thousandth anniversary.

The story's complex hero: the “Shining Genji,” the impossibly beautiful, highly amorous son of the emperor of Japan and a lowly concubine. In Japan, he’s still a heartthrob. The book, a classic. Its insights, as fresh as a thousand-year birthday.

This hour, On Point: Inside “The Tale of Genji.”

You can join the conversation. Do you know this Japanese classic tale of an imperial Don Juan? Are you ready to recognize familiar human psychology in a tale from far away and a thousand years ago? Share your thoughts.

Guests:

Joining us from Pasadena, Calif., is Lynne Miyake. She is a professor of Japanese, Asian and Women’s studies at Pomona College, and a scholar of the “Tale of Genji” and the life of its author.

And from Berkeley, Calif., is Liza Dalby, a novelist and cultural anthropologist. She's the author of “The Tale of Murasaki,” a historical novel about the life of Murasaki Shikibu, the woman who wrote “The Tale of Genji.”

More links:

The text of Royall Tyler's English translation of "The Tale of Genji," the version read by our guests on this show, is available online at Google Books, along with his introduction.  Another well-known English translation, by Edward G. Seidensticker, is available online here.

This program aired on February 6, 2009.

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news