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The Tale of Genji: Chapters 18 – 20

It has been a long time since I last picked up The Tale of Genji, but I am not going to let it defeat me! Six months may have passed since I last made the effort to read it, but I have promised myself that I will finish it and so although my progress may be slow, I will get there in the end!

Chapter 18: Wind in the Pines

Genji has just finished building the east pavilion of his Nijo mansion and brought the lady Falling Flowers to live there. He has reserved the east wing for Lady Akashi, but she is reluctant to move in as she is worried about her low position within the aristocracy. Lady Akashi has decided to live in an old property in Oi, owned by her father. Eager to visit her, Genji decides to build a retreat on a plot of land that happens to be nearby.

There he sees his three-year-old daughter for the first time:

The girl was a little shy with him at first, being so small, but she soon came round, and the more she snuggled up to him, chattering and laughing, the more exquisitely lovely she became.

Genji is keen to bring his daughter back to Nijo and discusses the possibility with Murasaki. She is reluctant at first, but she loves children and agrees to look after her.

Chapter 19: Wisps of Cloud

Genji tells Lady Akashi of his plans to bring their daughter back to Nijo. Lady Akashi is distraught, but agrees that it is the best thing for their child.

Genji returns one snowy day and takes his daughter back to Nijo where she is well looked after, but homesick.

In the New Year His Excellency the Chancellor dies, as does the Imperial Lady Fujitsubo. Genji is stricken with grief and withdraws to the chapel in tears.

Chapter 20: The Bluebell

The Asagao princess resigns as Kamo priestess after the death of her father. Genji has been interested in her for a long time, so goes to pay a visit.

Murasaki hears of Genji’s interest in Princess Asagao and is worried about losing her position.

One snowy day Genji talks to Murasaki about the princess, but that night the Lady Fujitsubo appears to him in a dream, cross at him for his discussion.

Thoughts on reading Genji

It took me a long time to get used to reading Genji again. My progress was painfully slow at first, as I had forgotten much of what I’d already read. I had to spend a long time reacquainting myself with the plot, the characters and the writing style. Now that I’ve made the effort to read and understand these three chapters I am going to try to ensure that I keep on reading Genji. Hopefully I’ll make it to the end sometime soon!

I know that several of you were also reading The Tale of Genji. Have you given up?

Are you planning to read The Tale of Genji?

Really Old Classics

The Tale of Genji: Chapters 14 – 17

Matthew is hosting a read along for The Tale of Genji. This week I have been studying the different translations and have come to realise that my Royall Tyler translation is the hardest to understand. 

Compare these paragraphs, all taken from the beginning of Chapter 14.

Unable to forget that almost too vivid dream of his father and wanting somehow to lighten the penance, Genji immediately set about plans for a reading of the Lotus Sutra. It was to be in the Tenth Month. Everyone at court helped with the arrangements. The spirit of cooperation was as before Genji fell into disfavor. ~ Globusz Publishing translation

Genji well remembered the dream which he had dreamt at Suma, and in which his father, the late ex-Emperor. and had made a faint allusion to his fallen state. He was always thinking of having solemn service performed for him, which might prove to be a remedy for evils.  ~ Kencho Suematsu translation

Genji thought of His Late Eminence often after that clear dream, and he sorrowfully wished somehow to save him from the sins that had brought him so low. Once he was back in the City, he quickly prepared to do so, and in the tenth month he held a Rite of the Eight Discourses. All the world bowed to his wishes, as it had done before.  ~ Royall Tyler translation


Which version do you find easiest to understand?

I have only just discovered the Globusz Publishing translation, but am finding it the easiest to follow. I think I might try to read the rest of the book using this translation.

Chapter 14

The Akashi lady gives birth to Genji’s first daughter. Genji and Fujitsubo’s son becomes emperor and Genji is reminded of the fortuneteller’s prophecy:

“You will have three children,” a fortuneteller had once told him. “Two of them are certain to become emperor and empress. The least of the three will become chancellor, the most powerful man in the land.” The whole of the oracle seemed by way of coming true.

Genji makes a pilgrimage to Sumiyoshi shrine, and it appears that his lick is changing, but then on his return to Kyoto the Rokujo lady falls ill and dies.

Chapter 15
The Safflower lady has fallen on hard times and her house is deteriorating. Genji goes to rescue her from the terrible conditions.

Chapter 16
Genji goes on a pilgrimage to Ishiyama. He meets the Hitachi Governor on the way, who is travelling in a set of coaches with his wife, Utsusemi. They reminisce about old times, but the Hitachi Governor is more worried about his sons mistreating his wife when he dies.

Chapter 17
Genji and Fujitsubo try to send Akikonomu to court, to strengthen Genji’s position, but in the end he quietly withdraws her. They all discuss art a lot in this chapter and hold a painting contest.

Really Old Classics

The Tale of Genji: Chapters 10 – 13

Matthew is hosting a read along for The Tale of Genji. This week I have read chapters 10 – 13. I am finally getting used to reading The Tale of Genji. I have established a pattern for reading, which first involves reading a summary of each chapter, so I have a rough idea of what is going on. I then read the chapter, going back to read the footnotes at the end.

I have also found this summary of The Tale of Genji, where each chapter is represented in the form of a painting. I can almost say that I am enjoying reading the book now!

Genji is still sleeping with every woman in sight, but we are also beginning to get a bigger picture of what life was like for them, and a feeling that not everyone is happy he is sleeping around!

Chapter 10

Genji’s father dies and everyone is stricken with grief.

It goes without saying that everyone was profoundly moved to see Genji, the most brilliant presence among all his father’s Princes, so devotedly perform the memorial rites. His beauty was perfect even in drab mourning.

Kokiden’s son becomes the Suzaku Emperor. Genji is then caught sleeping with Oborozukiyo again and so Kokiden decides to plot his downfall.

She could not have Genji pointedly mocking and belittling her by brazenly invading her house while she herself was at home, so nearby, and this gave her a fine reason to set in train the measures to accomplish his downfall.

Chapter 11

Genji has an affair with Reikeiden and her sister Hanachirusato.

Chapter 12

Genji feels the “mounting unpleasantness” after being caught sleeping with Oborozukiyo and so decides to travel to Suma. On the way he visits his father-in-law and he spends some time with his young son, Yugiri, who makes him cry. While he is away he write love letters to all the women but Murasaki is the one he misses most.

Chapter 13

A storm brews and Genji is miserable in Suma. He dreams of his father, who instructs him to leave Suma. Genji impregnates the Akashi lady. The Emperor summons Genji and he is reunited with Murasaki.

Really Old Classics

The Tale of Genji: Chapters 5 – 9

Matthew is hosting a read along for The Tale of Genji.  This week we have read chapters 5 – 9.

I am still finding The Tale of Genji very hard to read. It is a real chore, and I have a feeling of dread whenever I know it is time to pick it up again. I admit that I sometimes cannot follow what is going on without referring to the online study guides. Sometimes the meaning hinges on one sentence, or even a single word, and I often don’t pick up on these things until I read about them afterwards.

I am getting a much better feel for who everyone is now, and Matthew’s chart has helped with this immensely. I can’t say I know who everyone is, but I’m getting there!

Here is a brief summary of what happens in chapters 5 – 9.

Chapter 5

Genji becomes ill and so goes to find a holy man in the mountains in the hope of being cured. While he is there he spots a beautiful young girl, Murasaki. Even though she is only ten-years-old Genji decides that he must have her as a wife, and so takes her into his care until she becomes old enough to be married.

Chapter 6

Genji is still sad after the loss of Yugao, and longs to find someone else  who is: 

…dear and sweet, with no great name to uphold and with whom he need never feel required to be on his best behaviour!

He hears about the shy princess, Suetsumuhana, living in the mountains and so predictably he decides to woo her, and sends her a series of notes.

Chapter 7

The Emperor shows off his new son, and is pleased that he looks so much like Genji did as a baby. The Emperor doesn’t realise that the Genji is actually the baby’s father.

Chapter 8

Genji sleeps with Oborozukiyo, the younger sister of Kokiden, the wife of the Emperor.

Chapter 9

The Emperor abdicates, and his son, Suzaku, (son of Kokiden) becomes the new Emperor. This leads to Genji having a rise in rank by being appointed Commander of the Right, and so having an escort of eight guards at all times.

Genji’s wife Aoi becomes pregnant, and they have a son named Yugiri, but Aoi becomes very ill after the birth and dies a few days later. Genji is devastated, but after a short period of mourning he has sex with the now fifteen year-old Murasaki.

Can you understand what is going on without outside help?

Are you still struggling to follow it, or have you got the hang of it now?

Really Old Classics

The Tale of Genji – First Impressions

Matthew is hosting a read along for The Tale of Genji. In this first week we have read chapters 1 – 4, so in this post I will try to summarise my first impressions of the book.genji2

I was right to be apprehensive about reading The Tale of Genji. It isn’t that it is long, as I often enjoy books with a longer, more complicated plot; or that the language is hard to read, because I have found it no more difficult than many modern books. The thing that makes it so difficult is that the world this book is set in is so different to the one we live in today. The structure of the society is completely alien to me, and so even simple things like who the Emperor can take as his wife need careful explaining.

Footnotes fill the bottom of every page, and I am finding them very distracting. They ruin the flow of the narrative and so I have decided to ignore them on the first reading, going back to read them all at the end of each chapter. This means I am effectively having to read the whole book twice, but I think this is necessary at the moment, as I am struggling to remember who’s who and understand the complex structure of the society.


Chapter One

Genji, the central character in the book, is the son of the Emperor. His mother was very low ranking and dies when he is just three-years-old. Genji is beautiful and very talented, and the Emperor longs to make him his Heir Apparent, over first born son, but knows the court will not stand for this. So the Emperor gives him a gives him a surname, so making him a commoner. At the age of twelve Genji marries Aoi.

Chapter Two

Chapter Two is much more conversational;, and we start to get a better feeling for the attitudes of the characters, especially their thoughts on women. Several of the men (I haven’t quite grasped who they are yet!) discuss their lovers. We also find out a bit more about the structure of their homes – I loved finding out some of the domestic details:

…the place is nice and cool – he recently diverted the stream through his property

The chapter ends with Genji  hiring a young boy as a messenger. I was a bit confused by the final paragraph of this section:

Genji had the boy lie down with him. The boy so appreciated his master’s youth and gentleness that they say Genji found him much nicer than his cruel sister.

Is this a sexual sentence? Does it imply Genji slept with the boy and his sister?

Chapter Three

I loved seeing the game of Go mentioned. When I was at school I competed in several Go tournaments, and actually won a few trophies. I love playing Go, but unfortuanetly no one will play me any more, as I always win!


Genji wants to seduce one woman, but she resists and runs off leaving Genji holding her outer robe. Genji tries to break into her room, but accidentally ends up in the room of someone else. He pretends that he did it on purpose and ends up spending the night with her instead.

Chapter Four

Genji goes to visit his dying nursemaid and spots a beautiful woman in a nearby house. They exchange a few notes until finally Genji manages to meet her. They spend the night together only for Genji to wake up in the morning and find her dead beside him.


Overall the beginning of The Tale of Genji  has been quite a challenge for me. I still have no idea who 3/4 of the characters are, or how they relate to each other. I hope everything just falls in to place soon, and perhaps some other members of the read-along will shed some light on a few things I have missed. It looks as though Genji is just seducing every woman in sight at the moment. I hope he calms down a bit soon!

How are you finding the read-along?

Do you know who everyone is?

What has been the hardest aspect of reading the book?

Other Really Old Classics

Tale of Genji – Read Along

I wish to apologise in advance for the number of Tale of Genji posts about to descend on this blog.

Matthew is hosting a read along for The Tale of Genji. The plan is to read 3-4 chapters a week, starting today. The Tale of Genji is am imposing 54 chapters long. This means that you will have to endure Genji posts for a minimum of 14 weeks – that means they won’t end until at least the middle of September! Sorry!

If you can’t face reading my meaningless Genji posts for that long then you can do one of two things

  1. Ignore all Genji posts
  2. Join in!!!

The Tale of Genji is often quoted as being the world’s first ever novel. Written over a thousand years ago in Japan, it is about 800 hundred years older than any book I have ever read before. 

It easily qualifies for Rebecca’s really old classics challenge. I’m not taking part in her challenge at the moment, but depending on how well I cope with Genji I will definitely consider taking part next year.

I am reading the new Tyler translation of the book, which claims to have writing frseh enough to be enjoyed in today’s society. We’ll soon see if this is true!

This definitely qualifies as the most challenging book I have ever read. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so daunted about reading something before, and I would never have decided to read it without someone to read along with. Thank you Matthew!

Are you planning to join in?

If so, are you daunted by this book?

What is the most challenging book you have ever read?