Temples Of Japan

Tale of Genji - Genji Monogatari




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Murasaki Shikibu
Statue of Murasaki Shikibu at Ishiyama-dera Temple




Almost all temples
and shrines in Japan have some kind of a true story associated with them.  It may be a Kannon miracle or how a priest built the temple or how it was a family temple for a great Emperor of Japan etc.  Some of these true stories are very much part of the Japanese folklore even after many hundreds of years.  The sacrifice and loyalty of the "47 Ronin" of the sengakuji temple in Tokyo area is a good example of these true stories.

But no fictional story, written about a thousand years ago, covers and cleverly uses as many temples and shrines of Kansai region (mainly Kyoto prefecture) as the legendary "Tale of Genji" novel.   This novel sometimes referred to as the "First Novel" of the classic literature but some people may dispute this.



Other interesting aspect of this novel is that it is entirely written in Hiragana (Japanese script language) as during Heian era the written language has not yet incorporated Chinese Characters (Kanji).  Since similar sounding words written in Hiragana can have different meanings (which Kanji eliminates), Lady Murasaki has to use only words that do not have multiple meanings. 

Tale of Genji is a novel written by Heian era (794 AD to 1185) noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu.  Lady Murasaki wrote this novel at the beginning of the 11th century (some 1000 years ago, considering this year of 2011) and the story itself was set in the middle Heian Era.  The novel is called "Genji Monogatari" in Japanese sometimes it is also be called "Murasaki no Monogatari" in Japanese, reflecting the name of it's writer Lady Murasaki.  Some people claim that "Murasaki no Monogatari" is a completely different book by Lady Murasaki Shikibu and it is her personal diary.

There are conflicting ideas of where Murasaki Shikibu wrote this novel.  One theory puts her to have written the novel in at her birthplace near Rozanji Temple in Kyoto City.  One theory puts that he has written the novel at Ishiyama-dera Temple in Shiga Prefecture, which is right next to the Kyoto Prefecture.  But we can probably conclude that she may have written the novel at both places at different times because the novel is so large.

Rozanji Temple in Kyoto City (right next to the Kyoto Imperial Palace), is considered as the residence of Lady Murasaki.  She is said to have lived all her life in the precincts of this Rozanji Temple.  Her great grandfather, Lord Fujiwara Kanesuke, built a mansion which was known as the mansion of Tsutsumichunagon and it was here that she was brought up, led a blissful wedded life, gave birth to an only child, a girl named Katako and finally in 1033 ended her days at the age of about 59.

On the walls of the Main Prayer Hall of this temple, there is a photo of Dr. Arthur Waley, who is a British Eastern Languages expert.  Dr. Arthur Waley is the first western literary expert to translate the Tale of Genji from Japanese to English.





The following is a video of the Rozanji Temple in Kyoto City.


Rozan-ji Temple, Kyoto City, Japan


As mentioned before some parts or all of "Tale of Genji" was written in Ishiyama-dera Temple.  There was a room in Ishiyama-dera Temple where apparently, Lady Murasaki has written this book under full moon in August during the year of 1004.  The place is called "Room of Genji" and Lady Murasaki may have spent a few days of her life her writing parts of Tale of Genji.

Here is a video of the Room of Genji, in Ishiyama-dera Temple.


"Room of Genji" in Ishiyama-dera Temple

Tale of Genji novel consists of 54 individual chapters.  The first 33 chapters cover the birth, life and achievements of the main character of this story "Hikaru Genji".  The middle part of 8 chapters cover the decline of the world of Hikaru Genji.  The last thirteen chapters, also called as the "Uji Chapters", are not exactly part of the original plot, as they cover the story of Hikaru Genji's son Kaoru.  In these final chapters Kaoru seem to endure a similar life journey of his infamous father.  Some claim that the UJI chapters were not written by Murasaki Shikibu but were added by some other author closely related to Murasaki Shikibu.

Uji city (South of Kyoto City, about 40 minutes by train from Kyoto), where the later chapters of the Tale of Genji take place, is a romantic city by it's own standards.  Travelers to Uji city can visit "Tale of Genji Museum" in Uji city.

Here is a video of the Tale of Genji Museum.


Tale of Genji Museum, Uji City, Japan


The story in Tale of Genji does not follow the standard plot of a novel but reads more like a day time soap opera, like the old TV show "Dallas" or "Days of our Lives".  There are many temples and shrines that are linked to the story, which I will endeavor to link to in temples and shrines web pages.

If you are interested in reading this novel, it is available in your local bookstore or in Amazon.com. 

Here is a web link to the Summary of the Tale of Genji Novel.


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