Murasaki Shikibu

ō, Buddhism, Feminist Existentialism 

Kate Lindemann's 

Women Philosophers


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Murasaki Shikibu lived from 970 - 1031 CE

First, we should note that Murasaki Shikibu is not the real name of this philosopher and literary figure. It is a 'nickname' derived from two sources: the name of a character in the Genji and the position in the Board of Rites (sikibu) held by her father. So this use of a pseudonym makes this philosopher a somewhat mysterious figure.

Second, it is important to understand somethings about the time period in which Murasaki Shikibu lived if we are to make any sense of her life and/or work. To help with our understanding, it might we wise to consult this essay by Gregory Smits which offers useful background information and contains links to other sites with relevant information. Go to: "The Heian Period Aristocrats (Note: Much of the essay is based on a work by Morris: The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan)

Works by Murasaki Shikibu

  • The Diary of Murasaki Shikibu – nearly the entire text can be found at: digital library of women writers If you would like to see how this work may be viewed in Japan, there is a scroll Tokyo National Museum: Murasaki Shikibu Diary
  • Poetry by Murasaki Shikibu: Spring Poem GSIS I: 104 GSIS VII: 433 Meeting on a Path Was that Really You I Wandered Forth this Moonlit Night
  • The Tale of Genji is a major work of both Japanese and world literature. Like many fictional philosophical pieces it can be read on many levels. The Tale of the Genji offers layers and depths that may be plumbed by repeated, meditative reading. If you are going to read this work, do not think that you can possibly understand it with the sort of reading one gives the daily newspaper. It requires a commitment of time and intellectual energy. For those who have not grown up with The Tale of the Genji, there is a useful introduction to the work written by one Royakk Taylor. It can be found at Introduction to the Tale of the Genji (Note: this site also contains the first chapter of Taylor’s own translation of the work. Many of us are forced by our ignorance of other languages to read philosophical works in translation. Whether we are reading a classical Greek text such as Plato's Dialogues or a classical Japanese text such as the Tale of Genji, we need to remember that much is lost in translation and it is good to read at least two translations of any important work. For those reading Tale of Genji in in English translation, there are 3 modern English translations. However, it should be noted that none of the translations appear to be by philosophers and that affects our understanding of Murasaki Shikibu's philosophical work. (If you recall the first English tradition of Simone de Beauvoir's, The Second Sex. was done by a scientist and so many subtle philosophical concepts and terms were lost in the translation. We need to be aware that the same thing could be happening with Murasaki Shikibu's work.) There is a complete translation on line at: Tale of Genji Text.

Additional helps for The Tale of the Genji

A genealogical chart for the main characters can be found at Genealogical Chart

Kenneth L. Richard is the author of two essays that might be of use to the reader:  The first is a general introduction, Introductory essay by Richard and the second is more detailed (and is printed in a challenging version on line).  Second essay by Richard

Agora, the online graduate journal published an essay by Valerie Henitiuk published in 2002 Virgin Territory: Murasaki Shikibu's Oigimi Resists the Male

William Wetherall's "Ukifune's Gamble with Death in Murasaki Shikibu's Genji Monogatari," is a 2004 translation of a paper given in Japanese in 1978.

“Marriage, Rank and Rape in the Tale of the Genji by Royall Tyler

Notes: Japan 2001 Waka Website Waka Website

Page composed: December 27, 2007. Updated 12/14/14. 

Murasaki Shikibu is one of more than 100 women philosophers featured in A History of Women Philosophers photo album, and is among the more than 40 philosophers featured in

Busted!! A Pictorial History of Women Philosophers Volume 1.

Society for the Study of Women Philosophers

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