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
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
Japan 2001 Waka Website
Page composed: December 27, 2007. Updated 12/14/14.