| The Tale of Genji, which consists of fifty-four chapters, is considered the oldest
extant novel in the history of literature. Since the Japanese noblewoman
Murasaki Shikibu gave birth to this masterpiece in the early eleventh century, its
timeless beauty has fascinated readers for generations, not only in the author’s
homeland but also in numerous countries throughout the world. This romance is
set in the stable aristocratic society of Japan’s Heian Period, which began in the
late eighth century and endured for almost four hundred years. The first forty-four chapters focus mainly on the life of Genji, and the remaining chapters
continue after his death, with the main action of the story shifting from central
Kyoto to Uji, a tranquil village in the outer part of eastern Kyoto, where noblemen
of that time owned their villas. These later chapters are called “Uji Jujo
(10 chapters in Uji).”
| It had been around ten years since the publication of the first forty-four
when Murasaki Shikibu, then a retired nun, resumed her work. It is a great
pleasure for the reader to be able to witness, in these final ten chapters, the
personal maturity the author had acquired in the interim.
| Reading through these chapters, you may be taken aback by the quite
attitude that the characters in this story hold toward love and relationships, and
you may believe it to be a general behavior of that time. It must be noted, however, that the author made great use of her imagination so as to let us enjoy
living in this world of fiction, where anything could happen, inspired by the spur
of creativity and the freedom that any form of art is allowed to embrace.
| As the beauty of Uji Jujo piqued my interest, I also fell in love with the wonderful
suburban area of Uji, where the latter part of this ancient romance unfolds. It has
an entirely different appeal from that of the neighboring city of Kyoto, a
well-known historical hub of Japanese tourism which now attracts around fifty
million domestic and international visitors a year. For those yet to visit Kyoto, it
provides a charming tranquility born of an introspective atmosphere.
Interestingly enough, even today many of the sites related to the scenes of Uji Jujo
| Moreover, we have tried as much as possible to avoid the use of obscure
expressions and ambiguity in the psychological descriptions so that non-native
English speakers can also be captivated by the scintillating language in which
Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji is written.
| I eagerly hope that this book will be read by Japanese high school
students as well. It is often mentioned that their reading skills need to be
enhanced, as these skills are critical for building up other abilities such as
speaking and writing. It would be my greatest pleasure if I could provide an
opportunity through the classic Japanese novel The Tale of Genji, which nearly
every Japanese person must have heard at least once in their lives, for these
students to experience the joy of reading in English, and eventually learn how to
interpret their own culture so as to make it accessible to foreigners.