Asian World

Friday, February 03, 2023

I have begun reading The Tale of Genji. This ancient work in translation is a straightforward read, and contrary to my expectations, it’s easy to follow. It was written at the beginning of the 11th Century by Murasaki Shikibu, a noblewoman in the Heian Japanese Court. The Court’s official language was Chinese, but Shikibu wrote in Japanese.

In the Heian period, the court language was Chinese. The Japanese language was primarily used by women. So, Shikibu’s work wasn’t taken seriously. In addition, most of her story was written in prose, which wasn’t considered equal to poetry. Shikibu’s story has 54 chapters of prose infused with Japanese and Chinese poetry; it has one main character and is regarded as the world’s first novel.

Murasaki Shikibu, 973-1014, was a Japanese novelist, poet, and lady-in-waiting at the Imperial Court in the Heian period. That time was the peak of the Japanese imperial court, noted for its art, especially poetry and literature. Traditionally, Heian women weren’t considered intelligent enough to be taught Chinese, which excluded them from the written language of the government. But Murasaki was raised in an erudite father’s household and showed a precocious aptitude for the Chinese classics. As a result, she acquired fluency, becoming a unique figure as a woman master of the Chinese language and classics.

Murasaki is a fascinating individual, and I have ordered her diary.

All this is preparatory and background before I read the mid-1950s classic novel, Masks, by Japanese writer Fumiko Enchi. Like Shikibu, Enchi was a precocious child who became a fascinating writer. For Masks, she borrowed themes from The Tale of Genji.

Dear Friends: Sadly, but fortunately, I’m a late starter to Asian literature. Diana


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