One of the earliest and certainly the best known examples of Japanese prose literature is a novel written in the 11th century by a court lady named Murasaki Shikibu. The title is Tale of Genji and it is been acclaimed as a Japanese literary classic. Some say it’s the first novel in world literature.  

The over1000 page, 54 chapter book took over 10 years to complete and is said to be written in a very complex style with frequent poetic ambiguity and over 800 inserted poems, but it was soon acclaimed as a timeless classic. 

Although the original manuscript has been lost there are many copies and translations and it continues to be retranslated into modern translation so it still has great appeal to modern-day Japanese and elsewhere. The title in Japanese is Genji Monmgatari  and it describes life in the imperial court during the Heian Era.

The main character is Hikaru Genji or Prince Genji who is relegated to a low rank because of his mother’s lowly status.  

The relationships, love affairs, overall behavior and good deeds, as well as the transition from youth to middle age, of the dashing young prince are all captured by the exceptional writing skill of Lady Murasaki. While the book is a novel, the setting is at the height of the Heian Era during the reign of Emperor Daigo. 

Prince Genji is the son of an emperor, but is not in the direct line to the imperial throne. Although Genji is a fictional character, there was a real person with a similar story in the imperial court. He was a son of Emperor Daigo and was very likely known to Lady Murasaki.

Larry Jones is a member of the Stillwater Sister Cities Council.

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