Akihiko Niimi (Waseda University)


Course description
In this course, we will read the Japanese classic The Tale of Genji in the order of its chapters.
The Tale of Genji is an unprecedented work in the world: a long romance written more than 1,000 years ago by a woman, Murasaki Shikibu. This work consists of 54 chapters with over 400 characters covering over 70 years.
The Tale of Genji (54 chapters) is usually explained in three parts, depending on the division of the contents.
Part 1 consists of 33 chapters, from Kiritsubo, which describes the birth of Hikaru Genji (the “Shining” Genji), the main character, to Fuji no Uraba, in which he flourishes after various love affairs and hardships.
Part 2 consists of 8 chapters from Wakana 1, where which Genji and Murasaki no Ue (Lady Murasaki) started to shake the peace, to Maboroshi, when the focus of the story shifts to the next generation of Kashiwagi and Yugiri. Genji’s most beloved lady, Murasaki, dies and he himself intends to become a priest.
Part 3 consists of 13 chapters, from Niou Hyobukyo, which describes the love affairs of the generations of Genji’s grandchildren after his death, to the final chapter Yume no Ukihashi.
The Tale of Genji created a multilayered meaning by skillfully quoting preceding tales, Chinese classic books, waka poems.
Although it looks like a simple love story, none of the ladies in Genji’s life are typical. They include his wife Aoi no ue, Lady Fujitsubo (the empress of his father, Emperor Kiritsubo, and therefore his step-mother), little girl Murasaki, Utsusemi (a married woman), Yūgao (who has taken refuge from her husband’s principal wife), and Suetsumuhana(who is the royal blood and has many strange behaviors). He also has relations with Oborozukiyo, for example, who is a daughter of a political enemy and was expected to marry Genji’s older brother, Emperor Suzaku. Another lover is Lady Rokujō (Rokujō no Miyasudokoro), the widow of the previous Crown Prince.
The story is also based on the political strife between Genji and his patron, Sadaijin (the Minister of the Left), and the family of Udaijin (the Minister of the Right). It deals also with the political tensions between Genji and Tō no Chūjū (son of Sadaijin), who is depicted as his rival, so it is not a simple love story.
There are various opinions about the creation of The Tale of Genji, including the mention in Murasaki Shikibu Diary of several copies of The Tale of Genji, the theory that the chapters called the Tamakazura series were written later, and that the Ten Chapters of Uji was written by another person.
In this course, we will learn the problems of each chapter by reading Part 1, which commences from Genji’s birth.
In the latter half of the class, we will also learn about the visualization of The Tale of Genji.
In the latter of this course, participants will be asked to investigate and give presentations about each chapter.

Learning outcomes
Learn about the background, organization, and details of The Tale of Genji. Learn about the visualization of The Tale of Genji. Learn about the impact of The Tale of Genji on Japanese culture.

Teaching and evaluation methods
Midterm paper 25%
Presentation 25%
Final paper 25%.
Class participation 25%

Royall Tyler (Contributor, Editor, Translator), The Tale of Genji, Penguin Classics; Abridged edition (2006), 352 pages
Royall Tyler (Translator), The Tale of Genji: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition), Penguin Classics; Illustrated edition (2002), 1216 pages
Dennis Washburn (Translator), The Tale of Genji, WW Norton; Unabridged edition (2016), 1360 pages


Isola di San Servolo
30133 Venice,

phone: +39 041 2719511
fax:+39 041 2719510

VAT: 02928970272