2022 NO.33


Journey Through Japanese Literature


Learn About the World’s Oldest Full-Length Novel

Where The Tale of Genji Comes Alive

Ancient Imperial Palace Setting
Kyoto Imperial Palace

Most of The Tale of Genji story unfolds in Kyoto. Many locations closely associated with the novel still exist today, and the most important of these is the Kyoto Imperial Palace.

This ancient imperial palace, where the emperors of Japan resided and held court before the capital was moved to Tokyo in the 19th century, is the birthplace of Hikaru Genji and the setting of many of the dramas that take place in the novel. Although the Kyoto Imperial Palace as it stands today has been reconstructed, the architecture faithfully follows the Heian period style to preserve the courtly atmosphere of that time. There is no better spot to experience the ambience of The Tale of Genji so directly.

The Shishinden main hall, which was the venue for many ceremonies

The Takamikura imperial throne (Photos: Imperial Household Agency)

A Spectacular Aristocratic Procession
The Aoi Matsuri

The Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival), held in early May, is a quintessential Kyoto festival highlighted by a proces-sion of over 500 people dressed in Heian period court costume through the city streets. Officially known as the Kamo Festival, it is believed to have begun over 1,400 years ago, and it features in the Aoi chapter of The Tale of Genji.

The festival procession known as Roto-no-gi

Immerse Yourself in a 3D Genji World
The Tale of Genji Museum, Uji City

This museum, themed after The Tale of Genji, is located in Uji City in Kyoto Prefecture, the main setting of the novel’s latter chapters, which are commonly referred to as “Uji Jujo,” or the “Ten Chapters of Uji.” The unique museum offers visitors an opportunity to learn firsthand about the world of The Tale of Genji via exhibits detailing court life and clothing of the nobles during that period.

Museum exhibit recreates a scene from The Tale of Genji in which the women of a noble family play the traditional board game go.

A Heian period oxcart (restoration) used to transport Japanese nobility

Temple Stay for Murasaki Shikibu
Ishiyama-dera Temple

Founded in the 8th century in Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture, Ishiyama-dera Temple is where Murasaki Shikibu is said to have stayed while working out her ideas for The Tale of Genji. The Room of Genji, where she is said to have written the novel, is still part of the temple’s main hall to this day. The Ishiyama-dera and Murasaki Shikibu Exhibition, held each spring and autumn, displays materials related to The Tale of Genji.

Ishiyama-dera Temple is a renowned moon-viewing spot. According to legend, the inspiration for The Tale of Genji came to Murasaki Shikibu upon seeing the moon reflected in the lake.

Bronze statue of Murasaki Shikibu on the temple premises (Photo: Ishiyama-dera Temple)

Encounter Authentic Genji-e Paintings
The Tokugawa Art Museum

This art museum in Nagoya City in Aichi Prefecture is home to the oldest extant Genji Monogatari Emaki (“The Tale of Genji Illustrated Scroll”), created in the first half of the 12th century. Handed down by the Owari Tokugawa family for generations, the original manuscripts are exhibited here each year in November, and there is also an exhibition of gorgeous wedding ceremony furnishings inspired by The Tale of Genji.

Genji Monogatari Emaki (“The Tale of Genji Illustrated Scroll”), Takekawa chapter handscroll(see this page.)

The museum houses 10,000 works of art handed down by the Owari Tokugawa family, powerful feudal lords of the Edo period. (Photo: The Tokugawa Art Museum)