By Yoon Joung Lee
One of Japan’s greatest novelists during the Heian period and the author of The Tale of Gengi, Murasaki Shikibu was born c. 973 in Kyoto, Japan into the Fukiwara family, whose men dominated the highest positions in the imperial government.
During her childhood, Shikibu was very smart and intelligent. She always learned things more quickly than her brother. Therefore, her father allowed her to study with her brother, although it was inappropriate to educate women as much as men at that time.
In 966 in her early 20s, she married her father’s friend Fujiwara no Nobutake who was a much older distant cousin. In 999, her only daughter was born. Two years later in 1001, her husband died. In 1006 not too long after her husband’s death, she was brought to court for her outstanding talent on writing stories and her brilliant mind.
While Shikibu was in court, she wrote a diary showing a vivid account of court life and her thoughts. It is not clear whether she started The Tale of the Genji before or after she came to court. However, much of her work was written in court.
This long novel relveals the complications of a fictitious prince, Genji, his life and his amorous adventures. The story pictures Japanese court life during the Heian period. There are also the portraits of the women in Prince Genji’s life in the novel and they are described individually with their different talents such as music, drawing, and poetry. The conclusion reveals a Buddhist point of view to enjoy life and earthly existence. The Tale of Gengi was copied and transferred to many different languages worldwide. It is speculated to be the world's first novel. Although it is not certain about the date of her death, she likely passed away shortly after she completed the famous novel, The Tale of Genji, at the age of forty or so.