Summer reading: The Tale of Genji



The Tale of Genji (源氏物語, Genji Monogatari) has been called the first novel. It is, at least in part, attributed to Lady Murasaki Shikibu in the early 11th century. Like Dickens did much later, the story was made public in installments or chapters, rather than as a complete book. Scholars believe that the story was finished by 1021, on 10-20 hand-written scrolls, which no longer exist. Many copies were made and at least one twelfth century scroll contains illustrations.

It would be hard to overestimate the cultural signifigance of The Tale of Genji, a work that has resonated throughout art and literature, in all periods, both in Japan and the rest of the world.


The first printed edition of The Tale of Genji was published in 1654 and includes woodcuts by Yamamoto Shunshô (1610-1682). Known as the Tale of Genji, Jou-oh Edition, our copy is complete with 54 volumes of main text and 6 commentaries, a grand total of 60 volumes.

The International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, posted a complete digitized copy at:


[Genji monogatari] [源氏物語]. Translated title: The Tale of Genji. Written in part by Murasaki Shikibu (born 978?) and illustrated by Yamamoto Shunshō (1610-1682). [Kyoto]: Rakuyō; [Kyoto]: Yao Kanbē kaihan, 1654. 54 volumes and 6 supplements. Graphic Arts (GAX 2011- in process)