The World’s First Novel: The Tale of Genji

Japan, as an island country, has historically been isolated from the world, especially the Western world. Isolation led its people to develop their own ways of artistic expression. The Japanese novel The Tale of Genji was written in 1008 AD by a woman named Murasaki Shikibu, a pseudonym, possibly for Fujiwara Takako, a lady-in-waiting at the Japanese Imperial court in the Heian Period (794–1185.


A bronze statue of Lady Murasaki. | MShades 


The Tale of Genji consists of more than 1,600,000 characters and has been translated several times into English. A classic work of Japanese literature, it never ceases to captivate a reader. The novel was written entirely in Hiragana script. It is a tale of the life and loves of Hikaru Genji,  son of a Japanese emperor, and of the customs of the Japanese aristocracy.

It is considered the world’s first classic novel and the pinnacle of Japanese literature. Written to entertain Japanese aristocratic women, the novel contains many of the structural elements found in modern —a central character, minor characters, narrative events, parallel plots, and conflict. As in real life, the characters age and evolve over the course of the story.

Oldest Genji Monogatari Kawachi-bon manuscripts.

The novel was written using much of the style common in the 11th century, with the inflected language, poetry, and complex grammar customary in Japanese court life. Heian period court protocol also dictated that, when portrayed ina public forum, no names be used, to avoid any resemblance to real-life characters.


A hanging scroll from the 1500s depicting a scene from the novel.


The Tale of Genji remains popular today all over the world. The story gives the reader a glimpse of Japanese life during the period and the simple yet elegant manner in which the novel was written. Also, the circumstances and emotional conflicts and circumstances of the characters relate it to readers. This is what makes it, along with many other classics written by writers such as Homer, Shakespeare, and Emily Bronte, timeless and memorable.

Modern edition of The Tale of Genji. Debs (ò‿ó)♪