‘The Tale of Genji’ is an ancient Japanese literature work written by Murasaki Shikibu. The story line is a clear indicator of an aristocratic society that has its members falling in love with classiness. It displays the individuals as models of elegance and culture.

It talks about Genji, the son of one emperor who had reigned from his middle age and climbed up the ladder of influence and rank (Shikibu Murasaki 7). While reviewing ‘The Tale of Genji’, one main theme that emerges is the theme of love and interaction between men and women. This theme is an illustration of how relationships at the emperor’s court (in Japan) were working nealry a thousand years ago. Within the story, there are various instances of romantic interactions with women from different ranks and appearances.

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This paper explores the different instances where the theme of love, lust and interactions of opposing sexes as they appear in the book.


In attaining both emotional and physical maturity, Genji would spend time composing poems in order to show his affection for women. However, most of the women that he interacted with were aware that no serious form of relationship would occur between them and Genji. On the other hand, they would at times admit that they also had love feeling for him. His affairs were dynamic in that he slept with women from in and out of the court. For an individual of his rank, his sexual habits were scandalous and would therefore opt to keep it secret. In the book, Genji falls in love with even women who come from a lower rank. This heavily disappoints the grand ladies at the court.

Despite the ladies’ beauty and class, Genji strives to keep it a secret. The secret however are constantly disclosed and every person at the court becomes aware that the emperor loves a certain lady at the different scenarios. The end result is that the royal co-wives from the higher social station become frustrated and frequently speak against the emperor’s new love. With time, the new ladies’ continue to move out with the emperor and give birth of Genji’s children (Shikibu Murasaki 17-32).

In chapter two of the book, Genji and his wife live in Sanjo at the house of his father- in law. Despite having a wife, Genji frequently strays away from her to have affairs with other women. Despite his wife’s unhappiness about the promiscuity at the court, he continues to explore the world of women. Genji constantly sleeps with new women and spares very little time for Sanjo.

In his friendship with To no Chujo, the Right’s Minister, the author displays the two discussing about exceptional qualities of an excellent woman. This is an indicator of how the two individuals are obsessed with women as depicted in the Tale of Genji. They continue to talk at length about their past relationships with women.

This shows that they had an inherent habit and obsession for women (Shikibu Murasaki 17-32). As the chapters in the book progress, Genji’s obsession with women is further shown when he visits Koremistu, his former nurse in his growing up, who at this point is a nun. At this juncture, Genji is after seeing Yugao, the lady who stays around the nunnery. In her efforts to reach Yugao, Genji comments about her writing in order to seduce her but he does not succeed.

Within no time, Genji enters into a romantic relationship with another lady who lives in Rokujo. After little resistance, he finally manages to sleep with her. Despite sleeping with Rokujo, Genji realizes that sleeping with her to fulfill his sexual desires does make him colder (Shikibu Murasaki 34-65).

When Genji falls ill with malaria, he is advised to seek cure from a sage at the mountains where he too soon sees Murasaki. This beautiful young girl is only ten years. Despite her tender age Genji falls in love with her and is determined to make her his wife upon her becoming a woman. In this regard, he speaks to the bishop at the local nunnery about taking her for a daughter, but his intentions were to make her his wife. After a while his family gives in to the emperor’s son decision although with difficulties.

Finally, the innocent girl gets into the hidden trap of Genji. Although nobody is aware of what was happening at Nijo, rumors went round about the presence of Murasaki. Additionally, the theme is furthered by the fact that Left’s Minister does nothing to stop Genji’s treatment towards his daughter. This is an illustration of how the society was immoral and disrespectful towards marriages and sexuality (Shikibu Murasaki 98-118). At the Cherry Blossoms’ festival, Genji gets back to his room where he is outdone with loneliness.

However, critiques may question as to why he could only find companionship in women and not in men around the palace, as most readers would argue that this is because he only wanted women with whom he would o to bed with. Searching around the palace, he finally comes across an open door where he takes the lady to his room. The author says that he makes love to Oborozukiyo till dawn.

This is the highest level of promiscuity as indicated in the book. This is because Genji is sleeping around with women to satisfy his sexual desires without even having to learn about them. From this instance it is clear that Genji’s sexual drive is in fact not love but lust (Shikibu Murasaki 137-145).

When the new emperor for Suzaku comes into power, Genji decides to stop seeing new women and work on maintaining the existing in order to have peace with this new emperor. However, after failing to see Fujitsubo who was with the former emperor most of the time, Genji resorts to not seeing any other woman from his garnered clique. This shows that Genji is actually not driven with love but mere admiration and lust for women. The kind of love that the author depicts is ironical.

Genji at one time publicly snubbed the Rokujo lady during the Kamo festival. More so, he decides not to visit the women whom he had slept with without any explanations. This further suggests that he was a self centered man who was using women as sexual objects (Shikibu Murasaki 150-159). In chapter twelve of the book, the author depicts the kind of sufferings that Genji is facing for his actions. As a result, he decides to run to Suma coast in order to avoid the harsh circumstances facing his life. At this juncture, Genji is facing some sort of impermanent ties in his life but he is sure about having Murasaki for a wife, despite this he still decides to exile to Summa coast. While this is going on, Genji has lust for a princess due to the beauty of her music on zither. Within a very short time, he had admired her and started pursuing her through love letters.

However after all this dramatic love instances, Genji eventually faces the outcome of his immoral habits (Shikibu Murasaki 175-185).


The above scenes show the kind of relationships that Genji had with the women whom he is relating with. The book indicates that rank, position and the power that one has determined the kind of persons that one visit marries and relates with. As depicted by the author, Genji is constantly looking for bed friendships at no breaks in between the relationships with the other women he sleeps with. As the author indicates, he went through much trouble trying to hide the illegal affairs and also to appeal his peers within the court. Additionally, Genji would use several secret messengers in and out of the court, visited Yugao only in dark and also went further to adopt a child with an excuse of fathering her (Shikibu Murasaki 98-118). As illustrated in the book, each affair is totally different from the other. In one occasion of his affairs, Genji tries to entice Utsuemi through messages and making prompt visits at odd times of the night.

However, the relationship between Genji and Yugao was unstable and resulted into Yugao’s untimely death. From the above discussion it is clear that Genji wanders through life, death, and love landscapes while struggling to maintain a Teflon-like rank.

Works Cited

Murasaki, Shikibu.

The Tale of Genji. U.S: Tuttle Publishing, 2006. Print.


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