The Tale of the Genji: A Plot Summary
of Genji was written shortly after the year 1000 in Japan's Heian era, when the capital was situated at Heian-kyo (present-day
Genji, the hero of the tale, is the son of the
emperor and his favorite concubine. A Korean sage predicts a brilliant future for Genji but his mother suffers the jealousy
of rivals at court, becomes ill, and dies. The distraught emperor eventually finds another concubine, Fujitsubo, who reminds
him of his former love.
Since Genji lacks backing at court, the emperor
makes him a commoner, assigning him membership of the non-royal Genji clan. The eldest son of the emperor and Lady Kokiden
is made crown prince.
Genji becomes an uncommonly handsome and gifted
young man, admired by all but feared by Lady Kokiden and her family. The first part of the tale follows his amorous exploits
with a variety of ladies in and around Heian-kyo, his friendship with To no Chujo and arranged marriage to To no Chujo's sister
Aoi, the birth of his son, and his budding relationship with the young Murasaki.
Meanwhile, the old emperor dies and is succeeded
by the crown prince. Genji's amorous intrigues cause a scandal at court and he is forced to leave the capital and live in
Suma for several years. During this second part of the story, Genji meets the ex-governor of Harima and his daughter the Akashi
Lady. Genji returns to the capital and the emperor abdicates in favor of Fujitsubo's (and secretly Genji's) son. Genji's position
at court is restored and the Akashi Lady has a baby girl. Genji then goes on a pilgrimage to the Sumiyoshi Shrine to give
thanks to the deity for protecting him during the storm at Suma. After his return to the capital he settles down with Murasaki
and several other ladies at his Rokujo Mansion. During this long section, Genji's influence at court increases steadily and
he is preoccupied with the advancement of his children and grandchildren at court. Genji is persuaded to marry the Third Princess,
who gives birth to a son and soon after becomes a Buddhist nun.
In the last 10 chapters, the action shifts to
the wild mountain area of Uji and the adventures of Genji's “son” and grandson, Kaoru and Niou, who are friends
and rivals in love. The complex plot centers on the daughters of Genji's religious half-brother, the Eighth Prince, and the