Scenes from The Tale of Genji 

Kyoto National Museum

By Tosa Mitsuyoshi (1539–1613) and Chōjirō (Important Cultural Property)

This series illustrates 54 scenes from The Tale of Genji, one of Japan’s best-known literary works. Each sheet, measuring just 25.7 by 22.7 cm, contains meticulously rendered details that are almost impossible to discern with the naked eye alone.

Of the 54 scenes, 35 were painted by Tosa Mitsuyoshi (1539–1613), who was active in the Momoyama period (1573-1615). The remaining 19 were painted by Chōjirō, probably one of Mitsuyoshi’s senior pupils. Here, we will take a look at just a few of the depicted scenes.

Scene from the chapter “Kiritsubo”

The young Genji (dressed in white) meets with a Korean sage (dressed in green) at the Koro Mansion. The Korean inspects Genji’s physiognomy and says it is the face of someone who could one day become emperor, but to do so would cause trouble to the nation. When the Korean guest’s remarks reached the ear of the emperor, the emperor decides to raise the boy as a commoner.

The young Genji (dressed in white) meets with a Korean sage (dressed in green)

Scene from the chapter “Utsusemi”

Rejected but unable to forget Lady Utsusemi, Genji visits her home, where he steals a glimpse of her playing the game of go.
Late at night, Utsusemi becomes aware of Genji’s presence inside the house, and slips out of her bed to avoid any encounter.
Genji enters the lady’s chamber and approaches the sleeping Nokiba no Ogi, Utsusemi’s companion at go, mistaking her for his love interest.

Lady Utsusemi and Nokiba no Ogi, playing the game of "go".

Scene from the chapter “Wakamurasaki”

Genji makes a trip to Kitayama, seeking a cure for his illness.
At a nearby house, he spots a girl who bears a striking resemblance to Lady Fujitsubo, the object of his youthful adoration.
After the death of the nun who had been raising the girl, Genji adopts the girl.
The girl grows up to become Lady Murasaki.

The girl who bears a striking resemblance to Lady Fujitsubo

Scene from the chapter “Aoi”

On the day of the Kamo Festival, Lady Rokujo, who is infatuated with Genji, takes out her carriage to see the festival procession.
Lady Rokujo’s entourage becomes involved in an embarrassing quarrel over a viewing spot with the entourage of Lady Aoi, Genji’s wife.

The ‎beautiful decoration of ox carriages

Scene from the chapter “Miotsukushi”

After his pardon and return to the capital from Akashi, where he has been in exile, Genji advances his career.
In the autumn he makes a grand pilgrimage to Sumiyoshi.

Scene from the chapter “Tamakazura”

It is nearing the end of the year, and Genji and Lady Murasaki are choosing the New Year garments that Genji will give to his ladies.
Among those who received beautiful robes was Tamakazura, who was born to Yugao, Genji’s former lover, and was raised in Kyushu before coming to live in Kyoto as Genji’s adopted daughter.

Ladies choosing the New Year garments

Scene from the chapter “Kocho”

It is spring, and a floating concert is held at Genji’s manor house.
There are pleasure boats floating on the garden pond, and the elegant feast carries on throughout the night.

The dancers in brilliant costume

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