Japanese Culture

Course taught from April 2000. Examination of Japanese cultural values through a study of Tale of Genji and its reception. Study of related and contrasting works of literature and visual arts.

on this page GENJI pages on this site
course description
bibliography (English)
bibliography (Japanese)
studies (English)
contacting me
romanized chapter headings
character list
bibliography (Japanese)
Genji studies (external links)


This course will examine aspects of Japanese culture in their historical and social context through a reading of the classic The Tale of Genji, written almost a millennium ago yet still regarded by many Japanese as the supreme representative of cultural values central to this country's traditions. We will examine what these values are and why they have been so influential, despite the many competing models of culture in later periods, from the contrasting values of medieval warriors to the diversified patterns of cultural pursuits found today in Japan. As imitation and parody are an important feature of all periods of Japanese culture, we will also look at how the Genji and other classics have inspired painters, dramatists, writers, cartoonists and film makers up to the present day. Another important topic is its translation and appreciation in other countries, in order to understand how its reception differs from that of important cultural "exports" that have contributed to the image of Japan.

We will begin most classes with a quick written quiz, either open-book or closed-book, on the assigned chapters of The Tale of Genji and the forms of traditional culture it describes, from calligraphy and clothing to traditional art, architecture and religion. The questions are designed both to help your understanding of the story and its cultural background, and to stimulate class discussion. Each student will be required to do one independent project based on an agreed topic that will require additional reading.

[required text]

E.G. Seidensticker, trans. The Tale of Genji (1976).
Other translations will be read for comparison.
For information about other translations and web resources see below.

[note for native speakers of Japanese]

This class will be taught in English. Native speakers of Japanese are welcome to join this class, but should be prepared to do the reading assignments and to participate in discussions. Please attend the first few sessions and talk to me after class if you have any worries about keeping up. You will be expected to read the assigned chapters in modern Japanese translation. For bibliographical information see: genji-j

SYLLABUS for spring term 2001 (under construction)

Planned schedule of classes by session number of assigned readings, discussion topics, and additional topics. All students must read the assigned chapters from The Tale of Genji, but additional readings will be assigned to individual students in rotation. Readings are also assigned for the day of the mid-term examination. Questions on these chapters will make up one section of the mid-term, but discussion will be take place in the following class session.

(1) Introduction to the course. The position of Genji monogatari in modern Japanese society
・ "Genji on the Web: Traditional Culture on the Japanese Internet"
・ introduction to Heian society
(2) Genji ch. 1-3 ("The Paulownia Court" to "The Shell of the Locust")
・ short oral reports on individual reading assignments from Heian writers
・ Marriage customs and Heian every-day life. Female culture/male culture
・ film excerpts: versions of The Tale of Genji
(3) Genji ch. 4-5 ("Evening Faces" to "Lavender")
・ additional reading: selections from The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter
・ film excerpt:Taketori monogatari (The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter)
(4) Genji ch. 6-9 ("The Safflower" to "Heartvine")
・ The culture of laughter: kyogen drama, humorous tales, parody
(5) Genji ch. 10-13 ("The Sacred Tree" to "Akashi")
・ The theme of "exile" in Japanese culture (examples from medieval literature)
(6) Genji ch. 14-18 ("Channel Buoys" to "The Wind in the Pines")
・ The boundaries of translatability: English renderings of the Genji
・ Mad women and ghosts: Noh drama.
(7) Genji ch. 19-25 ("A Rack of Cloud" to "Fireflies")
・ Western critics on The Tale of Genji
(8) Genji ch. 26-28 ("Wild Carnations" to "The Typhoon")
・ midterms
(9) Genji ch. 29-32 ("The Royal Outing" to "A Branch of Plum")
・ courtly pastimes
(10) Genji ch. 33-34 ("Wisteria Leaves " to "New Herbs [1]")
・ the reception of classical literature in art (slide lecture)
(11) Genji ch. 35-36 ("New Herbs [2]" to "The Oak Tree")
・ "dying for love" in Tokugawa Japan
・ film excerpt: Chikamatsu's puppet play Sonezaki Shinju
(12) Genji ch. 37-39 ("The Flute" to "Evening Mist")
・ artistic reception of the Genji: from illustrated scroll to cartoons
(13) Genji ch. 40-41 ("The Rites" to "The Wizard")
・ additional reading: Western critics on The Tale of Genji
・ The reception of Japanese culture abroad.


Multiple copies of the following translations are available from the university library and (for UC/ISP students) from CICE. Serious students should purchase their own copies. The Waley and Seidensticker translations are available in paperback editions from Charles Tuttle (Tokyo). Both editions are in two volumes.


English translations (chronological order)

Bibliography (Japanese)

some modern Japanese editions in standard series

some modern Japanese translations

Yosano Akiko's translation is now available on the Internet, in two different versions:

  • 全訳源氏物語(与謝野晶子訳)
  • See Genji studies page for more links.

    Basic studies, handbooks

    Bowring, R. (1988) Murasaki Shikibu: The Tale of Genji. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Field, N. (1987) The Splendor of Longing in the Tale of Genji. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Goff, J. (1991) Noh drama and The Tale of Genji. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Kamens, E., ed. (1993) Approaches to Teaching Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji. Approaches to Teaching World Literature, no. 47. New York: The Modern Language Association of America.

    Morris, I. (1964) The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan. New York: Knopf.

    Okada, H. R. (1991) Figures of Resistance: Language, Poetry, and Narrating in The Tale of Genji and Other Mid-Heian Texts. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

    Pekarik, A. J., ed. (1982) Ukifune: Love in the Tale of Genji. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Shirane, H. (1987) The Bridge of Dreams: A Poetics of the "Tale of Genji". Stanford: Stanford UP.

    Concerning Genji translations or translators. Reviews of studies.

    McCullough, H. C. (1977) The Seidensticker Genji. Monumenta Nipponica. 32, 93-110.

    Harries, P. T. (1991) "Arthur Waley (1899-1966): Poet and Translator" in Cortazzi, Britain and Japan 1859-1991: Themes and Personalities. London and New York, Routledge. 214-222.

    Morris, M. (1990) "Desire and the Prince: New Work on Genji Monogatari", JAS, 2, 291-304.

    Ury, M. (1977) "The Complete Genji", HJAS, 37, 1, 183-201.

    Ury, M. (1991) "Tales of Genji", HJAS, 51, 1, 263-308.

    Waley, A. (1921) "An Introspective Romance", The New Statesman, December 10, 286-287.

    Some translations in other languages

    I have copies of the following translations:

    Other translations

    Manga versions of Genji Monogatari

    Many are available in Japanese, the most famous being "Asaki yume mishi". Although some of this long work has appeared in German and Chinese translation, there is no English translation available. [Until now--vol. 1 appeared in autumn, 2000]

    Many one-volume versions have appeared, covering only part of the long tale. One has been translated into English (copy in Shirokane library):

    Tsuboi, K. (1989) Murasaki Shikibu: The Illustrated Tale of Genji: A Classic Japanese Romance. Tokyo: Shinjinbutsu Oraisha.

    contact information

    Michael Watson (Professor)
    Faculty of International Studies, Meiji Gakuin University
    1518 Kamikurata-cho, Totsuka-ku
    Yohohama, Japan 244-8539

    My room number is 8504 (top floor of the Faculty of International Studies). I teach classes on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. It always helps to email me first at watson[at]k.meijigakuin.ac.jp before coming to see me.

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    This page created 98/12/08, updated 99/12/12, 01/01/11
    Michael Watson, Faculty of International Studies, Meiji Gakuin University
    e-mail to: watson[at]k.meijigakuin.ac.jp
    URL: http:///www.meijigakuin.ac.jp/~watson