The Tale of Genji must be the oldest novel still widely recognized today as a masterpiece. Its author was a woman whose work ranks in Japanese literature and culture as the Homeric epics, the works of Shakespeare, and Proust's Remembrance of Things Past do elsewhere. Within a few decades of its completion in the early eleventh century, it was deemed a classic, and writings on it multiplied over the centuries. The great poet Fujiwara no Shunzei (1114-1204) even declared study of it to be indispensable for anyone who would compose poetry, and his words were long remembered. The tale's popularity also made motifs from it perennially prominent in Japanese painting.

In modern times, scholarly and popular publications on Genji are still accumulating rapidly. Four major twentieth-century writers translated it into modern Japa-nese, one of them three times, and many others, too, have done modern translations. Scholars build careers on it. Genji is not just a book but a cultural phenomenon. It has been turned into movies, plays, dance, modern novels, Kabuki, comic books (manga), musical theater, and opera. A scene from it appears on a current banknote. Arthur Waley's pioneering translation (1933), followed by Edward Seidensticker's (1976), have made it famous in English, and there are also complete translations from the original into German, French, Russian, Chinese (two), and Korean. Others into Czech, Finnish, and Italian are under way. This new English version joins a distinguished and growing company, which is as it should be for so great a classic.


to top