In addition to being the author of the oldest novel in the world, Murasaki Shikibu has the distinction of being the first woman whose image has ever graced Japanese currency. You can be forgiven if you’ve never noticed her, since she’s on the back of the relatively new 2,000 yen note, which seems to be as rare as the crested ibis.

Even if you do possess the bill, the rendering of the writer of “The Tale of Genji” is purposely indirect, showing Murasaki from the back. The lack of detail is understandable, given that she was born in the 10th century during the Heian Period. Her famously long novel, which is about the numerous romantic liaisons of its titular prince, Hikaru Genji, was for years more widely read among foreigners, thanks to Arthur Whaley’s English translation. It wasn’t until the book was “translated” into modern Japanese that most native speakers were able to understand it.

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