National / History

Oldest written copy of 'missing' part of classic work 'Tale of Genji' discovered

Kyodo

A manuscript containing a missing part of classic Japanese work of literature “The Tale of Genji,” written by Murasaki Shikibu in the early years of the 11th century, has been found among the heirlooms of the family of a former feudal lord, a cultural foundation said Tuesday.

Experts have confirmed the authenticity of material found in one chapter of a five-chapter work called “Aobyoshibon” (blue cover book), compiled by poet Fujiwara Teika, as a version of the earlier work, according to Reizeike Shiguretei Bunko, the Kyoto-based foundation for the preservation of cultural heritage.

The material, found in the last chapter of “Aobyoshibon” and titled “Wakamurasaki,” is believed to have been compiled during the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) based on a number of different hand-copied versions of the classic tale, the foundation said.

The original novel, comprising 54 chapters, was written in the early 11th century during Japan’s Heian Period (794-1185) and depicts the romantic life of Hikaru Genji, the son of an emperor.

The discovered chapter contains an important part of the novel in which the 18-year-old hero encounters his future wife. The original manuscript of the work has not been found, and its contents have been preserved in hand-written copies.

The newly identified manuscript belongs to Motofuyu Okochi, 72, a descendant of the former feudal lord of the Mikawa-Yoshida Domain in Aichi Prefecture.

Old manuscripts of all of the four other chapters in “Aobyoshibon” had been found by the 1930s and are designated as important cultural properties by the government.

The recently found manuscript mostly matches the commonly known version, but there are some grammatical differences, the foundation said.

Teika is known to have attempted to reconstruct the original version of “The Tale of Genji” by comparing various copies of the book that were available at the time.