A Japanese Family Kept the Lost Chapter of the World’s First Novel for Nearly 300 Years
Fri, September 30, 2022

A Japanese Family Kept the Lost Chapter of the World’s First Novel for Nearly 300 Years


“The Tale of Genji,” considered to be the world’s first novel, was written 1,000 years ago during the Heian period. The Japanese tale was written by Murasaki Shikibu, an 11th-century noblewoman. The tale follows the complicated life of 18-year-old Hikaru Geni, a Japanese prince. In the story, the prince tries to manage his personal life and his political court. The novel gives readers a rare peek inside the life of the Japanese royals during that time. 


The illustration of one of the scenes in the Tale of Genji novel / Photo Credit: sfbaywalk via Flickr


Melissa McCormick, a professor of Japanese art and culture at Harvard University, describes the novel as a “monumental work of literature.” “Murasaki Shikibu was writing in a mode of literature that was, at her time, fairly denigrated. Fiction was at the lower rung of the scales of the genre hierarchies…but she produced such an incredible tour de force work of literature that it had to be taken seriously,” she said. 


The scene of the lost chapter / Photo Credit: All That's Interesting


Only four of the five chapters were preserved by the poet Fujiwara no Teika. But, after nearly 300 years, “The Tale of Genji” will finally be completed. Recently, the missing chapter of the novel was found inside the storage room of a Japanese home. All That’s Interesting, a site for curious people who want to know more about what they see on the news or read in history books, reported that the old manuscript was discovered in 72-year-old Motofuyu Okochi’s oblong chest. It is said that the lost chapter had been in the Okochi family, the descendants of nobility from the Mikawa-Yoshida feudal domain, since 1743. It was given to them by another family.


72-year-old Motofuyu Okochi showing the texts of the novel / Photo Credit: All That's Interesting


The cultural foundation Reizeike Shiguretei Bunko confirmed the authenticity of a newly discovered chapter from Teika’s manuscript titled Wakamurasaki. In this chapter, the meeting between Prince Genji, the main protagonist, and his future wife, Murasaki-no-ue, occurs. The researchers say that the handwriting is identical to the older chapters, and the front cover of the manuscript is blue, like Teika’s other chapters. 



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