The Tale of Genji

Kokiden Character Analysis

Kokiden is one of the Emperor's favorite lovers--she's possibly his wife, though it’s not specified—and she's also one of Genji's most powerful adversaries. Despite the amount of power she holds for much of the novel, she's extremely insecure. As a result, Kokiden works very hard to make her adversaries' lives difficult, as when she's instrumental in driving the Lady of the Paulownia Court away. Though she is forced to accept that Genji is a beautiful and charming child, this also doesn't stop her from attempting to take him down every chance she gets. She successfully navigates her son, Suzaku, to the emperorship early in his life and chooses to not follow the Emperor into retirement. It's unclear what kind of a relationship Kokiden and the Emperor even had to begin with, as she often mocks him when he is sad or upset, especially following the Lady of the Paulownia Court's death. With Suzaku as emperor, Kokiden and her father, the Minister of the Right, effectively rule in his stead. When Kokiden learns that Genji is sneaking around and having sex with one of her younger sisters, Kokiden is instrumental in making it seem as though going into exile is Genji's only option. She also does her best to isolate Genji from anyone at court and specifically, to keep Suzaku from maintaining friendly contact with Genji. Finally, after several years, Suzaku stands up to his mother and calls Genji back to court. Kokiden becomes ill and slowly loses power, and she never fully recovers.

Kokiden Quotes in The Tale of Genji

The The Tale of Genji quotes below are all either spoken by Kokiden or refer to Kokiden. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Tale of Genji published in 1976.
The Paulownia Court Quotes

In a certain reign there was a lady not of the first rank whom the emperor loved more than any of the others. The grand ladies with high ambitions thought her a presumptuous upstart, and lesser ladies were still more resentful.

Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
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Because she was of such high birth (it may have been that people were imagining things) she seemed even more graceful and delicate than the other. No one could despise her for her inferior rank, and the emperor need not feel shy about showing his love for her.

Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Sacred Tree Quotes

She was quite aware of Kokiden's feelings and knew that a world at the service of the other lady would be difficult to live in.

Page Number: 197
Explanation and Analysis:
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Kokiden Character Timeline in The Tale of Genji

The timeline below shows where the character Kokiden appears in The Tale of Genji. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Paulownia Court
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
The Parent-Child Relationship Theme Icon
Nature, Poetry, and Beauty Theme Icon
...it's clear that the baby is superior to the Emperor's older son, Suzaku. This makes Kokiden, Suzaku's mother, nervous, as she fears that her son won't be named crown prince now... (full context)
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
The Parent-Child Relationship Theme Icon
Nature, Poetry, and Beauty Theme Icon
...Emperor raises the Lady of the Paulownia Court's rank posthumously, which some people still resent. Kokiden spends the next several months mocking the Emperor's grief, which colors everything he does. Even... (full context)
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
The Parent-Child Relationship Theme Icon
...in the morning. He refuses to eat for much of the next day. In private, Kokiden mocks the Emperor. (full context)
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
...as he grows, though he continues to show that he's absolutely an exceptional child. Even Kokiden likes him. He learns the classics and to play the flute and the koto, and... (full context)
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
Nature, Poetry, and Beauty Theme Icon
...The emissary's remarks about Genji leak, raising the suspicions of the Minister of the Right, Kokiden's father. He becomes very suspicious, though he soon discovers he has no need to be.... (full context)
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
The Parent-Child Relationship Theme Icon
...he learns that Fujitsubo resembles her. He wants to be with her all the time. Kokiden is very upset about all of this. Genji is far more handsome than her own... (full context)
An Autumn Excursion
Nature, Poetry, and Beauty Theme Icon
...cherry next to a nondescript shrub. His performance brings the entire audience to tears; even Kokiden is in awe. Fujitsubo, however, still feels disconnected and guilty about her secret. She spends... (full context)
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
...February, she finally gives birth to her and Genji’s son (Reizei). Not wanting to give Kokiden the satisfaction of seeing her die, her will to live returns and she recovers. Genji... (full context)
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
In the summer, the Emperor names Fujitsubo empress. This, of course, sends Kokiden into a rage. Rumors fly that the Emperor is neglecting a lady with twenty years... (full context)
The Festival of the Cherry Blossoms
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
The Parent-Child Relationship Theme Icon
...Fujitsubo and Reizei on one side of him and Genji on the other, which makes Kokiden extremely angry. Her anger doesn't manage to ruin the event, however. Genji and other courtiers... (full context)
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
Nature, Poetry, and Beauty Theme Icon
...exceptional that the reader comments on every line. As Fujitsubo listens, she wonders simultaneously how Kokiden can hate Genji and how she's so drawn to him. She silently recites a poem... (full context)
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
Nature, Poetry, and Beauty Theme Icon
...see if Fujitsubo left her door open for him. She didn't. He notices that near Kokiden's pavilion, there's an open door. Genji slips in with a mysterious woman (Oborozukiyo). Genji catches... (full context)
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
After he leaves, Genji reasons that Oborozukiyo must be one of Kokiden's younger sisters. He thinks through the sisters, of which there are many, but can't figure... (full context)
Heartvine
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
The Parent-Child Relationship Theme Icon
...complain that he's quite aloof. Fujitsubo happily spends her time with the Emperor, which annoys Kokiden. She doesn't follow the Emperor when he moves out of the main palace. The Emperor,... (full context)
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
The Parent-Child Relationship Theme Icon
The high priestess at Kamo resigns and is replaced by one of Kokiden's daughters. In preparation for the ceremonies and the festival, courtiers decorate their carriages. The streets... (full context)
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
The Parent-Child Relationship Theme Icon
It comes to Kokiden's attention that her sister Oborozukiyo seems to be pining for Genji. The Minister of the... (full context)
The Sacred Tree
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
The Parent-Child Relationship Theme Icon
...visits the Emperor with Fujitsubo. Later, the Emperor tells Genji to take care of Reizei. Kokiden delays her visit and because of this, the Emperor dies before she can see him.... (full context)
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
Fujitsubo knows that Kokiden will be horrible to live with, so Prince Hyōbu arrives to take her home. The... (full context)
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
The Parent-Child Relationship Theme Icon
With the Emperor gone, Kokiden sets about making Genji's life miserable, as she and the Minister of the Right haven't... (full context)
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
The Parent-Child Relationship Theme Icon
...and disturbed, fearing that she needs to give up her title of empress to appease Kokiden. She resolves to become a nun and goes to see Reizei. While at court, she... (full context)
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
...finally, they talk about Reizei and Fujitsubo. As Genji leaves the emperor's chambers, one of Kokiden's nephews boldly insults Genji for being disloyal to Suzaku. This shakes Genji, but he continues... (full context)
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
The Parent-Child Relationship Theme Icon
Nature, Poetry, and Beauty Theme Icon
...seeing each other every night. Genji takes great care to sneak in and out, as Kokiden is also around. One night, a terrible thunderstorm passes through. Everyone in the household rushes... (full context)
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
The Parent-Child Relationship Theme Icon
...and Genji fears that this will cause quite the scandal. The minister immediately goes to Kokiden with the note. He rants that Genji used him by engaging with Oborozukiyo like this... (full context)
Suma
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
...everyone grieves Genji's exile. The Suzaku Emperor and Genji continue to exchange poems, which sends Kokiden into a fit of rage. After this, the letters stop. Murasaki remains unhappy, though serving... (full context)
Akashi
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
The Parent-Child Relationship Theme Icon
...Suzaku Emperor had a disturbing dream in which the Emperor yelled at him about Genji. Kokiden didn't think it was anything to worry about, but Suzaku came down with a painful... (full context)
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
The Parent-Child Relationship Theme Icon
...realizes he must abdicate and allow Reizei to rule. Finally, he decides to go against Kokiden and in the summer, summons Genji back to court. Genji is thrilled, though sad to... (full context)
Channel Buoys
The Parent-Child Relationship Theme Icon
Though Kokiden is seriously ill, she's still very angry that she hasn't crushed Genji yet. Suzaku feels... (full context)
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
Women, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
The Parent-Child Relationship Theme Icon
...roles. Tō no Chūjō is also promoted and hopes to send his twelve-year-old daughter, the Kokiden girl, to court. (full context)
Heian Court Culture Theme Icon
...with the respect of a retired empress. She's able to see Reizei again and now, Kokiden is on the outs. Genji is cold towards Prince Hyōbu because of his support for... (full context)