The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji The Sacred Tree Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Rokujō Lady grows more and more despondent. Genji stops visiting altogether and so she decides to accompany Akikonomu to Ise. Genji is sad about this and tries to convince her to stay, but she refuses. Finally, he goes to visit her at the shrine. The Rokujō Lady agrees to receive him through curtains though when he arrives, she only passes a few notes. The lady's ladies finally convince the Rokujō Lady to go talk to Genji herself. He offers her a camellia branch in lieu of an apology for neglecting her, and the two make up to a degree. Genji remembers how close they once were and begins to cry. The Rokujō Lady tries not to cry as Genji tells her everything, and she finds her resolve to leave weakening.
Though it's unclear what exactly Genji telling the Rokujō Lady "everything" entails, dumping his emotional turmoil on her is another cunning way that Genji can force the women in his life to take responsibility for his feelings and emotions. This jas great results for him, as he's somehow compelling enough to get back into the lady’s good graces by doing so. All together, this shows how Genji is able to manipulate his lovers so that they'll continue to accept his abuse.
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At dawn, Genji takes the Rokujō Lady's hand and professes his love. She expresses sadness that she's leaving and finally, Genji goes. He writes her the next day and his letter almost makes the Rokujō Lady reconsider, but it's too late. Akikonomu is thrilled to get to take her mother with her to Ise. The Suzaku Emperor, who is romantically interested in Akikonomu, appoints a grand retinue to escort the priestess and Genji sends a letter as they leave, to which the priestess herself replies. Genji spends the rest of the day in seclusion and thinks that Akikonomu interests him, wondering if he'd have a chance to meet her in the future.
When Genji's letter is able to make the Rokujō Lady seriously reconsider whether or not to go, it reinforces the power of well-written letters to create change and help a person carry out their wishes in the real world. Genji's decision to consider Akikonomu in this moment shows that even though he's still grieving for Aoi, that's not stopping him from looking elsewhere for more lovers—and in this case, he's looking again at a child.
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The Suzaku Emperor puts the farewell comb in Akikonomu's hair and in the evening, the procession of carriages leaves for Ise. As the procession passes Genji's mansion, he sends out a poem asking the Rokujō Lady if she'll regret her decision. The Rokujō Lady replies briskly the next morning that she's firm in her decision. Genji spends the day alone.
Again, the fact that Genji spends a day in seclusion after being turned down by the Rokujō Lady while the lady was driven to drastic measures when she felt lonely shows that Genji, as a man, is in a far more secure position in his romances than she is.
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Beginning in October, the court begins to fear for the Emperor's health. He begs Suzaku to be good to Genji and to ask Genji for advice. Suzaku agrees to follow his father's wishes. Reizei also 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. His death is a surprise and brings possible turmoil with it: the Suzaku Emperor is still young and his grandfather, the Minister of the Right, is vindictive.
Though the narration never gives the Suzaku Emperor's age, it's important to keep in mind that he's young enough to be easily taken advantage of by both Kokiden and the Minister of the Right. This then illustrates how individuals who are already powerful—like Kokiden—can use their children to become even more powerful and effectively take control of the government.
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Fujitsubo knows that Kokiden will be horrible to live with, so Prince Hyōbu arrives to take her home. The prince and Genji exchange poems about their grief before the procession leaves for Sanjō. Genji grieves into the new year. In February, Kokiden appoints Oborozukiyo to be the wardress of the ladies' apartments and gives Oborozukiyo her former pavilion. Genji and Oborozukiyo continue to write to each other.
Fujitsubo's precautionary measures indicate that the fear that other women will suffer the same fate as the Lady of the Paulownia Court is absolutely still alive and wel—and is even more pressing, given that Kokiden's rage is no longer tempered by the Emperor and his power.
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Related Quotes
With the Emperor gone, Kokiden sets about making Genji's life miserable, as she and the Minister of the Right haven't forgotten that the Minister of the Left gave Aoi to Genji instead of to Suzaku. Genji dedicates himself to Yugiri's education and neglects his many ladies. He's sad, however, when the Princess Asagao is called to take a priestess position. Regardless, he continues to write to her. Suzaku wants to call on Genji, but his mother and grandfather won't let him.
The reasons why Kokiden is out to get Genji remind the reader that in Heian court culture, marriage is something that is undertaken for political motives, not love. The Suzaku Emperor's willingness to call on Genji suggests that he's a decent person at heart and is just powerless because of his youth and because of how forceful his relatives are.
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Genji and Oborozukiyo continue their romance and one evening, she invites him to her chambers. Near dawn, Genji is awakened by guardsmen yelling, flushing out men in ladies' chambers. Oborozukiyo recites a poem as Genji tries to sneak out. Unfortunately, an officer affiliated with the Minister of the Right sees Genji.
Even though this unfortunate sighting never goes anywhere in this translation, it helps to build the case that the court is no longer someplace where Genji can expect to get his way and conduct himself as he sees fit.
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Fujitsubo continues to worry about Reizei. Though she's happy that the Emperor never found out about Reizei's paternity, she's still afraid of what might happen if the truth were to get out. She's also unhappy that Genji is still in love with her. One day, he manages to get close to her. It feels like a nightmare to her; his "comforting" words aren't comforting at all and she begins to experience chest pains. Genji is shocked at how hard she resists him but refuses to leave, even when dawn comes. Omyōbu pushes Genji into a closet to hide him and calls for Prince Hyōbu and priests.
When Genji once again refuses to read the room and take Fujitsubo's wishes into account, it shows that he still thinks of women as existing only to serve him however he sees fit—even if it makes women seriously ill or upset, as happened with Murasaki. It's also telling that Omyōbu doesn't put a stop to this sooner; while it's possible she didn't have the power to do so, it's also worth keeping in mind that she may believe Fujitsubo being raped is a fair price for the reward of being associated with Genji.
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By evening, Fujitsubo is feeling better, so Prince Hyōbu leaves. Genji slips out of the closet and watches Fujitsubo for a moment. He marvels at how much she and Murasaki look like each other. Genji approaches Fujitsubo again. Terrified, she sinks to the floor and tries to run, but she trips on her hair. Genji berates her with years of pent up frustrations, but she remains unmoved and won't let him force himself on her. Genji feels ashamed by morning. He begs to see her occasionally in a nonromantic capacity, but Fujitsubo passionately says that she should die—though if she did, her love for Genji would keep her from finding salvation.
It continues to be somewhat unclear if Fujitsubo genuinely does nurse feelings for Genji and believes she can't act on them in good faith, or if she's just saying she has feelings to appease him somewhat. When she trips on her hair in her hurry to escape, the novel shows how all the trappings of a woman’s life can work together to keep her from ever escaping, even in these insidious ways.
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Distraught, Genji leaves and vows to make Fujitsubo feel sorry for him. He locks himself away and doesn't write to her. Fujitsubo spends days worried 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 remembers why she can't live there: the stress of worrying about Kokiden is too much. She asks Reizei if he'd be sad if she left court and cut her hair, and he quietly says he'd miss her.
Genji's method of retaliating illustrates again just how important it is for women to cultivate their relationships with powerful men, even if they're not all that into the men or the relationships themselves. The way this passage is structured, it implies that because Fujitsubo doesn't have Genji's support, Kokiden is going to be even harder to deal with.
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Genji ignores Reizei to punish Fujitsubo for her "cruelty." He attempts to avoid gossip by spending several days in a temple and is very affected by the holy life he observes there. He thinks the only reason he doesn't embrace the religious life is because of Murasaki. He writes to her often and she cries when she receives his letters. Genji is thrilled to see her writing style mature.
When Genji chooses to ignore Reizei too, it offers another way in which parents can use children as tools. This also suggests that while the parent-child relationships in the novel may be respected, relationships between parents themselves are nowhere near as strong or powerful.
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Genji also writes to Princess Asagao and asks to visit. Her response is cryptic though her handwriting is lovely, and Genji laments that he lost out on wooing two priestesses. Genji dedicates himself to studying Buddhist texts and finally, decides to return to Murasaki. He finds that she's even more beautiful and mature now, and he finds her very pleasing. He sends some branches of autumn leaves to Fujitsubo and Omyōbu, apologizing for his neglect. Fujitsubo blushes when she discovers a tightly folded note hidden in the leaves for her, but she doesn’t read it. She understands she needs to remain friendly with Genji for the sake of Reizei, and Genji realizes the same.
The decision to put their differences aside for Reizei's sake shows that Genji is growing up and maturing, while it indicates that Fujitsubo recognizes that her wellbeing depends on her son doing well at court—something that will happen only with Genji's help and guidance. The autumn leaves Genji sends Fujitsubo suggest that their relationship is coming to a close, acting as a symbol opposite the cherry blossoms that signal renewal and growth.
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Genji returns to court to call on the Suzaku Emperor. Suzaku is aware that Genji is seeing Oborozukiyo but doesn't see any reason to caution him in the matter. They discuss all manner of things and 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 on to see Fujitsubo. They exchange poems about their sadness and the space between them.
Even though it's somewhat unclear at this point in the text, the narrator later notes that Suzaku and Oborozukiyo are sexually involved. This understanding suggests that the rivalry and jealousy is something that exists only between women, not between men—which, again, speaks to the comfort that men feel in their positions.
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Because of the climate at court, Genji stops writing to Oborozukiyo. Eventually, she writes him a poem expressing her sadness that he hasn't visited. He replies that he's sad too and intends to return. On the anniversary of the Emperor's death, Fujitsubo prepares to read the Lotus Sutra for him. She and Genji exchange notes expressing their continued grief for the Emperor. The reading ceremony takes place in December and the hall is decorated beautifully. On the last day, Fujitsubo announces her plans to become a nun. This takes the assembly, including Genji and Prince Hyōbu, by surprise. Everyone weeps as she takes her vows and cuts her hair. Genji feels as though darkness has settled over him.
Fujitsubo's choice to become a nun functions here in much the same way that the Rokujō Lady's choice to follow her daughter to Ise worked: it allows the women to take some control over their lives by removing themselves from the toxicity of court culture altogether. It's also clear here that this isn't something that the powerful men at court can argue with, which hearkens back to Heian culture as a whole and the deference afforded to religious figures at this time.
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When the ceremony is over, Genji goes to speak to Fujitsubo. He's angry that she surprised them all, but Fujitsubo sends notes through Omyōbu that she didn't want to attract attention. Because there are others around, Genji can't tell her his true thoughts. Fujitsubo sends out a note that her heart remains with Reizei. Finally, Genji leaves.
It's telling that Fujitsubo says her heart is with Reizei, not with Genji: this shows that even as she removes herself from court life, her relationship with her son is the one thing that will continue to guide her going forward.
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Genji wonders what will happen to Reizei all night. In the morning, he throws himself into getting the nunnery ready for Fujitsubo and Omyōbu, who also decided to take vows. He and Fujitsubo see each other more often, though they don't spend the night together. As the New Year arrives, Fujitsubo dedicates herself to prayer. The customs that are normally festive and exciting seem sad now. As spring approaches, he and Fujitsubo continue to exchange poems. He tries not to weep, and women feel as though Genji is almost more beautiful now that he's not the darling of the court.
The fact that Genji and Fujitsubo can see each other without even the question of sex again indicates that there's a great deal of power and agency available to women when they choose to remove themselves entirely from court life. When other women think that Genji is more beautiful now than he was before, it suggests that his sadness is preparing him for more greatness later, while also reinforcing his exceptionalism.
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When the spring promotions are announced, Fujitsubo's household is passed over entirely. She devotes herself to prayer and reminds herself that Reizei's security is the most important thing. Genji, the Minister of the Left, and Tō no Chūjō are also slighted when the promotions are announced. Tō no Chūjō and Genji spend a great deal of time together, distracting themselves with music and poetry. Genji becomes more interested in religious ceremonies and commissions several prayers.
Genji's newfound interest in religion is one way that the novel signals his growing maturity, especially when combined with the fact that he understands now that Fujitsubo is totally off limits. This implies that his experience with Fujitsubo was an unintended coming of age experience for Genji and now, he may act more maturely.
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One summer evening, Tō no Chūjō brings a collection of Chinese poetry with him when he visits Genji. Genji pulls out his own volumes and sends invitations out for a poetry rhyming contest that evening. Genji is the best at guessing the rhymes. Two days later, Tō no Chūjō throws a banquet for the winners of the contest. They play music and Tō no Chūjō's son sings for the assembled men. The narrator records several of the poems that were composed but insists that others were composed under the influence of alcohol and aren't worth recording. They were all, however, in praise of Genji.
The narrator's notes here suggest that Heian court culture isn't always something that's receptive to the very things it promotes and prioritizes, as the mention of drunken poems implies that either the culture itself is flawed or the prioritization of poetry is misguided. When they all praise Genji regardless of their relative value, it shows again that his exceptionalism is something that everyone knows about and everyone is willing to voice.
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Oborozukiyo begins experiencing malaria attacks and so goes to spend time with her family. As she improves, she arranges to see Genji. They begin 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 around in a panic and Genji fears he won't be able to sneak out. Finally, the storm passes, dawn comes, and with it, the Minister of the Right jauntily lifts Oborozukiyo's curtains to check on her. Oborozukiyo slips out, looking as though she's having another malaria attack, but the minister notices a man's sash in her skirts and a note on the ground.
The thunderstorm here acts as a symbol for change and signals bad things to come: now that Genji has been discovered with Oborozukiyo, which is clearly not okay no matter what Suzaku said about it previously, he's angered the most powerful family at court. This also reinforces that now, Genji is on his own to manage his conduct and doesn't have the Emperor around anymore to protect him or to reprimand him for acting foolishly. As such, Genji may finally have to pay the price for his transgressions.
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The Minister of the Right lifts the curtains again and sees Genji in Oborozukiyo's bed, half undressed. The minister angrily leaves 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 and calls Genji a disgrace to everyone. Kokiden takes this one step further, blaming Genji for slighting them and Oborozukiyo for letting Genji get the better of her. She insists that Genji is eager for the next emperor to take the throne. Feeling somewhat sheepish, the minister tells Kokiden to tell Oborozukiyo to be careful and to tell no one else. Kokiden, however, feels as though Genji personally insulted her.
Notice that though Kokiden takes it upon herself to punish Genji, she still blames Oborozukiyo for sleeping with Genji—regardless of the fact that the first time they had sex, Genji raped her and told her that trying to fight him off wasn't worth it. Essentially, Kokiden's anger at Oborozukiyo reinforces that women have very little power in this culture, as they're supposed to fight men off but can also expect to be punished by the men themselves for doing just that.
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