||There was once a time when one of the Ladies of the Imperial Court became the special favorite of the Emperor and bore him a healthy baby boy. This was much to the upset of the other ladies who, through their continuous jealousy and hostility, made the favored lady quite ill. Eventually all the tormenting drove her to an early grave.
The beautiful boy grew up and seemed destined to become the Crown Prince. However, because he lacked the backing of powerful guardians at the Court, the Emperor knew he would not be happy as Crown Prince. So, instead, he appointed him as one of his retainers and gave him the name, Genji. From then on he was known as 'Hikaru Genji' (The 'Shining' Genji).
When Genji was still very young, the Emperor took a new wife, named Fujitsubo, a lady who bore an uncanny resemblance to the tragic lady who had been Genji's mother. Genji's longing for the mother he had never really known led to an infatuation for Fujitsubo which, some years later, resulted in her conceiving a child by Genji (the future Emperor Reizei). (This illicit affair was one that haunted Genji for the rest of his life)
While Genji was married to a lady called Aoi no Ue, later in the story he happened to meet a young girl called Murasaki no Ue who, it turned out, was Fujitsubo's niece. She was living in pitiful circumstances so Genji took her away to raise her so that one day she might make a perfect lady.
As well as the ladies already mentioned, Genji romantically pursued many women including the widow of the former Crown Prince, a married woman, a lady who was his best friend's lover, a very naive Princess, and an old maid of nearly 60. Perhaps most surprisingly, Genji also romanced the daughter of his main politically enemy. His love for the ladies in his life was always pure and sincere but connected to his unfulfilled longing for the beautiful mother he had lost so young.
||Around the time when his brother the Emperor Suzaku succeeded his father as Emperor, Genji was forced to leave Kyoto and into exile in a remote area near to present-day Kobe. The fall from grace was the result of his scandalous affair with the daughter of one of his political enemies. He spent his exile quietly but, nevertheless, pursued a new romance, having an affair with Akashi no Kimi, the daughter of another Kyoto aristocrat. This relationship also resulted in a child, this time a girl. When his brother abdicated as Emperor, Genji's son became the new Emperor (Emperor Reizei). As a result, Genji quickly recovered his political power, becoming a Minister and walking the path of a highly influential politician.
||Genji built a palatial mansion, known as 'The Rokujo Estate' invited all his ladies to live with him and seemingly achieved an almost ideal lifestyle. However, after he decided to take a new lady, known as 'Onna San no Miya' as his wife, life at the Rokujo Estate began to lose its luster. She was the daughter of Genji's dying brother, the Emperor Suzaku and the complicated personal relations between all his ladies became a nuisance. He was no longer a young man. Even more unfortunate was that a young man named Kashiwagi, the son of Genji's best friend, seduced the somewhat naive Onna San no Miya. The result of this liaison was a child, a boy named Kaoru, who later became the central character in the closing 'The Ten Uji Chapters'
Genji felt he only had himself to blame and that fate was punishing him. He too, in his younger days, had illicitly fathered a child, the baby born to Fujitsubo and the boy that became the Emperor Reizei. The irony left such a deep wound in his heart that he decided to go into self-exile.
It is at this point in the 'Tale' that the story of Genji himself ends and the narrative jumps to the final section, a time after Genji's death, set in the city of Uji, and follows two protagonists. One of them was Kaoru, Genji's youngest child, reportedly the exact likeness of his father and the other was Niou no Miya, Genji's grandson. These last ten chapters also involve three beautiful ladies and depict the sad love stories that befall all these characters.
The Princess at the Bridge
The 'The Ten Uji Chapters' start off in a time of their own. A young man named Kaoru was troubled by the suspicion that he may have been illegitimate. As he looked to the older Hachi no Miya (Genji's brother) as a role model of propriety and righteousness, he sought his wisdom in studying the divine mysteries.
In the autumn of the third year Kaoru made an unscheduled visit to Hachi no Miya's mansion, but Hachi no Miya was away. Under the light of the moon, Kaoru happened to catch sight of Hachi no Miya's daughters as they plucked the strings of their 'koto' When he saw the elder sister, 'Oikimi' it was love at first sight. [It was soon after this encounter that Kaoru finally learned the truth of his illegitimate birth, as revealed by the old woman Bennokimi, former nanny to his real father Kashiwagi].
In the 'The Ten Uji Chapters' the Tale of Genji now involves only the imperial capital Kyoto and Uji, and enters a shadier and melancholy world, a world that is very different from the one inhabited by Hikaru Genji, as told previously.
Under the Chinquapin Tree
Niou no Miya had heard about the beautiful daughters of Hachi no Miya from Kaoru and, on his way back from a pilgrimage to Hatsuse, he paid a visit to Uji. The visit resulted in an exchange of letters between Niou no Miya and the younger princess, Naka no Kimi.
It was also a time when Hachi no Miya knew that his life was nearing its end. He sought Kaoru's promise that he would take care of his daughters after he had died. He also instructed his daughters how they should live after his death. Then, with his affairs in order, Hachi no Miya made his way to the temple of Saint Azari in the mountains and, shortly afterwards, passed away. The princesses had not been with him when he died, so were left in deep shock, utterly alone and helpless. Fortunately, the death was immediately reported to Kaoru in Kyoto and he was able to travel over in time to take care of funeral arrangements on the princesses behalf.
The daughters went into mourning, but there was an occasion in the following year when Kaoru caught a glimpse of them. He thought them most beautiful, even in their mourning clothes, and found himself longing for Oikimi all the more.
The first anniversary of Hachi no Miya's death had passed and the period of mourning was over. So Kaoru, guided by the elderly maid Bennokimi, arranged to be led to the princesses' private quarters. However his plan was discovered when Oikimi sensed his presence and swiftly escaped the room. Unfortunately, she had to leave the sleeping Naka no Kimi behind. Oikimi had always thought that her sister would be the more appropriate match for Kaoru, but, despite the opportunity now presenting itself, Kaoru made no advances towards Naka no Kimi. This truly demonstrated that his love was reserved for Oikimi alone.
In fact, Kaoru was secretly planning to arrange a match with Naka no Kimi for Niou no Miya. The plan resulted in Niou no Miya paying almost nightly visits to Naka no Kimi, a relationship that grew but then suddenly seemed to falter, leaving Oikimi ill with worry for her sister. In fact, her strength began to fail and she could hardly resist Kaoru's repeated advances any longer. Ultimately, her condition deteriorated so seriously that she withered like a leaf and died, a devastated Kaoru at her side when it happened.
Kaoru yet again found himself making funeral arrangements, just as he had done for Hachi no Miya. This time however he had lost the love of his life. The Emperor himself paid his respects, sending a messenger with his condolences, but Kaoru was inconsolable. He had never formally married Oikimi so he could not even honor her by dressing in full mourning clothes.
Despite the prevailing sadness that followed the loss of Oikimi, springtime arrived in Uji. Saint Azari as always sent his seasonal greeting and a gift of spring delicacies in a basket from the mountains. Having lost her sister the previous year, and her father only a year earlier, Naka no Kimi was still very lonely. Niou no Miya had by now become her husband and she also had Kaoru to rely on for support. So eventually it was obvious that she must leave Uji for good. It had never been convenient for Niou no Miya to make visits to Uji so he decided to move her to the Nijo Estate in Kyoto. On the surface, Kaoru was only her dedicated benefactor, but secretly he was captivated by her resemblance to his true love, Oikimi and he began to regret having given her up. The astute Niou no Miya sensed that his friend was now nursing such feelings towards his new wife and Naka no Kimi herself was upset at this new development.
Naka no Kimi was upset when Niou no Miya eventually married. She now regretted ever having left Uji, a decision that had been against the wishes of her father (Hachi no Miya) and she begged Kaoru to take her back to Uji. The meeting provided a golden opportunity for Kaoru to reveal his true feelings. He wanted to embrace her passionately but realized that she was obviously expecting a child. He restrained himself. Naka no Kimi herself was in a dilemma. She was caught between Kaoru's feelings for her and the jealousy of her husband Niou no Miya. Therefore, as a diversion, she tried to entice Kaoru into pursuing her stepsister Ukifune instead, (a name that means 'floating boat').
In the following year, Naka no Kimi gave birth to a baby boy. The very same month, Kaoru was married to the younger daughter of the Emperor. However, he was still unable to forget Oikimi and made plans to construct a memorial to her in Uji. He made a visit to Uji to direct the construction work and while there, by chance, met Ukifune. She was returning from a pilgrimage and had decided to visit Hachi no Miya's former residence. Kaoru was struck by her remarkable resemblance to his lost love, Oikimi. [The later 'Ten Uji Chapters' now develop into the love story between Kaoru and Ukifune].
The Eastern Cottage
Ukifune had remained unmarried but, at long last, a promising marriage prospect arose. Unfortunately the arrangements fell through, a blow that left Ukifune utterly miserable. She went to visit her sister Naka no Kimi in Nijo for consolation and while she was there Niou no Miya returned home. Thinking that Ukifune must be one of the new ladies of the house and, with Naka no Kimi out of the way (she was washing her hair), Niou grabbed the terrified girl. She managed to escape but was so frightened that she left Nijo immediately, intent on finding some far off cottage in Sanjo (near Uji) where she could live in hiding.
Niou's friend and rival, Kaoru, eventually learned where Ukifune had escaped to and, guided by her lady-in-waiting, managed to find her. However, things went beyond the simple discovery and he managed to spend the night with her. In the case of Oikimi, he had been courting the daughter of Hachi no Miya so had needed to treat her with a special respect. However, Ukifune was only Oikimi's stepsister and merely the daughter of a local governor so there was little difficulty in taking her as a lover. Sweetest of all, she made a worthy substitute for Oikimi. The story now wonders if Ukifune will be able to escape her destiny.
The Floating Boat
Niou no Miya had not been able to forget Ukifune since she escaped him. Eventually he found out that she had run off to Uji and, furthermore, that Kaoru had since become her lover. Niou had always felt some rivalry with Kaoru and, armed with this new information, he immediately traveled to Uji to track her down. When he found the place he pretended to be Kaoru, tricked his way into Ukifune's bed and spent the night with her. Her lady-in-waiting, Ukon, was aghast to discover the deception the following morning. Ukifune however, despite his methods, found Niou no Miya's passion irresistible and could not help being drawn to him.
One day, Niou no Miya made another visit to Uji despite the thick snow that was falling. He had arranged to stay at a private lodge on the opposite side of the river where he had spent his passionate night with Ukifune. It was not long before Kaoru found out about the relationship with Niou no Miya. Although he believed Ukifune to be at fault for the infidelity he was determined to keep her, and to do so under guard in Kyoto. Niou no Miya likewise wanted her near, but found her new security to be too tight. With two different nobles agonizing over her, Ukifune was caught in an intolerable situation. Arrangements were still being made to have her moved to Kyoto so, tortured and confused, she decided to end it all by throwing herself into the dangerous waters nearby.
The morning following Ukifune's disappearance, Uji was in panic and chaos. Her mother rushed to the city and, although the girl's body had not been recovered, she decided to proceed with a funeral. Niou no Miya and Kaoru were both devastated by this unexpected end to their love interest.
After the memorial service held on the 49th day of Ukifune's death, Kaoru happened to catch sight of the Emperor's First Daughter, a lady of great beauty and elegance, and half-sister to his own wife. Back at his residence Kaoru suggested his wife try on garments similar to those that had accentuated the First Daughter's beauty so well. Possibly because the two ladies were only half-sisters (by different mothers) the result was a disappointment.
A confused and wretched Ukifune was discovered by chance on the grounds of the Uji-in Residence. Her rescuers were apprentices to a Bishop from Yokawa who was stopping on his travels. The Bishop took Ukifune to his mother's home in Ono where she was nursed back to health. The Bishop's sister had lost a daughter and now regarded Ukifune as a replacement.
Reflecting on her life and misfortunes, Ukifune begged the Bishop to allow her to become a nun. He had already saved her life and now he ceremoniously cut away her long hair. At last Ukifune found inner peace and devoted herself to learning the ways of Buddhism.
Kaoru was still mourning the loss of Ukifune, and indeed she knew he could never forget her. Inevitably, the possibility that she might be alive eventually came to the attention of Empress Akashi through the Bishop and so the news reached Kaoru. The shocked Kaoru immediately set out to visit the Bishop in Yokawa to learn the truth. He took with him Kogimi, Ukifune's stepbrother.
Yume no Ukihashi
The Floating Bridge of Dreams
Hearing Ukifune's sad story from the Bishop of Yokawa, tears came to Kaoru's eyes and the Bishop himself began to regret having helped Ukifune become a nun. Kaoru's delegation began its return to Kyoto and came near to Ukifune's house in the mountains, the home of her new, more tranquil life. She herself could see the mass of procession torches. Next morning Kaoru wrote a letter to Ukifune and entrusted its delivery to her stepbrother Kogimi.
On meeting Kogimi, Ukifune could not help thinking of her poor mother but told him that he must have mistaken her for somebody else. She refused to answer the letter. Kogimi returned to Kaoru looking very disappointed. Kaoru was troubled and regretted sending a messenger.
Ukifune had become a nun and clearly succeeded in disassociating herself from Kaoru while he, in contrast, remained captive to his desires despite earlier hopes to purge himself of his baser qualities. Here, the 54 chapters of the lengthy Tale of Genji come to an end leaving the lives of this man and woman locked in a tragic dichotomy. The destiny they now face is left to the imagination of the reader.