Characters Discussed

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Prince Genji

Prince Genji, the handsome and popular son of the emperor of Japan. This courtly romance of medieval Japan is primarily concerned with Genji’s amours.

The emperor of Japan

The emperor of Japan, Genji’s father.

Lady Kokiden

Lady Kokiden, the emperor’s consort.


Kiritsubo, Genji’s mother and the emperor’s concubine. Largely as a result of Lady Kokiden’s antagonism to her, Kiritsubo dies during Genji’s childhood.

Princess Aoi

Princess Aoi, who is married at the age of sixteen to twelve-year-old Genji. She is unhappy at first as a result of her husband’s youth, and later because of his many amours. He does come to appreciate and love her, but her affliction results in her death in childbirth.


Fujitsubo, the emperor’s concubine and one of Genji’s first paramours. She has a child by Genji, but fortunately for him the resemblance in looks is attributed to fraternity rather than to paternity. After Lady Kokiden’s death, Fujitsubo is made official consort.


Utsusemi, a pretty young matron and another of Genji’s paramours. Realizing that the affair cannot last, she ends it. While pursuing her again, Genji becomes distracted by another young woman.

Ki no Kami

Ki no Kami, a young courtier, at whose home Genji meets Utsusemi.


Ygao, a young noblewoman in love with Genji. They live together in secret within the palace grounds for a time, until Ygao dies tragically and strangely. Genji’s friends act to avert a scandal.


Murasaki, a young orphan girl of good family. Genji secretly rears her and, a year after Princess Aoi’s death, when Murasaki is of marriageable age, he makes her his wife.


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Lady Akashi
Daughter of a provincial governor turned priest, Genji woos her during his exile. She is daunted by his elevated position and refinement, but eventually succumbs and becomes one of Genji's secondary wives. Her daughter is adopted by Murasaki and eventually becomes empress.

Akikonomu is the daughter of Prince Zembo and the Lady of Rokujo. She serves as high priestess of the Ise shrine and later, with Genji's backing, becomes the Reizei Emperor's (Genji's son) wife. She eventually becomes Empress. Genji inappropriately tries to seduce her.

Lady Aoi
Genji's first principal wife, Lady Aoi marries him when he is twelve and she is somewhat older. She is portrayed as cold and curt, and the two never seem compatible. Genji incurs the resentment of her family by his prolonged absences from her home at Sanjo. She is the only daughter of the Minister of the Left at the opening of the novel. Like her brother, Genji's friend To no Chujo, she is his child by his principal wife, Princess Omiya. At a lustration ceremony, Lady Aoi pushes her carriage past Lady Rokujo' s. This move humiliates Rokujo, and in turn inspires her spirit to take possession and kill Aoi. After her death, Genji mourns profusely. This deep mourning period may be explained by Genji's feelings of guilt, both for being a bad husband and for causing her premature death. Before Aoi dies, she gives birth to their son, Yugiri.

Princess Asagao
Princess Asagao is daughter of Prince Momozono, who was a brother of Genji's father. She is thus his first cousin. He pursues her from time to time, but without success.

The daughter of Kashiwagi's late nurse, Bennokimi holds the true story of Kaoru's birth. She finally, after many years, tells Kaoru everything and hands over a packet of Kashiwagi's old love letters to his mother, Princess Nyosan.

Bishop Of Yokawa
The Bishop of...

(This entire section contains 3919 words.)

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Yokawa performs the exorcism that enables Ukifune to recover from her seemingly fatal illness. Later, he cuts her hair and allows her to take vows. He regrets having done this after he realizes Kaoru's attachment to the woman.

The name means "captain.’’ Several female servants bear this name, probably taken from their fathers' rank. One is the servant of the wife of the Governor of Iyo. In a subsequent chapter, a different Chujo seems to be a servant of the Lady Rokujo.

To no Chujo
To no Chujo is not only Genji's brother-in-law, but also his best friend and frequent rival. Like Genji, To no Chujo possesses great charm, beauty, and refinement in the arts. He has much success in his romantic pursuits. However, he is always seen as just a step below his rival in all areas: a poor man's Genji. He is the eldest son of a Minister of the Left and Princess Omiya, and the brother of Lady Aoi. He is the father of Kashiwagi, Kobai, Kumoi, and (by Yugao) Tamakazura. His principal wife is a daughter of a Minister of the Right.

A series of ladies in waiting bear this name. In Chapter 7, a Chunagon is mentioned as an attendant of Lady Aoi, and he later sleeps with her. The same or another Chunagon serves as Genji's intermediary in a correspondence with Oborozukiyo.

After the death of Kiritsubo, the Emperor (Genji's father) marries her look-alike, Fujitsubo. Fujitsubo is the sister of Prince Hyobu, and thus the aunt of Murasaki. Though she ranks as a secondary wife, Fujitsubo is clearly his favorite. She serves as a substitute not only to the Emperor for the loss of his wife, but also to Genji for the loss of his mother. Genji recklessly pursues Fujitsubo and finally seduces her. As a result, she bears a son, the future Reizei Emperor, whom the world thinks of as the Emperor's child. She and Genji shamefully protect the terrible secret. She becomes a nun to impede Genji's persistent advances. Her death at the age of thirty-seven sends Genji into a long period of mourning.

The son of the Emperor and Kiritsubo, Genji is marked from his birth as extraordinary in every way. Because of weak maternal backing (Kiritsubo was of the lower ranks of court), the Emperor deems Genji a commoner. Ironically, the Korean fortune-teller who predicts, and thus helps seal, this fate also deems the boy, "The Shining Genji." Genji's natural beauty, combined with his cultivated skills in all the arts, makes him incomparably charming. It explains, in part, Genji's great success with women. He marries Lady Aoi at an early age but never has a meaningful relationship with her. He pursues Fujitsubo, his father's principal wife after Kiritsubo, and eventually impregnates her. Their offspring, the future Emperor Reizei, is passed off as the son of the Emperor. This and other similar events demonstrate the way future generations repeat the mistakes of their ancestors. Genji grooms Murasaki to be his perfect wife. Murasaki, like Fujitsubo, represents a substitute for his dead mother. Along the way, Genji has countless other romantic affairs and never forgets his women. He often gets into trouble as a result of inappropriate interludes, especially with Oborozukiyo. This affair leads to his exile in Suma. As he grows older, Genji's complexes grow to accommodate his many wives, concubines, old loves, and many children. This loyalty seems to arise from Genji's great sympathy for humanity. But in the spirit of mono no aware, Genji also understands too deeply the fleeting quality of earthly things. Through it all, Genji's one true love remains Murasaki. Soon after her death, Genji too passes away, and the implication seems to be that society from that point on is in decline.

Prince Hachi
A younger stepbrother of Genji's, Prince Hachi enters the novel at the very end. While living an ascetic existence in exile, Prince Hachi's wife gives birth to two daughters and then dies. Prince Hachi, already quite old, must give up plans to become a priest to assume his new parenting responsibility. He lives a saintly existence in a cottage near Uji. He and Kaoru become friends and study Buddhist scripture together. On his deathbed, he appoints Kaoru guardian of the Uji princesses

Prince Higekuro
Prince Higekuro successfully wins his bid for Genji's ward Tamakazura, to unsatisfactory results. Tamakazura seems to hold no fondness for Prince Higekuro and marries him out of fate. Prince Higekuro's principal wife, Murasaki's step-sister, is a supposed mad woman whose father, Prince Hyobu, becomes angry with Prince Higekuro and wants his daughter and all their children to return to his home. The principal wife dumps ashes all over Prince Higekuro, thus ending any attempt at reconciliation. The act of jealousy is attributed to spirit possession. Prince Higekuro's father was a Minister of the Right. His sister Shokyoden becomes the principal wife and empress of the Susaku emperor, so he is an uncle of the emperor reigning at the novel's end.

The daughter of Prince Higekuro and Tamakazura, the beautiful Himegimi attracts many suitors. Emperor Reizei wins her mother's approval, in part because Prince Higekuro wanted his daughters married into the imperial line. She bears Emperor Reizei two children, a second daughter and first son, and in the process causes jealousy among his other wives, Chujo and Akikonomu.

Prince Hotaru
A younger half-brother of Genji, Prince Hotaru unsuccessfully courts Tamakazura, who is so shy that she lets her attendant Saisho handle all correspondence. Finally, Genji convinces her to bring a bag of fireflies (hotaru) into her bedchamber, which gives off enough light for Prince Hotaru to get a glimpse of her. This is where he gets his name.

Prince Hyobu
Prince Hyobu is the son of a former emperor and brother of Fujitsubo. Genji's love, Murasaki, is Prince Hyobu's child by a concubine. A daughter of his principal wife becomes the principal wife of Prince Higekuro.

A son of Genji's second principal wife, Princess Nyosan, he learns as an adult that his true father is not Genji but Kashiwagi. He looks nothing like Genji. He feels guilt and a sense of failure for not having properly honored his true father. His rivalry with his cousin Prince Niou is the main topic of the last quarter of the novel. Kaoru is not inclined toward romantic pursuits until he meets Prince Hachi's daughters, Oigimi and Nakanokimi. He seems to have Genji's sympathetic nature, but not his skill with women. Though both of the Uji princesses are beautiful, he falls in love with Oigimi, who dies without succumbing to his advances. He transfers his love to Nakanokimi, but out of loyalty promotes Niou as her husband. He instead consoles Nakanokimi over Niou's long absence. Upon Nakanokimi's advice, he transfers his love one more time, to her step-sister Ukifune. This final affair ends even more disastrously than the others do. As Kaoru and Niou vie for possession of Ukifune, the fragile woman becomes overcome with shame. After a failed suicide attempt, Nakanokimi ends up in a nunnery, where she refuses to communicate with Kaoru or any potential suitor.

A son of To no Chujo, Kashiwagi possesses some of the fine skills of the earlier generation, especially with the koto [a musical instrument]. His principal wife is Princess Ochiba, a daughter of the Susaku Emperor. He is a suitor for Genji's ward Tamakazura. He seduces Genji's second principal wife, Princess Nyosan, and is the true father of Genji's son Kaoro. When Genji discovers the secret, he becomes sick with shame and dies young.

Genji's mother, the Emperor's favorite consort, is extremely beautiful but from the lower ranks of court society. The Emperor's other ladies exhibit malicious jealousy toward Kiritsubo, which causes her to fall ill and die. Due to her class standing, Kiritsubo's son Genji faces a future with no strong maternal backing. This contributes to the Emperor's decision to deem his son a commoner. Both the Emperor and Genji will search far and wide for Kiritsubo's substitute, a dynamic that leads, in the case of Fujitsubo, to much regret.

After Kashiwagi's death, Kobai is To no Chujo's eldest surviving son. He takes over as head of the Fujiwara clan upon his father's death. Kobai has two daughters from his first principal wife, and his union with Makibashira finally produces a son. In true Fujiwari fashion, Kobai attempts to marry his daughters into the imperial family. He sends notes on a branch of rose plum, which is how he gets his name.

The brother of the Lady of the Locust Shell, the beautiful Kogimi serves as messenger between Genji and his sister.

Genji's wicked stepmother, Kokiden, the Emperor's principal wife, sees Genji as a threat to her own eldest son's future. Her jealousy and hunger for power lead her to treat Genji as a foe. Kokiden's son is indeed made crown prince while Genji settles for commoner status. Under the reign of their son, the Susaku Emperor, she and her father, a Minister of the Right, are very powerful. A sister apparently marries Prince Hotaru. A younger sister, Oborozukiyo, marries the Susaku emperor. Kokiden's relentless rage over Genji's affair with Oborozukiyo leads to his self-imposed exile.

The son of Genji's old nurse goes on confidential missions for Genji.

Lady Kumoi
Lady Kumoi becomes Yugiri's principal wife after a long period in which their match is prevented by her father, To no Chujo. They consummate their love after a wisteria-viewing party. There seems to be a parallel between this affair and Genji's with his cousin Asago, except here Yugiri is more successful. Her name is taken from the lines of one of her own poems, "wild goose in the clouds," that tells of her longing for Yugiri.

Lady of the Bedchamber
See Naishi.

Lady of the Evening Faces
See Yugao.

Lady Of The Locust Shell
While she is wife of the governor of Iyo, Genji persists in his unwanted advances toward The Lady of The Locust Shell (also known as Utsusemi) until finally he manages to seduce her. He is attracted by her quiet and sullen temperament. This begins a long relationship. Early in the novel, when she gives him the slip, Genji winds up sleeping with her stepdaughter, the wife of the governor of Kii. After the death of her husband, she suddenly becomes a nun.

Lady Of The Orange Blossoms
Genji takes charge of The Lady of the Orange Blossoms after the death of her younger sister Lady Reikeiden, who was a consort of Genji's father. She helps raise Genji's son Yugiri and To no Chujo's daughter Tamakazura. She is considered "no great beauty."

Makibashira marries Kobai after the death of her first husband, Prince Hotaru.

Lady Murasaki
Lady Murasaki first enters the novel as a ten-year-old child. She is the daughter of Prince Hyobu, and thus Fujitsubo's niece. Genji discovers her in the northern hills on a mission to receive treatment for a persistent illness. Her resemblance to Fujitsubo gives rise to Genji's obsession for her. Genji's desperate and persistent pleas to adopt her are finally approved, but at the same time Prince Hyobu decides to take charge of her. Genji steals Murasaki away to begin her education, which amounts to a long, careful grooming to become his perfect lover. At fourteen, she becomes one of Genji's secondary wives and his favorite. She embodies the ideal Heian woman, sophisticated, loyal, and of an even temperament. She dies at almost the same time of the year as Aoi, causing Genji such despair that he's unable to tend to the funeral arrangements. Her name is from a plant that produces a lavender dye. Her prominence in the novel probably accounts for its author being known as Murasaki Shikibu.

Naishi, also known as the elderly Lady of the Bedchamber, acts as aggressor toward Genji, which makes him very uncomfortable. Genji and To no Chujo inadvertently enter her bedchamber at the same time and make light of the situation by staging a mock fight.

The youngest daughter of Prince Hachi, Nakanokimi is seduced by Prince Niou, who immediately becomes preoccupied with another wife. His long absences from Nakanokimi seem to confirm his reputation as a philanderer and mark their relationship as a disgrace. Her sister dies from the shame of having promoted the relationship against her father's wishes. With Nakanokimi pregnant in Uji, Prince Niou marries Rokunokimi.

Prince Niou
The third son of Emperor Kinjo and the Akashi Empress, Prince Niou hopes to succeed his brother to the throne. He thwarts his own hopes through scandalous behavior. Prince Niou, who is extremely elegant, engages in a friendly rivalry with Kaoru. He wins Nakanokimi, whom Kaoru also loves, if after the fact. His marriage to Yugiri's daughter Rokunokimi prevents him from spending time with Nakanokimi even during her pregnancy. Eventually, he suspects Kaoru has become involved with Nakanokimi. Always the rival, Prince Niou's crassness leads to his pursuit of Ukifune and her eventual misery.

Nun of Ono
After finding the sickened body of Ukifune, the Nun of Ono nurses Ukifune back to health.

Princess Nyosan
A daughter of the Susaku Emperor, Princess Nyosan (also known as the Third Princess) becomes Genji's second principal wife. Murasaki, who is of lower birth, worries when Princess Nyosan moves into the Rokujo mansion. Princess Nyosan gives birth to Kaoru, who would seem to be Genji's son but is actually the product of an illicit affair with Kashiwagi. Genji learns of the affair through a letter left carelessly out in the open.

A younger sister of Kokiden, Oborozukiyo is engaged to the heir apparent (the Susaku Emperor). Genji seduces her after failing to gain admittance to Fujitsubo's chambers. Her father, the Minister of the Right, catches her and Genji in the act. Their affair inspires Kokiden's wrath and earns Genji exile.

After her first husband, Kashiwagi, dies, Ochiba (also known as the Second Princess) is attended to by Yugiri. She is shocked when, at the height of her mother's illness, Yugiri tries to hoist himself on her. Ochiba's mother writes Yugiri, but he does not respond due to an awkward situation with his wife. The mother equates the lack of response to a public jilting; she has a relapse and dies. Yugiri continues to pursue Ochiba.

Oigimi interprets her father's (Prince Hachi) dying wish (a warning against frivolous suitors) to mean that she and her younger sister Nakanokimi should reject all proposals. Partly for this reason, she rejects Kaoru's persistent advances. Trying to do what is best for the future, Oigimi tries to deflect Kaoru's interest to Nakanokimi. When the affair seems to end in disgrace, Oigimi starves herself to death in a scene reminiscent of Murasaki's death.

Omyobu is one of the women who attend Fujitsubo.

Lady Reikeiden
A one-time minor wife of Genji's father, Lady Reideiden has fallen on hard times. Genji is interested in her younger sister, the Lady of the Orange Blossoms.

Reizei Emperor
The son of Fujitsubo, the Reizei Emperor abdicates early, after he learns that he is the child of Genji rather than of Genji's father. His principal wife and empress is Akikonomu. His other ladies include Chujo and later Himegimi.

Lady Rokujo
The widow of Prince Zembo, Lady Rokujo is a longtime mistress of Genji. She is apparently an older women whom Genji tires of after their initial liaison. Her jealousy is so strong that her wandering spirit kills Yugao and Aoi and attacks Murasaki, among others. Distracted by jealousy and anxiety over Genji, Lady Rokujo accompanies her daughter Akikonomu in her move to court as a Shinto priestess at Ise. On her deathbed, Lady Rokujo begs Genji to look after her beautiful daughter. The character gets her name from the branches of the tree on which Genji ties love notes.

Yugiri's daughter Rokunokimi is first promoted as a wife to Niou, and then to Kaoru. Niou finally accepts Yugiri's proposal just as his other wife Nakanokimi becomes pregnant in Uji.

Safflower Lady
Genji and To no Chujo engage in a friendly rivalry for the affections of the Safflower Lady, also known as Tayu. When Genji glimpses the Safflower Lady, he is not impressed but visits her anyway out of sympathy. It turns out she has a big red nose. In addition, she lacks culture, which is exhibited in the poorly made Chinese robe she gives Genji as a present. In a rare example of insensitivity, Genji, in a poem, compares her unkindly to a safflower, a flower with a bright red bloom. He makes jest of her in a private moment with Murasaki by painting his own nose red. Later, a more mature Genji shows his compassion when he saves the Safflower Lady from miserable conditions. Genji helps repair the mansion she inherited from her father and then moves her to his own, better, living quarters.

Second Princess
See Ochiba.

Shokyoden is the sister of Prince Higekuro, principal wife of the Susaku Emperor, and mother of the emperor reigning at the end of the novel.

Shonagan is the nurse of Murasaki. Her name is the same as that of a famous contemporary of the author's, Sei Shonagan, a sharp-tongued woman who wrote the Pillow Book.

Suzaku Emperor
The Suzaku Emperor is Genji's brother, the son of their father and his principal wife, Kokiden. He succeeds his father and is succeeded by the Reizei Emperor, who is succeeded in turn by the Susaku emperor's son (by the sister of Prince Higekuro), who is reigning at the end of the novel. His daughter Princess Nyosan (by Genji no Miya) becomes Genji's second principal wife. Another daughter (by Lady Ichijo) is the principal wife of To no Chujo's son, Kashiwagi. Another wife is his maternal aunt, Oborozukiyo, who deceives him with Genji.

The daughter of To no Chujo and his mistress Yugao, the whereabouts of Tamakazura remains unknown for years. After she flees an aggressive and unattractive suitor, Genji finds Tamakazura and brings her to his mansion at Rokujo. Genji keeps her existence secret from her father and commissions the Lady of the Orange Blossoms to raise her. He makes advances toward Tamakazura, but she rebuffs him. He finally marries her off to Prince Higekuro, with whom she has several sons and two daughters. When Tamakazura finds imperial matches for both daughters, court ladies accuse her of being presumptuous. This causes her great depression. Her unsuccessful suitors include To no Chujo's son, Kashiwagi and Genji's younger brother, Prince Hotaru. Tamakazura and Genji's discussion about fiction is one of the most memorable scenes in the novel.

See Safflower Lady.

Third Princess
See Princess Nyosan.

A step-daughter to the Emperor, Ukifune gets thrown over by a guard's lieutenant when he discovers she's not a blood relation. Ukifune's mother is intent on arranging a suitable match for her daughter. Kaoru expresses interest in Ukifune, but before he can claim his prize, Niou finds her alone at her half-sister Nakanokimi's house. In an attempt to divert disaster, Ukifune's mother moves her daughter to an unfinished cottage. Kaoru finds her and moves her again, to his own villa at Uji, where she begins koto lessons. Niou covertly visits Ukifune and manages to trick her into intimate relations. The two rivals bombard Ukifune with ardent and aggressive pledges. Ukifune's affections are divided, and her shame and indecision are so great as to cause her to leap into the Uji River. She is found alive and taken into a nunnery, where she takes her vows and maintains a distance from the world, in particular men.

Used for several female attendants, including one of Yugao's maids. Genji supports her for many years. She is instrumental in bringing Tamakazura to Genji's palace.

See Lady of the Locust Shell.

Yugao, also known as the Lady of the Evening Faces, is the former mistress of To no Chujo, by whom she has a daughter, Tamakazura. To no Chujo abandons Yugao because, as he says in his rainy night conversation with Genji, she is too meek and forgiving. Genji later and by coincidence notices the flowers or "evening faces" outside her house, and investigates the hidden delights inside. Unlike To no Chujo, Genji is attracted to Yugao's gentility. Yugao briefly becomes Genji's mistress, but she is quickly killed by the jealous spirit of the Lady of Rokujo. Out of sympathy, Genji employs Yugao's maid Ukon and asks her to find the daughter Tamakazura, whom he raises under his protection.

The son of Genji and Aoi, Yugiri, like Genji, rises through the ranks to eventually become an important minister of state. Yugiri suffers from the policies of Genji and his uncle To no Chujo, who act to prevent him from making the mistakes of their own youth. As a low-ranking court member, he studies the classics. Yugiri for some years feels oppressed by his father's decision not to promote him more rapidly. His childhood friendship with his cousin Lady Kumoi grows into romance, but her father, To no Chujo, initially prevents their match. Eventually, as Yugiri rises in station, the match is approved and Lady Kumoi becomes his principal wife. At the behest of his friend, Kashiwagi, Yugiri accepts the responsibility to care for Ochiba (Second Princess). Once a relatively faithful and devoted husband, Yugiri starts to feel smothered by Lady Kumoi and their many children. He pursues Ochiba. Lady Kumoi, upset, leaves with their daughters to go home to her father. Yugiri compares his own ill fortune to Genji's good fortune with women.




Critical Essays