Murasaki Shikibu, illustration by Tosa Mitsuoki (17th century)
|Born||circa 973 |
|Died||circa 1014 |
|Occupation||Heian court lady-in-waiting|
|Subjects||Japanese court customs|
|Relative(s)||Fujiwara no Tametoki, father|
Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部; c. 973–c. 1014 or 1025), or Lady Murasaki as she is sometimes known in English, was a Japanese novelist, poet, and a maid of honor of the imperial court during the Heian period. She is best known as the author of The Tale of Genji, written in Japanese between about 1000 and 1008, one of the earliest and most famous novels in human history. "Murasaki Shikibu" was not her real name; her actual name is unknown, though some scholars have postulated that her given name might have been Takako (for Fujiwara Takako). Her diary states that she was nicknamed "Murasaki" ("purple wisteria blossom") at court, after a character in The Tale of Genji. "Shikibu" refers to her father's position in the Bureau of Ceremony (shikibu-shō).
Lady Murasaki Shikibu was born about 973 in Kyoto, Japan. She was born in a family of minor nobility and a member of the northern branch of the Fujiwara clan.
Murasaki's mother died while she was a child, so Murasaki was raised, contrary to customs of the time, by her father Fujiwara no Tametoki, a scholar and officer of the imperial court. During Heian-era Japan, couples lived separately and children were raised by the mother and her family. Also contrary to customs of the time, her father gave her a male education. Men were taught kanji and classical Chinese literature as the requisite culture, while women were taught kana and poetry. Her father praised her intelligence and ability but lamented that she was "born a woman." She was married in her early 20s and had one child, Daini no Sanmi, who was a poet in her own right.
At the royal court, she was the lady-in-waiting for Empress Shoshi/Akiko and may have been hired by Fujiwara Michinaga to serve the Empress.
Murasaki died either in 1014, when records show that her father suddenly returned to Kyoto from his governor's mansion, or between 1025 and 1031, when she would have been in her mid-50s, fairly old by Heian standards.
Three works are attributed to Murasaki, the most important being The Tale of Genji. The Murasaki Shikibu Diary and The Murasaki Shikibu Collection were arranged and published posthumously. The Murasaki Shikibu Collection is a compilation of 128 poems written by Murasaki.
She is considered one of the greatest writers of Japanese literature. Statues in her honour have been erected throughout Japan, her works are a staple part of the education curriculum in Japan. The 2000 yen note was issued in commemoration to her and her greatest epic work, The Tale of Genji.
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A fictionalized biography of Murasaki called The Tale of Murasaki: A Novel was written by Liza Dalby. A fictitious descendant of Lady Murasaki is a major character in the Thomas Harris novel and subsequent horror film Hannibal Rising.
Another fictionalized biography of Murasaki Shikibu is an Italian novel by Gabriella Magrini: Mille Autunni, vita di Murasaki Dama di Corte, Edizione Frassinelli 1985; translated into French under the title La dame de Kyoto, Editions Belfond, 1987, ISBN 2 7144 1973 9.