Lady Murasaki Shikibu has bestowed upon readers a true masterpiece: the world’s first novel. She painted a florid yet sardonic picture of courtly life in Heian-Era Japan, particularly among the concubines of one Genji Hikaru. The son of Emperor Kiritsubo and his favorite consort, Genji is your typical spoiled brat with mommy issues. Symbolically, he manages to outdo Oedipus, himself. Why symbolically? By sheer fate, considering that Genji’s mother passed away, when he was merely three years old. Perhaps Emperor Kiritsubo was straddling conventions by keeping two wives, as it were: He had Kokiden, his principal consort, who had massive clout that was dwarfed by both her self-doubt and subsequent petty hatred towards other women in the court. The disdain for the otherwise unnamed Kiritsubo Consort was more than palpable and unanimous among Kokiden and her rivals: They were of noble blood, while Lady Kiritsubo (her title, henceforth) was a commoner. The emperor could not bear the thought of losing his beloved, and Kokiden knew that. However, she could not do much in dissuading Lady Fujitsubo from entering the picture. She was noticeably younger than her husband, which immediately caught Genji’s attention. Her striking resemblance to the late Lady Kiritsubo is where the Oedipal seeds began to sprout in young and virile Hikaru’s mind. Fortunately, he did not resort to patricide, the way Oedipus did (unknowingly so, but still).
The intricate tapestry of Genji’s relationships, both biological and intimate, is perhaps the world’s first soap opera, albeit not as cringe-inducing as the incestuous conga line on Mt. Olympus. (Zeus is a piece of work. See the post about his escapades for proof.) Genji was insatiable, and he knew that princely status was his carte blanche for indecency. Lady Fujitsubo was his lifelong obsession, but he preferred to indulge in other flings, in-between bouts of ecstatic fantasies about his stepmom. Each woman Genji pursued was unattainable, both in social and marital status. Lady Rokujo is a prominent example. Her extent of obsession even surpassed Genji’s: She wanted the prince by any means necessary, going so far as to haunt and torment his lovers as an ikiryo (a living person’s disembodied spirit). The ikiryo’s two notable victims were Lady Yugao and Lady Aoi no Ue. The former was the wife of To no Chujo, Genji’s best friend and rival. To no Chujo did not seem to mind that his wife and the mother of his daughter explicitly pursued Genji, instigating their encounter via a series of steamy poetic exchanges. The bliss was short-lived, as Rokujo’s ikiryo pounced, shortly after Yugao and Genji consummated… The prince pretended to mourn her but quickly shrugged it off, proceeding to romance Ukon, Yugao’s best friend. Meanwhile, Rokujo was the ever-eager and ever-insatiable widow at his beck and call. After losing her husband, the Emperor of the Left, she threw herself into finding a new mate and a new father figure for her daughter. Rokujo was to Genji as Christan Grey would be to Anastasia Steele, in a dramatic gender-flip. Genji wanted Rokujo’s status and body; Rokujo wanted a powerful yet compliant boy toy.
The Genji-Rokujo BDSM ballet continues, all the while the prince still lusts after Lady Fujitsubo. Did I mention she’s his stepmother? Emperor Kiritsubo is no fool. He knows that his son frequently peeks under the curtain and wishes to take things to the next level. Eventually, he does, by force. Fujitsubo attempts to rebuke him but falls prey to the charms, Lo and behold, her kimono is off, and Genji leaves a seed within her. Kokiden has every opportunity to snitch on Genji, at this point, yet she refrains from doing so, explicitly. Prince Suzaku, her son, is slated to be next in line, providing leverage for undermining Genji and Prince Reizei, his son with Fujitsubo. The conflicted consort knows that her son’s future is precarious, so she chooses to enter a convent and thus reassure Kokiden of having no claims to the coveted status as chief wife. Way to go, Hikaru! You had your fun and left an innocent woman as a broken bird, all because she looked like Mommy…
Meanwhile, Genji still frequents Rokujo, possibly by force, at this point. Rules dictate that he get married, so Lady Aoi no Ue is chosen. Their distaste and reluctance are mutual, but the courtship commences. Aoi is pregnant, and Rokujo the ikiryo is quick on the scene: She afflicts Aoi with madness, punctuated by bouts of profound poetry. Genji pays no mind to his wife’s agony but is occasionally awestruck by the prose and deigns to offer her a compliment or two. After the birth of Prince Yugiri, Aoi succumbs to the succubus that is Lady Rokujo. Naturally, Genji shrugs it off and goes to pursue Murasaki, who is merely ten years old (squick!). What’s more, she is Fujitsubo’s (his stepmom’s) niece (double squick!). Genji ends up grooming the perfect wife, although technically she is a concubine. Allegedly, Murasaki is the only woman, for whom the prince harbored genuine affection. Naturally, his johnson is still in charge, so lust took precedence. The next mistress would be Lady Oborozukiyo. Brace yourselves: She is not only half-brother Suzaku’s fiancee but also Kokiden’s younger sister. Yes, folks, Genji slept with his future half-sister-in-law / step-aunt.
Genji, Genji, will you ever learn? Not in the slightest. The prince plays the apologetic hero/victim card and goes into self-imposed exile to Suma. Poor Murasaki! She is forced to wait for the egomaniacal man-child, all the while fending off Rokujo’s incessant spiritual hijackings. No one visits Suma, except for To no Chujo, Genji’s only friend (the late Yugao’s hubby). A kindly old gentleman in the village of Akashi offers the prince lodging, food, work, and his daughter. Of course, the punk gladly sleeps with her, using the excuse that she looks just like Murasaki, his long-suffering concubine back home. The arrangement is bittersweet: Murasaki calls the man out on his awful behavior, albeit cordially, just like he taught her. She then accepts Akashi’s daughter as her own to compensate for infertility. Rokujo, at that point, has had it. She decides to pack her bags and uproot her own daughter to Tosa. Maybe her ikiryo form will finally put the kibosh on possessing others… And Genji lived happily ever after with Lady Murasaki.
Psych! Not quite. Murasaki passes on, which leaves Genji to resume philandering and eventually take a second wife, the Third Princess, as they call her. She is no stranger, either, considering that her hubby is also her uncle (sssquickkk!) This girl proves to be conniving and clever, as she has an affair, gives birth to Prince Kaoru, and manages to dupe Genji into accepting his paternity. What say you, Maury? Bet you wish you’d thought that segment up for your show. The moral of the story is, you would not want to cross paths with a guy like Genji, but the world of literature would be devoid of spark, were it not for his existence by way of Lady Murasaki Shikibu (who got her pseudonym from literary fans of Genji’s favorite lover).