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  • Barbara Anne King

The Tale of the Genji

This past weekend, I went to The Tale of Genji exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City to learn what I could about the world’s first psychological novel. The exhibit was filled with many beautiful scrolls depicting scenes from the book along with sculptures and other artwork from Buddhist shrines. The 11th Century novel tells The Tale of Genji, one of the Emperor’s sons, and was written by a woman in no less than a thousand pages. I have only read a few pages of the novel so far, but it starts out with action and apparently includes over 400 characters. The gift shop had a guide available which I didn’t hesitate to purchase. The novel was written in installments like so many early novels. And it is credited with having an influence on Japanese culture, art, and theater. Nobel prize winning novelist Yasunari Kawabata said in his 1968 Nobel Prize acceptance speech: "The Tale of Genji in particular is the highest pinnacle of Japanese literature. Even down to our day there has not been a piece of fiction to compare with it.”

I have become more interested in learning about the Japanese culture since writing The California Immigrant which has a major theme of Japanese internment and discrimination. Growing up, I had a lot of Japanese friends but knew little of their culture and nothing of their wartime experience. One especially interesting fact I learned in writing this book was that the sculptor, Isamu Noguchi, was at Poston for a short time, offering an arts program to internees. After the war, he designed the Peace bridges in Hiroshima. I visited The Noguchi Museum in Queens, NY which has many examples of his work.

The Tale of the Genji exhibit will be at the Met through June 16. If you are unable to see the exhibit in person, you can go to to take a virtual tour.

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