The Description of The Tale of Genji

I created The Tale of Genji: Symphonic Fantasy as a Heian period symphony that begins with a storyteller’s tale on a snowy evening. The Tale of Genji is said to be the world’s oldest long-form novel and the amount of human drama it weaves is enormous; as such, I focused my composition on its highlights. Even so, the symphony is still an hour and a half long.

Each track has a title somewhat comparable to a suite, but I think of them as combined into a single symphony connected over an hour and a half. A narrative in the Kyoto dialect takes the listener into the world of Genji throughout the entire piece, but I composed the work so that both the music and the story are integrated and function together to create a unified composition.

Isao Tomita

*Titles in parentheses are the titles of pieces.

Genji and Lady Fujitsubo

The symphony begins with an introductory piece that celebrates the birth of Genji (Overture).

-- Genji is the main character of the legendary literary work that was written more than 1,000 years ago and is often cited as one of the world's first novels. He is defined by his beauty, intelligence, skill, and romantic acumen.--

The years pass and the now grown Genji has developed an adoration for his stepmother. She is five years older than he and his interest seems to mimic that of a boy admiring an older sister. The scene is an elegant cherry blossom viewing banquet held at the royal palace (Spring Season - Cherry Blossom Viewing at the Palace).

Gradually this initial sentiment evolves into romantic yearning (Longing for Lady Fujitsubo).She is his first love.

-- The pastoral opening scene shifts into the theme of romantic betrayal and amorous intrigue that is woven throughout this epochal novel centered around the life of the aristocracy. --

As the consequence of their affair, Fujitsubo becomes pregnant with Genji’s child (Throne Of Empress In The Palace).

Genji’s father -- the Emperor named Kiritsubo and, scandalously, Fujitsubo’s legal husband -- doesn't know about this and is extremely pleased about the pregnancy.

However, Fujitsubo is wracked with guilt and becomes sicker day by day due to the burden of the secret affair (Garden).

Her kind husband the emperor, unaware of the infidelity, holds a “musical banquet” at the palace in an attempt to cheer her up (Some Fun By Wind And Strings).However, the feelings of Genji and Fujitsubo are complicated and they are despondent and melancholy throughout the banquet because of the secret burden they both carry.

In the end, Fujitsubo gives birth to a son who bears an unmistakable resemblance to Genji. Emperor Kiritsubo is extremely pleased, holds the child on his lap, and names him Emperor Reizei. However, Fujitsubo is still tormented with guilt and ultimately the agony of her plight pushes her to make the drastic decision to cut off all ties with society and become a monk (Out There In The World).

The Young Murasaki

Genji becomes sick when he is 18 and goes to Kitayama -- a temple in the northern mountains -- to ask a shaman to cure him (Temple Prayers In The Northern Hill).On his way home, a cute 10-year-old girl playing in the garden of a mansion catches his eye (Young Murasaki). She is sobbing because a young child named Inuki let the sparrow she was caring for escape.

The young girl reminds Genji of Fujitsubo -- his step-mother and the wife of his father, the Emperor -- who he dearly loved and with who he consummated an illicit affair. This resemblance is no coincidence; the young Murasak -- the Japanese name of the young girl playing in the garden -- is, in fact, a niece of Fujitsubo. Genji is taken aback and tells her,“I want to educate you and raise you to be my ideal woman,” before leading her home (The Lovely Maiden Murasaki).

Lady Aoi and Lady Rokujo

The complex and strained relationship between Genji’s empress, Lady Aoi (Lady Aoi) and his mistress Lady Rokujo (Lady Rokujō) seems to be a common occurrence and is possible to imagine even in society today. Even though Lady Aoi is beautiful, she is somehow inaccessible and even her casual gestures give the impression of condescension and superiority.

Lady Rokujo is often depicted on the stage and in cinema as extremely jealous, subject to the occult, and a wicked woman. However, a close reading of the original work reveals that this is not necessarily the case, and as the most emotionally sympathetic woman in the story, many readers become fans and empathize with her cause. However, she is often worries about the specter of society exposing and shaming her because she is significantly older than Genji.

Battle of the Carriages, Spirit of Lady Rokujo

In the course of the narration and the musical work, the day of the Kamo festival -- an important cultural tradition even to this day in Japan -- arrives. Genji takes part in the pageant to Kamo Shrine (Pageant To Kamo Shrine - Battle Of The Carriages) on horseback, and joining the annual pilgrimage to the famous shrine is a pivotal moment for the main character. In order to catch a glimpse of him, Lady Rokujo departs early with her attendants and they park their ox-driven carts in an area with a good vantage point for watching the procession.

Is this behavior a result of deference and modesty, or is it an expression of her sense of inferiority? The location is removed from the main action of the scene.

Gradually, other ox carts begin to gather. In a cruel twist, Genji’s wife, Lady Aoi, and her attendants arrive much later and stop their carts in front of Lady Rokujo’s, forcing her attendants to move out of the way and preventing Lady Rokujo from being able to see the procession.

Her attendants become angry and yell for Lady Aoi’s entourage to move out of the way. Instead, Lady Rokujo’s convoy is forced further to the back, resulting in the famous “battle of the carts” (Pageant To Kamo Shrine - Battle Of The Carriages). The young attendants had all been drinking sake, which is potent Japanese rice wine, so the tense encounter transforms into a giant melee. Lady Rokujo’s cohort is badly outnumbered and easily beaten by Lady Aoi’s attendants. The tongue of Lady Rokujo’s cart -- the long pole that fixes the yoke of the oxen to the front of the vehicle -- is broken and rendered useless, resulting in public humiliation and a devastating blow to her social standing.

What profoundly affects Lady Rokujo even more than the fighting and the damage to her cart is that Genji does not stop his procession, but instead simply passes by while pretending not to notice.

Lady Rokujo reflects introspectively on the event, recognizing in an internal monologue that “to resent and hate others is a low and despicable thing.” However, in her complicated emotional state she ruminates with the thought that “my soul so intent on wandering cannot be appeased.”

Further on in the story the deleterious progression of her mental health continues. At one point she sees a gruesome vision and cries out,“Oh, I’m too frustrated to calm down. Oh, I’m so despicable.” Tormented by the complicated guilt of her emotions and consumed by jealousy, she imagines physically attacking another woman in a tense internal dialogue, saying, “I’ll tear her hair out. I’ll beat her up. Oh, I can’t calm down.”(Spirit)

These tense and emotional internal monologues are thought to represent Lady Rokujo’s true feelings, and I used the rear speakers to output audio representing these emotions in surround sound. In order to optimally experience this section of the recording, I encourage you to listen to this part in 3D sound via surround sound.

The Third Princess

One bright spring day when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom a man named Emonnokam -- who is the governor of the city of Kashiwagi -- and another man named Yugiri -- who is Genji’s son -- came to Rokujo estate to play a game of Japanese football known as kemari.

As they are playing, two Chinese cats join in on the fun. -- This pastoral scene depicts the kind of leisure enjoyed by the aristocratic class at the time. Soon another important character emerges. --

Although still very young, the Third Princess becomes Genji’s second wife (The Third Princess).As a technicality, Lady Murasaki had never been legally married to Genji and was his unofficial mistress.

Because of her alluring beauty, another character Kashiwagi -- not to be confused with Emonnokam who is the governor of Kashiwagi -- begins having an affair with the Third Princess. While Genji is distracted by the poor health of his mistress Lady Murasaki, Kashiwagi takes the opportunity to sneak into the quarters of the Third Princess on multiple occasions, and eventually she becomes pregnant with Kashiwagi’s child.

Terribly, Genji is compelled to recognize the child as his own. A famous painting of Genji holding Kashiwagi’s child, depicting him regarding the baby as his own flesh and blood, is entitled The Tale of Genji Illustrated Scrolls and hangs in the Tokugawa Art Museum. At one point Genji falls in love with his stepmother, Fujitsubo, who eventually carries his child.

In fact, whether he is aware of it or not, the now late emperor once held the infant on his lap and named him Emperor Reizei. In a poignant twist of fate, Genji one day finds himself in the same situation, responsible for a child even though he is not the biological father (Think Of Fujitsubo). That child is Kaoru, who appears in “Ukifune.”

Death of Lady Murasaki

Ultimately Lady Murasaki’s health deteriorates, and the ghost of Lady Rokujo emerges to haunt and torment her (Dead Spirit Of Lady Rokujō). Although we don't know the reason for this, I personally believe she appears because she yearns for Genji so much that she is unable to enter heaven and the afterlife.

As mentioned earlier in my description of the novel, Lady Murasaki was abducted and taken to Genji’s mansion when she was 10 years old and was raised to be his ideal wife. As such, she has spent her life completely under his influence and dominion.

However, Genji’s endless debauchery and affairs with other women cause him to lose his official court rank and be banished to Suma and exiled to the district of Akashi. Despite his tearful parting with Lady Murasaki, while still under house arrest Genji falls in love with Lady Akashi, the daughter of the Akashi Minister of the Right, resulting in the birth of a baby girl named Little Lady Akashi.

Lady Murasaki must have been shocked when she heard the story after Genji returned to Kyoto not long after his exile. Even so, Genji orders the baby to be raised by Lady Murasaki, who has never had children, much less experience raising them. From my perspective, it is hard understand the audacity Genji shows by compelling Lady Murasaki to undertake that responsibility.

With the coming legal marriage of Genji and the Third Princess, the standing of Lady Murasaki is gradually diminishing. Because the Third Princess is still very young, Genji orders Lady Murasaki to educate her in the manners of an empress.

Although she is not haunted by the ghost of Lady Rokujo -- a character who, notably, died earlier in the novel and whose ghost is often a malevolent presence -- Lady Murasaki has weak lungs which causes her physical condition to progressively deteriorate. Throughout the course of the novel Lady Murasaki endures much more suffering than Lady Rokujo.

In the end, Lady Murasaki eventually dies.

An entire field is filled with people for the solemn funeral service of Lady Murasaki, and halfway through the service the melody of Lady Rokujo begins to follow Genji . The melody symbolizes the thread of sadness and emotional depth woven into the novel. With the reverberation of a great drumbeat, Lady Murasaki climbs up into the sky on a wisp of smoke and disappears.

Genji reminisces on Lady Murasaki. He remembers returning home at dawn enveloped in the drifting snow after an amorous visit to the Third Princess. On that morning Lady Murasaki greeted him compassionately and feigned ignorance of his affair. However, when Genji thinks back on her sleeves wet with tears, he feels a pang of remorse. She knew the secret. He yearns to be able to meet Lady Murasaki again, if only in a dream. (Elegy Of Lady Murasaki)


The following is a translation of an excerpt from The Tale of Genji:

“Life is evanescent, just as the snow disappears in this fleeting world.but here I am despite my feelings.”

In the performance the sound of metal chopsticks, known in Japanese as myochin hibashi, represents the piercingly cold snow. We can hear Yoshiko Sakata’s beautiful singing and performance on the biwa, which is a stringed instrument that resembles a lute, but it eventually fades away in the distance of the metaphorical snow (Song in "The Vale of Tears").


There was a single-minded and sensitive woman who existed in the era and realm of this novel, and her name is Ukifune. Her story comes toward the end of the Tale of Genji (Ukifune).

I believe she captivates the reader like no other woman mentioned before her. One of the men who appears in the story is Kaoru, who is allegedly Genji’s son. In truth, Kashiwagi is actually his biological father, and was conceived when he seduced the Third Princess.

Another male suitor in pursuit of this singular women is the son of Lady Akashi, Nionomiya, who is the grandson of Genji. Ukifune struggles between the competing desires of this two lascivious men. They are both passionate men in pursuit of romantic conquests. Kaoru is somewhat more intelligent looking, but Nionomiya, as the progeny of Genji and, to use the colloquialism that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” seems to have inherited a propensity for pursuing women. He disguises himself as Kaoru and sneaks into Ukifune’s bedroom.

Nionomiya, who is an adroit lover skilled at satisfying his partner’s deepest desires, leaves Ukifune defenseless in the seduction. Although Kaoru is a ray of light and a protective force for Ukifune in her challenging situation, he is no match for Nionomiya’s forcefulness and persistence.

Ukifune is tormented with guilt and frightened that Kaoru will find out about Nionomiya. Kaoru expresses his feelings of betrayal and rejection by composing a bitter poem for Ukifune. She is shocked and wants to forget completely about the past, so she attempts suicide by throwing herself into the snowy Uji River. However, she is saved by the leader of the monks who happens to witness the incident.

Instead of thanking him, she frantically asks, “Why did you save me?” When a monk soothes her, and she simply says, “I want to forget everything in the past and become a monk.”

In order to have been able to become a monk during this era,she had to cut her hair. When a monk urges her to “Pray toward the direction of your parents before you cut off your hair,” her feelings of abandonment and isolation are brought to the surface when she cries out, “I don't know where my parents are!” Having been raised in a remote village by her stepmother, this sad utterance has literal meaning (Entering The Nunnery)

In a scene later in the novel Ukifune again plunges into the Uji river, the final time occurring while she is being pursued by Lady Rokujo who is consumed with jealousy over Ukifune’s beauty and youth. Ukifune’s last moments have been dramatized in many ways in the cinema and on stage, but I imagined her drowning. However, I imagined a powerful current, to be more specific, the turbulent flow of the snowy river from the Hozukyo Gorge to Arashiyama.

Spring Again, To the Heike Era

The music begins again with “Cherry Blossom Season” (Spring Returns), and then moves to the “Heike” era (theme music of the 10th NHK taiga drama Shin Heike Monogatari), before this fantasy symphony comes to its final conclusion (Finale-Reign Of Heike Begins).

Isao Tomita