Murasaki Shikibu and the Tale of Genji
About 1000 years ago, the author known as Muarasaki Shikibu created the complex narrative Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari), which is now considered to be the world's first novel. Murasaki began writing stories about Prince Genji as a way to amuse her close circle of friends, but very soon the texts were recopied and circulated throughout Japan, winning her much admiration and a place in the entourage of Empress Shoshi.
In 54 chapters Murasaki described the lives of three generations of courtiers and their families. Those fascinating stories about palace intrigues and romantic adventures have, in turn, inspired later authors and artists to emulate and illustrate various versions of the Tale of Genji. Murasaki's narrative has been one of the major sources of inspiration for the visual and performing arts of Japan for a millennium.
Very little is known about the woman who wrote the Tale of Genji, even her personal name is uncertain, although she has long been called "Murasaki" after a major character in her story. Her father Fujiwara Tametoki was a poet and scholar of Chinese literature and held various political appointments during the Heian Period, including one in the Ministry of Ceremonies (Shikibu sho). Murasaki Shikibu demonstrates in her diary, poems and Genji that she had an extraordinary command of both Chinese and Japanese literature, and she is listed among Japan's 36 immortal poets (rokkasen).