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THE TALE OF GENJI (ca. 1021)
by Murasaki Shikibu

The Impact of The Tale of Genji

Haruo Shirane :: Why was it that a work that was intended for such a small audience, such a small, elite society was to have such influence on Japanese tradition and culture and to become widely admired by a commoner audience?

Subsequent poets in the medieval period and in the Tokugawa period looked back to the Tale of Genji as, number one, the source of classical diction. This is the language that we should use. This is the pure Japanese that should be preserved.

Number two: It became the compendium for proper behavior, for aesthetic sensibilities. It was kind of like an encyclopedia of culture that poets who were both aristocratic and non-aristocratic looked back to. And when poets composed poetry, they drew the diction from the Tale of Genji, and they also drew their allusions, so if they would talk about some aspect of love, they might make a reference to some episode in the Tale of Genji.