OSAKA, Japan - Two recently discovered full 54-chapter sets of “The Tale of Genji” are expected to open the door to new interpretations of the world’s oldest surviving full-length novel, which marks its 1,000th anniversary this year.
Many chapters in both of the manuscript sets are called Betsu-bon (other texts), indicating they were edited by someone other than Fujiwara no Sadaie (1162-1241) - better known as Fujiwara no Teika, who edited the standard Aobyoshi-bon (blue cover text) manuscript edition - or Minamoto no Mitsuyuki (1163-1241), who transcribed the Kawachi-bon (Kawachi text).
Many people mistakenly believe the commercially published version of the tale is the original manuscript written by Murasaki Shikibu, a female writer in the mid-Heian period (794-1192).
However, there is no existing original “Genji” manuscript, nor are there any existing transcriptions from the Heian period. The current standard text is based on Aobyoshi-bon, which was transcribed about 200 years after the original manuscript was written.
When Teika transcribed Ki no Tsurayuki’s tenth-century “Tosa Nikki” (Tosa Diary), the first diary in Japan written in kana, he made minor changes to the beginning.
It is therefore possible that he made changes to “The Tale of Genji,” too.
Teika was an acclaimed poet and a compiler of “Shin Kokin Wakashu,” an anthology of waka poems edited by imperial decree.
Although Teika’s Aobyoshi-bon has grown in stature over the years, Prof. Kazuomi Ikeda of Chuo University, a specialist of Japanese classical literature, said that even his edition is far from Murasaki Shikibu’s original.
Researchers have recently begun reevaluating Betsu-bon, which used to be dismissed as the unedited manuscripts of little-known transcribers.
Researchers analyze Betsu-bon for sentences that might have been included in Heian period “Genji” editions and to better understand the worldview of the compilers of the texts.
For example, a full set of the tale in manuscript, called Osawa-bon, was recently discovered and presented by Haruki Ii, director general of the National Institute of Japanese Literature, at a lecture in Osaka Prefecture on July 21. Its “Yugiri” chapter was classified as Betsu-bon.
In the chapter, Yugiri, a strait-laced son of Hikaru Genji, falls in love with a princess, but she flees when he asks for her hand in marriage.
The Osawa-bon version of the scene is translated as “Her highness ran toward a sliding door,” which is slightly more intriguing than the Oshima-bon manuscript of the Aobyoshi-bon group that reads, “Her highness ran out of a sliding door,” in that the woman may not actually leave in the former but has already left in the latter.
Another part of the Osawa-bon describes Yugiri as having more than 10 children, while he is given 12 in most editions.
However, Betsu-bon editions include not only copying errors but also words inserted by transcribers out of their own enthusiasm or enjoyment.
Therefore, it is uncertain whether the description of Yugiri was written before Teika’s edition.
As Ii said, we had better enjoy the description as an example of the diversified world of “The Tale of Genji.”
The new findings are expected to inspire new interpretations of the story.