Saturday, February 9, 2013

Legends, Tales, Poetry: Visual Narrative in Japanese Art

by Keiko P.
Here is a great opportunity for us to enjoy or even to be enlightened by various forms of Japanese Art. I was delighted to see that the exhibit includes the Tale of Genji, our esteemed and past guide, Dr. Hiraoka, used to talk about by the wisteria trellis in SJG in his tours(The image is from the 12th century Genji Monogatari Emaki scroll not related to this exhibit.)

Below is information from Seattle Art Museum Exhibition page. Please see the link for the ticket information.

SAM’s renowned Japanese art collection visually enacts stories told and retold over thousands of years. As the works themselves lend new interpretations to familiar stories, so does each installation. The works selected for this exhibition—scrolls, screens, prints, photographs, lacquer work, ceramics, and textiles—are telling examples of the rich visual portrayals in Japanese art from the 13th to the 21st century.

A vast literature of Buddhism, Shinto, and Daoism recounts the miraculous origins of temples and shrines; legendary episodes of Buddhist monks, Shinto deities, Daoist immortals; and the sacred land in which the gods reside. All of these fascinating literary narratives captured the imaginations of Japanese artists, and engendered pictorial works that were appreciated for their visual appeal and didactic value. Classical court literature, in particular theTale of Genji, a court romance that is arguably the earliest novel in the world, has had a profound impact on Japanese visual culture for more than 1000 years. Likewise, poetry is an indispensable inspiration for pictorial art in Japan.

–Xiaojin Wu, Associate Curator for Japanese and Korean Art

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The Tale of Genji here;  ( 
-- Oxford Text Archive A complete English translation of the work, free for non-commercial use.


  1. Thank you very much, Keiko. I wish i knew what Jessie Hiraoka used to say about Genji by wisteria trellis, and what a lovely way to tie the memory of him to this exhibit and things he loved... I haven't seen the exhibit yet, so will come back here after doing so; perhaps we guides could schedule a guided group visit, too, like we did for the Japanese block print...

  2. "Wisteria is called "fuji (藤)" in Japanese and is one of the favorite flowers of Japanese people. Some of you may know that the world's oldest novel, Tale of Genji, was written by a Japanese court lady in 11th century. "Fuji" is used as a part of Genji's mother in law's name, Lady Fujitsubo. Her name came from fuji (wisteria) planted outside of her bedroom window. Genji fell in love with her but it was a forbidden love. Tale of Genji is about Genji's pursuit of this unfilled love. He had many love affairs but later, he adopted a young girl and named her Murasaki which means purple, the color of wisteria."

    "The author's name is unknown but people call her "Murasaki shikibu." Shikibu was her father's position in the court.

    Jessie's story went something like this and at the end he recommended us to to read this great classic Japanese literature, Tale of Genji.

    The Tale of Genji (
    -- Oxford Text Archive A complete English translation of the work, free for non-commercial use.

    1. thanks, Keiko; i shall read Tale of Genji and keep Jesse's tradition of telling it by the wisteria trellis:)