Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞, Nise Murasaki inaka Genji 偐紫田舎源氏, 1829-1842

Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞 (1786-1865)

Ryūtei Tanehiko 柳亭種彦 (1783-1842), author 

Nise Murasaki inaka Genji 偐紫田舎源氏

Volumes 1-38 

Publisher: Tsuruya Kiemon, Edo

Edo period (1603-1868), 1829-1842

Woodblock printed book; ink on paper

17.4 x 11.9 cm


Making an impression in the world of Edo-period illustrated fiction was critical to success. Publishers navigated the tastes of readers hungry for books, acquired necessary investment capital, and commissioned authors, artists, block carvers, and printers to sustain the production. Publisher Tsuruya Kiemon got it right with a work that was an unqualified hit by any metric: Nise Murasaki inaka Genji written by Ryūtei Tanehiko and illustrated by Utagawa Kunisada. 


This book plays on the cultural capital of Genji monogatari, or The Tale of Genji, a prose narrative dated to the early eleventh century believed to be written by the lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu (d. ca. 1016). The tale is now regarded as a classic of Japanese literature. By the later Edo period readership of the Genji had waned due to the difficulty in reading its classical language. When the first installment of Nise Murasaki inaka Genji was published in 1829, no full version of The Tale of Genji had been printed for over a century. Tanehiko’s text played a critical part in the revival of The Tale of Genji and its subsequent appreciation. Tanehiko transforms the original story into a serial novel, transposing it forward in time to chronicle the exploits of the shining Mitsuuji (rather than Genji) in the Muromachi period (1336-1573). 


For the publisher, combining the savvy writer and popular illustrator was a jackpot. The first chapter, published tentatively as a standalone volume, may have reached 15,000 copies due to high demand. In the opening shown here, a note explains that the first printing was issued at the New Year of 1829, and that this impression is from the second month of 1830. Further installments appeared at the beginning of each year. Unfortunately, Tanehiko did not finish the story–the last volume was published in 1842, in the same year of the author’s death. 

Nicholas Purgett

Selected Readings:


Emmerich, Michael. “The Splendor of Hybridity: Image and Text in Ryūtei Tanehiko’s Inaka Genji.” In Envisioning the Tale of Genji: Media, Gender, and Cultural Production, edited by Haruo Shirane, 211–39. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.


———. The Tale of Genji: Translation, Canonization, and World Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015.


Markus, Andrew Lawrence. The Willow in Autumn: Ryūtei Tanehiko, 1783-1842. Cambridge: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1992.