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Identification and Creation
Object Number
Backing paper from the "Tale of Genji" Album (Genji monogatari gajō): Chapter 36, The Oak Tree (Kashiwagi)
Other Titles
Transliterated Title: Genji monogatari gajō
Work Type
Muromachi period, dated 1516
Creation Place: East Asia, Japan
Muromachi period, 1392-1568
Physical Descriptions
The thirty-sixth of a series of 54 backing sheets mounted in an album; ink and color on paper
H. 24.1 cm x W. 36.2 cm (9 1/2 x 14 1/4 in.)
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of the Hofer Collection of the Arts of Asia
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Label Text: Cultivating Virtue: Botanical Motifs and Symbols in East Asian Art , written 2006
The lotus is a symbol of the Buddhist faith, signifying the purity of the Buddha’s teachings despite their origin in this world of illusions. Beginning in the eleventh century, Japanese elites became obsessed with the notion of rebirth in the Buddha Amitâbha’s Western Paradise. It was believed that one could be reborn there on a lotus throne if one accumulated enough spiritual merit. Many copies of a text called the Lotus Sutra were created and recited in order to attain this goal.
The painting illustrates a scene from the Tale of Genji in which Genji and his great love, Murasaki, look out toward a pond of lotus plants. Murasaki has partially recovered from a severe illness or spirit-possession through the good offices of a medium and through sutra dedications. She longs to devote her life to Buddhist ablutions, but Genji cannot bear the idea of living without her. During this encounter they recite the following verses (brushed with great flourish on the adjacent calligraphic sheet):

Before the dew dries
That has clung to the lotus—
O fragile fortune—
Surely it would be foolish
To think I shall not be gone.

Bind we by an oath:
Let us be as two dewdrops
On one lotus leaf;
Do not let us be apart,
Dear heart, though not in this world.
[Translation by Edwin A. Cranston]

Publication History

Melissa McCormick, The Tale of Genji: A Visual Companion, Princeton University Press (Princeton, 2018)

Related Works

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu