Identification and Creation
Object Number
Tosa Mitsunobu, Japanese (active c. 1469-1522)
The Oak Tree (Kashiwagi), Illustration to Chapter 36 of the Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari)
Other Titles
Transliterated Title: Genji monogatari: Kashiwagi
Work Type
painting, album leaf
Muromachi period, datable to 1509-1510
Creation Place: East Asia, Japan, Kyoto Metropolitan Area, Kyōto
Muromachi period, 1392-1568
Physical Descriptions
The thirty-sixth of a series of 54 painted album leaves mounted in an album with calligraphic excerpts; ink, color, and gold on paper
H. 24.1 cm x W. 18.0 cm (9 1/2 x 7 1/16 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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Yūgiri pays a visit to Kashiwagi’s widow and is received by her mother(?).

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

Kaori Chino, "Tokushû: Genji monogatari gajô - Hâvâdo Daigaku Bijutsukan zô" [Special Issue: The Tale of Genji Album in the Collection of Harvard University Art Museums] (Tokyo, Japan, 1997), p. 33

Le Dit du Genji de Murasaki-shikibu [The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu]: Illustré par la peinture traditionnelle japonaise du XII au XVII siècle [Illustrated by traditional Japanese painting of the 12th through 17th century], Editions Diane de Selliers (Paris, France, 2007 & 2008), Vol. 2 / p. 362 with detail on p. 390

Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji, Folio Society (2016), vol. 2, ill. opp. p. 725

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

Exhibition History

Plum, Orchid, Chrysanthemum, and Bamboo: Botanical Motifs and Symbols in East Asian Painting, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 07/06/2002 - 01/05/2003

Cultivating Virtue: Botanical Motifs and Symbols in East Asian Art, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 07/08/2006 - 04/08/2007

Related Works

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