Identification and Creation
Object Number
Tosa Mitsunobu, Japanese (active c. 1469-1522)
The Cicada Shell (Utsusemi), Illustration to Chapter 3 of the Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari)
Other Titles
Transliterated Title: Genji monogatari: Utsusemi
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 third of a series of 54 painted album leaves mounted in an album with calligraphic excerpts; ink, color, and gold on paper
H. 24.0 cm x W. 17.8 cm (9 7/16 x 7 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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Genji peeks in to watch as Utsusemi and Nokiba no Ogi play go by lamplight on the humid summer night. Utsusemi’s little brother attends the women.

Label Text: 32Q: 2600 East Asian, Japanese, Chinese and Korean , written 2015
Harvard’s Genji Album is the oldest known complete cycle of album leaves of The Tale of Genji. A foundational work of Japanese literature, it recounts the life and loves of the fictional prince Hikaru Genji—a man of rare physical beauty and cultivated taste who epitomized the romantic ideal of Heian period (794–1185) nobility.
On the basis of style, the painted leaves have been attributed to Tosa Mitsunobu. Recent research has shed even more light on the circumstances surrounding the album’s original production. A medieval courtier’s diary suggests that it was commissioned by a provincial warrior who arranged for six prominent courtiers to provide the calligraphic excerpts. It is assumed that he also arranged for the illustrations to be provided by Mitsunobu, who was head of the Imperial Painting Bureau.
East Asian books and albums are traditionally viewed from right to left. The leaf at right illustrates a scene from chapter 3, in which Genji spies on Utsusemi, a young lady who has recently rejected him (1985.352.3.A). Genji bides his time, watching Utsusemi play the game of go with a companion, Nokiba no Ogi, waiting for a chance to meet with Utsusemi again. On the left, the painting from chapter 4 (1985.352.4.A) shows Genji and another of his lovers, Yūgao, sitting in her humble abode. Though she is a woman of some standing, her lodgings are quite lowly, and the romantic meeting is interrupted by the sounds of women pounding robes on a fulling block (upper right corner) and an old pilgrim praying loudly (lower left corner). The poetic imagery of the migrating geese, the full moon, and the sounds of the fulling block evokes a sense of autumnal melancholy.

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. 25

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. 1 / p. 118 with detail on p. 120

Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji, Folio Society (2016), vol. 1, ill. opp. p. 54

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

Exhibition History

The Millennium of the Tale of Genji, The Museum of Kyoto, Kyoto, 04/26/2008 - 06/08/2008

32Q: 2600 East Asian, Japanese, Chinese and Korean, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 06/04/2015 - 11/29/2015

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