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Genji in Graphic Detail:Manga Versions of The Tale of Genji

Lynne Miyake, Asian Languages and Literatures, Pomona College

Monday, April 26, 2004
3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Faculty Center Hacienda Room
Los Angeles, CA 


Genji in Graphic Detail: Manga Versions of The Tale of Genji

UCLA Colloquium

April 26, 2004


                                                                                        Lynne K. Miyake

                                                                                        Pomona College


Japan is awash in manga.”  With these words Frederick Schodt, one of the foremost experts in the field, opens his 1996 study Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga.  It was definitely the case in 1995, the peak of manga publication and production, when 1.9 billion or 15 manga for every man, woman, and child in Japan were sold.  This figure did not include the dôjinshi or amateur manga publications or mawashi-yomi when one manga was passed and read by several people.  Since that time the statistics have fallen to 1.5 billion in 2000, the latest figures I have, but this still accounted for 1/3 of unit sales and nearly a quarter of the gross sales of all publications for that year.


Perhaps in recent years manga reading on trains has been eclipsed by people, engaging in text messaging or surfing the net on their cell phones, but Japanese manga have certainly left their mark.  Manga is ubiquitous in Japan:  it is used for a variety of tasks, ranging from training new bank customers in the whys and wherefores of banking, on the one hand, to instructing employees on how to estimate the cost of sewer construction, on the other.  According to Schodt, there even is--or at least was--a manga magazine, instructing a young mother how to best break into her neighborhood of young mothers when she moves into a new locale.


In such a milieu it was perhaps inevitable that manga versions of literature would make their appearance and that many would retell the story of The Tale of Genji, one of the most beloved texts of the ages.  In my own cursory examination, I have found four such versions, two of which already have full or partial English translations.  In Japanese manga circles the most prominent of these would be Yamato Waki’s thirteen-volume Asaki yume mishi, published in Kodansha’s KC Mini Series from 1980-2000.  It originally appeared in magazine serialization in the 70s and, thus, reached a wider audience than the others.  Hasegawa Hôsei’s Genji monogatari comprises three volumes in the Manga Nihon no Koten Series (Chûo Kôronsha, 1996-97), which was published under the auspices of veteran manga artist, Ishinomori Shôtarô, known for his Manga Nihon keizai no nyûmon (Japan Inc: An Introduction to Japanese Economics in Manga, 1986) and his epic 48-volume Manga Nihon no rekishi (The History of Japan in Manga, 1989).  The third, just one volume of 300 pages, is adapted and illustrated by Tsuboi Koh and supervised by the renowned Heian scholar, Shimizu Yoshiko.  It was published in March 1989, followed seven months later by an English version, translated by Alan Tansman.  Last but not least, is NHK Manga de yomu koten Genji monogatari, the debut work of one Toba Shôko.  Not only is it comprised of a mere 176 pages, but it relates a short segment of the life of five heroines in part one of the tale without any sense of continuity or how the parts relate to each other.  The women depicted are Yûgao, Rokujô no miyasudokoro, Murasaki no ue, Suetsumuhana, and Oborozukiyo.  Conspicuously missing is Fujitsubo.


Why the differences?  And why so many?  Is it simply the need and desire for each manga artist to retell a classic tale in his/her own words, as is the case with the reworking of the Chûshingura story in film after film in the 50s and 60 or the modern “translations” of Genji itself?  More importantly, how does each artist tell his/her tale?  What is the focus of each?  How different are they from Murasaki Shikibu’s own Genji monogatari, first told almost a millennium ago? Can these differences, shifts in focus and story, only be attributed to a transformation in medium, in other words from textual expression to a combination of word and image?  The answers to these questions lie in an examination of the likes of shôjo and shônen manga and, what Sharon Kinsella calls, informational or jôhô manga, as well as in an exploration of the hows and whys of manga production. Neither must we forget to look at and appreciate the individual drawing techniques and artistic perspectives, used in each manga, to present its own graphic rendition of Genji/the Genji.


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Cost: Free

For more information please contact

Mariko Bird
Tel: 310-825-8681

Sponsor(s): Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies

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