Murasaki Shikibu

Murasaki Shikibu is the author of The Tale of Genji, a short diary (Murasaki Shikibu Nikki) and a poetry collection. As with most Heian women, her real name is unknown. Her great-grandfather was Fujiwara no Kanesuke (877-933), who became a Middle Counselor and a member of the Heian elite. He was designated one of the "36 poetic geniuses."

Murasaki Shikibu at work

Murasaki Shikibu at work.

Her father was Fujiwara no Tametoki, a minor official who visited both Suma and Akashi as assistant to the Govenor of Harima. He was later given appointments as Govenor of Awaji, Echizen and Echigo. Murasaki, his youngest daughter, was born between 970 and 978, the most accepted date being 973. His wife probably died a few years later. Murasaki had a brother and sister, and appears also to have had three other siblings who were probably born of a different mother. One of them, Josen, became an abbot of Onjoji (Miidera) Temple at the foot of Mount Hiei.

In 996, Murasaki accompanied her father to his new post in Echizen. Around 998, she returned to the capital and married Fujiwara no Nobutaka, a second cousin much older than herself, and had a daughter named Kenshi in 999. But Nobutaka died two or three years later, probably from a plague which had devastated Kyoto the previous year. It is believed that Murasaki began writing the Genji soon after his death, and in 1006 began serving Empress Shoshi, the eldest daughter of Fujiwara no Michinaga (966-1027). She remained in imperial service until 1013 and probably died in 1014 at the age of 41.