The "Genji Monogatari" is an immense novel composed between the years 1004-1011 by Lady Murasaki Shikibu.

Murasaki Shikibu was a lady-in-waiting to the Empress Akiko and herself a member of a minor aristocratic family. With this background, she depicted the life of the court of the Heian era in the fictional story of Hikaru Genji.

Genji was born to an emperor and a lady of the court. Tales of his amorous, langorous adventures depict the mores, the culture of the court, and the ground of Japanese aesthetics that have grown from that soil since.

The novel, designated by UNESCO as the first novel in the world, and Murasaki as the first novelist, is vast in scope yet shimmering in details. The story spans four generations and eighty years in 54 chapters about the lives of over 400 characters.

Throughout, the close association between the changes in season and the activities of the people is woven with the Buddhist realization of impermanence.

The novel was written in the Japanese of the time and is as incomprehensible to the modern Japanese reader as it would be to readers of other languages. Males of the Heian era wrote almost exclusively in the kanji borrowed from the Chinese while the Hiragana phonetic script used for Japanese was something for women. In these fine, delicate characters Murasaki made her world come alive. Translations into contemporary Japanese have been made.

The poetess and early Japanese women's liberation movement Yosano Akiko (1878-1942) made a translation of this and other Heian era works.

The great novelist Tanizaki Jun’ichirô (better known as Juchiro Tanazaki) made several translations, the first of which was banned in 1938 by the military government. Yasunari Kawabata was working on a version at the time of his death. A few, more pornographic editions have been made.

There are several translations into Western languages including English. Arthur Waley produced a version that is very loosely based on abridgements of The Tale but is a beautiful book in its own right. Edward Seidensticker produced what seems the best translation in 1976.