Murasaki

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Murasaki Shikibu

Murasaki refers to both the heroine of the Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji), and the book's author, Murasaki Shikibu. In both cases the name is a pseudonym: the author's name has been lost, while the character goes unnamed.

In the court manners of the time (the Heian Period), it was considered unacceptably familiar and vulgar to freely address people by either their personal or family names. As a result, the real name of the author is lost, and she was called "Murasaki Shikibu": Murasaki after the heroine she invented; Shikibu after her father's official rank. The author Murasaki was an aristocrat, the daughter of a provincial governor who probably belonged to a minor branch of the Fujiwara clan. She served as a lady-in-waiting to Empress Shoshi, a daughter of Fujiwara Michinaga, and was a literary contemporary and rival of Sei Shōnagon.

When Murasaki Shikibu wrote The Tale of Genji, she followed the customs of her class and time, so that most of the characters in the novel are never identified by name, but rather by either their rank and title (in the case of male persons), rank and title of their male relatives (in the case of female persons), or after the name of their habitation (in the case of the great court ladies). As such, the Genji character Murasaki is often referred to as the "Lady of the West Wing". This phrase is typically replaced with "Murasaki" in commentaries and translations to improve readability. The author's contemporaries also referred to this character by this name, and nicknamed the author after her.

The name Murasaki is inspired by a poem that the novel's hero, Genji, improvises when contemplating his first meeting with the novel's heroine, the little girl who will grow up to be "Murasaki".

"How glad I would be to pick and soon to make mine that little wild plant sprung up from the very root shared by the murasaki."

(Translation by Royall Tyler in The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, translated by Royall Tyler, 2001, ISBN 0-14-243714-X, p. 100)

Murasaki () is the Japanese word for the color purple. Other translations include Lavender, as used by Edward Seidensticker in his English version of the Genji Monogatari; Violet; and Violet Root, which in Japanese poetry denotes love and constancy.

Genji, in his poem, names the murasaki or purple gromwell, because its color resembles the color of the wisteria (in Japanese, fuji) thereby obliquely referring to Fujitsubo, "the Lady of the Wisteria Court", a woman he is violently in love with for the first part of the novel. This lady Fujitsubo is little Murasaki's aunt.

Thus, in a word association game very characteristic of Japanese poetry, the similarity between two colors - the deep purple of the violet, and the light purple of the wisteria - led to the name Murasaki, a well-known name in Japanese literature.