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Lost Chapter of World's First Novel Found in Chest

Family has been holding it for nearly 300 years
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 11, 2019 9:39 AM CDT
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This page from the Tale of Genji comes from a 17th-century version kept at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.   (Wikimedia)

(Newser) – The chest was opened. And suddenly, a chapter has been added to the oldest known version of what's considered to be the world's first novel. The original manuscript of the Tale of Genji—telling of the political and romantic life of Genji, the son of an ancient Japanese emperor—was completed around 1010 by a woman named by scholars as Murasaki Shikibu, but subsequently lost to history. Indeed, the oldest written copy known to researchers, transcribed by the poet Teika before his death in 1241, includes just four chapters of the 54-chapter story. Well, now five chapters, counting the 800-year-old pages just discovered in a house in Tokyo, per the Guardian. It seems ancestors of the home owner, descended from a feudal lord, had been quietly keeping Teika's transcription of the fifth chapter of the Japanese epic since 1743.

In April, 72-year-old Motofuyu Okochi of the Mikawa-Yoshida feudal domain opened the chest used to store the chapter, allowing officials at cultural heritage foundation Reizeike Shiguretei Bunko to have a peek. They say it's an authentic manuscript, roughly 5.5 inches wide by 8.5 inches long, with handwriting and a blue cover that perfectly matches Teika's other chapters, which are registered as "national important cultural properties," per Asahi Shimbun. Kyoto University professor Junko Yamamoto tells the outlet it's a "very significant" find since research on the fifth chapter, which depicts Genji meeting his future wife, has been based on manuscripts completed 250 years after Teika's version. (Read more discoveries stories.)

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