My question is about the script of Genji Monogatari. It is easy to find many anecdotal claims that it was written in hiragana, and that this is explained by Chinese characters considered unsuitable for women to study and use at the time.

However, I ran into difficulty trying to establish if there's an actual scholarly consensus about this. The statements in English-language books - I can't read Japanese - about the history of Japanese seem more cautious; as a typical example, Bjarke Frellesvig in "A History of the Japanese Language" says that 10-11th centuries begat a large body of monogatari literature, "much of which was written in hiragana". At the same time, he mentions other genres, such as setsuwa tales, that employed the mixed kanji/kana style in the same period.

If I understand correctly, the earliest surviving manuscripts of Genji monogatari date from the 13th century, and are in mixed kanji/kana style, which might of course be due to the fact that it became standard by that time. I imagine that the question of how the original manuscript had been written has been intensely studied. Is there a consensus about whether it did or did not employ a nontrivial number of Chinese characters? If there is one, what is it based on? (e.g. maybe there are surviving period manuscripts of other monogatari writings all in hiragana, or unambiguous references to the script of Genji monogatari in some other writing from the period).

2 Answers 2


I'm not finding anything at the level one could cite in a paper after a brief search in Japanese, but three different sources (Japanese Wikipedia, NHK Kids show, and Japanese version of yahoo answers) agree that the original was written in a mix of kana and kanji. The "yahoo answers" answerer points out that there is no copy of the original.


The author, Murasaki Shikibu, is known for badmouthing a contemporary writer for writing her works with kanji "as if she was a man" (it was believed back then that the more artistical "hiragana", which was not exactly current hiragana, was more fitting for women while the more complex and more intelligent-looking kanji were for males; katakana was reserved to monks), so most likely, yes.

It is known that Murasaki Shikibu knew kanji, however, since she used them in her personal diary, but given that the diary is personal while the Genji Monogatari was public, chances that she used kanji in it are fairly low, but they exist.

It's impossible to say anything to the respect when not only we don't have any copies ancient enough of the text, we also even lack parts of the story as it has seem to have suffered severe censure and even after that no one managed to keep a complete enough collection.

I've heard that at least three books are theorized to have been lost, one of them centered about Rokujou no Miyasudokoro (the most blatant, as she's abruptly introduced as if the reader should have known about her), and the final part of the last book is missing (the ending is too sudden, with no clear indication that it should stop there, and the title of the book that should have come from a verse inside it has no related poem).

I cannot tell you if the Genji had been written like that, but I can tell you that there are other works known to have been written entirely in hiragana.

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    You're offering something like a conspiracy theory. I've never heard of the book being censured -- on the contrary, it was very widely read -- and I think it's totally untrue that the final part of the last book is missing. It ends at a perfect point, and with a phrase like と言う物語である, which was a standard way of ending a story at the time.
    – Avery
    Jan 19, 2016 at 3:12

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