The enduring novel by Murasaki Shikibu

Teacher Page

How to Implement this WebQuest into Your Classroom
Standards (State of Michigan)
Synopsis of the Tale of Genji
Additional Links for Students


How to Implement this WebQuest into your Classroom:

Your students have been given a choice of four different tasks, to accommodate their interests and learning styles.  Three of them will be employees of a fictional museum, the Asian Artists and Ancient Writers Museum.  The fourth is a reporter whose scoop is covering the award presentation and being part of a press conference (in which you field questions as Lady Murasaki).  This project will require some work on your part.  You will definitely want to bone up on your knowledge of Lady Murasaki and the Tale of Genji.  Be warned that the Tale of Genji itself can be rather adult-oriented, and so caution has been taken to ensure the links provided do not lead to adult-oriented content. 

This project would be best integrated into a lesson on Asian geography or literature.  Set aside about a half hour maximum for a press conference session (you'll want to review the reporters' questions first before the conference) and answer their questions as fully as possible.  Then, for the Award Presentation Ceremony, in which the exhibit will also be set up, you will want to collect the brochures from the Brochure Designers and copy them for the rest of the class.  You may choose to have each group perform on different days or simultaneously on the same day. 

This WebQuest was designed with multiple learning styles in mind.  An artistically inclined individual, for example, would be well-suited to the Brochure Designer role.  More outgoing students would do well with the Award Presenter or Nohbdys Bizness roles, whereas the Exhibit Curator role utilizes basic geometry skills.

Tie-in assignments may include: lessons on Japanese poetry (haiku, tanka), geography/culture (food, dress, local customs, martial arts if any of your students are familiar with them) and basic geometry.  The Questions to Think About placed at the end of each role could be used as additional assignments.



The University of Michigan Museum of Art's The Tale of Genji WebQuest covers these State of Michigan education standards:


English Language Arts Content Standards Arts Education Content Standards Social Studies Content Standards

Meaning and Comprehension, Standard 1 (reading and comprehension), Standard 3 (focus on meaning and communication). 

Voice, Standard 6 (creating oral, written and visual texts for an audience). 

Depth of Understanding, Standard 9 (making connections across texts). 

 Inquiry and Research Standard 11 (investigation).

Creating, Standard 2 (apply skills and knowledge to the arts). 

 Analyzing in Context, Standard 3 (analyze, describe and evaluate works of art). 

 Arts in Context, Standard 4 (understand... art in a historical context).


Inquiry, Standard 1 (acquire information from sources and present, interpret, etc. data). 

By the end of the WebQuest, students should be able to identify different types of Japanese art, discuss the most important points of Lady Murasaki's life and be familiar with the basic premise of the Tale of Genji.


Synopsis of The Tale of Genji:

Genji Monogatari ("Stories of Genji") is considered the world's first novel and is the work of one woman, Lady Murasaki Shikibu.  Its present form is 54 chapters long and runs over 1000 pages, and our oldest copies date from the 14th century.  It is believed to be mostly complete, although the final chapter ends in mid-sentence.  We know little about the Lady's life for sure.  We know that she was born around 978 CE to a provincial governor and died sometime after 1014.  In her childhood, she received an excellent education for the time, and her father was rumored to have mourned the fact that she was a girl.  She was married as a teenager, probably around the age of 17, but was widowed only a few years later.  Her daughter was also a writer and wrote commentary on her mother's work.  After she was widowed, Lady Murasaki (not her real name; it is currently unknown.  Murasaki Shikibu is taken from a character in the novel) was installed as a lady-in-waiting in the court of Princess Akiko.  While it is nearly impossible to accurately date the exact time frame when Genji was written, it is believed that Murasaki began the book around the year 1000.

The book revolves around the life of Genji Minamoto, the son of the Emperor and his favorite consort, Kiritsubo.  Kiritsubo dies shortly after giving birth to Genji.  Much of the rest of the novel deals with Genji's loves and trials in his personal life.  Genji dies after Chapter 41.  In the book, there is a chapter entitled "A Walk in the Clouds" with no text.  It is assumed this chapter signifies Genji's death.   The remaining chapters focus on his son, Kaoru (actually the son of his best friend, To no Chujo).  Unlike most epic world literature, there is little reference to warfare, violence or power struggles.  Instead, Genji is distinctly modern in peering into the inner life of its characters, dealing with love, respect and the social structure of Heian-era Japan. 

The Heian era was a time of relative peace in Japanese history.  As a result, the elite class focused on poetry, personal cultivation, duty, religious and spiritual development and manners.  Chinese literature was still a lingering influence on Japanese art, as the poetry in Genji will attest.  Women especially were strictly held to a moral standard in which contact with men was limited.  Widowed women were not expected to adorn themselves, and many were expected to enter a Buddhist monastery to live the rest of their lives in seclusion.  There are occasional references to women with shaved heads - those who entered the convent. 

Genji himself grows throughout the novel, first as a rapscallion who discovers (and enforces) his sexuality, then as a cultured individual who, though no less lustful, becomes quite attentive and devoted to his true love. 


Additional Links for Students: 

Dartmouth University's page on the Tale of Genji scroll painted around the 18th century.  Click on the "Tale of Genji" graphic name to access the scroll itself.

 A later (early 19th century) woodblock print/portrait of Prince Genji in black and white, different from the usual color prints that Genji was created in.

National Library of Australia's World Treasures, with a single work of art, yet quite beautiful

Angelita Stover's impressionistic look at Genji, from the City of Lake Oswego Art Collection.

 A highly descriptive review of a gallery art showing based on work depicting the Tale of Genji.

  The Freer Gallery Museum of Art's online exhibition of Japanese art. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on "Masterful Illusions: Japanese Prints from the Anne von Biema Collection"

The Tale of Genji images - while these images are not annotated, most are from the Genji Monogatari Emari (Tale of Genji scroll) dating from the 12th century, the earliest Genji-related artwork currently extant.








Brochure Designer

Little to no use of artwork.  Scant explanation of each piece.

Some use of artwork, but little to no explanation.  No thought on style of artwork.

Use of artwork accompanied with explanations.  Some knowledge of style of artwork

Strong use of artwork with proven knowledge of styles of art.  Good discussions of each work used in brochure. 

Exhibit Curator

Blank layout with only a list of planned exhibits.  No copies of artwork.  Captions only include name of artwork.

Thinly drawn layout with few works of art.  Captions include only name of work, name of artist and year of creation.

Well-designed layout with captions including name of artist, name of work, year of creation and a few comments about the artwork.

Rich layout that takes the size and design of the classroom into account.  Captions include name of artist, name of artwork, year of creation and details about the scene the work depicts, as well as some knowledge of the style of art.

Award Presenter

Award with no distinguishing characteristics, speech has few references to Murasaki's work or life.

Award with some concept of Japanese art, speech contains references to Murasaki's life OR work, but not both.

Award with clear ideas about Japanese art.  Speech contains references to Murasaki's life and work.

Award with clear ideas about Japanese art.  Speech contains information about Murasaki's life and work, and some information about Heian-era Japan.


Article is less than 300 words.  Contains few references to Murasaki's life or work.  Questions were repetitive and did not lead to answers that would have assisted the reporter in writing the article.

Article is less than 300 words.  Contains some reference to Murasaki's life and work.  Some questions led to answers that could have applied to the article.

Article is at least 300 words.  Contains good references to Murasaki's life and work.  Most questions would lead to answers that could have applied to the article.

Article is at least 300 words long.  Contains strong references to Murasaki's life and work, plus some knowledge of Heian-era Japan.  May also contain some ideas about how the Tale of Genji applies today.  All questions would have led to answers that could have been used in the article.