A Scene from "The Tale of Genji", Utsusemi chapter
These albums depict various scenes from The Tale of Genji, a long novel written by the Heian-period novelist Lady Murasaki.
The oldest pictorial depiction of the novel is the famous Illustrated Scroll of The Tale of Genji, a National Treasure. This was also produced during the Heian period, which suggests people began painting scenes from The Tale of Genji soon after it was written. The novel remained a much-loved theme in the arts until the Edo period, and was commonly painted on folding screens and fans.
These fan-shaped albums were made during the Muromachi Period in the 16th century. On closer inspection, the paper shows signs of folding, suggesting the albums were once used as actual fans. The surfaces have golden clouds to give the impression that the viewer is observing each scene from above. This creates a sense of intimacy, as if the viewer is entering the world of the novel.
Let's take a look at the album depicting the Utsusemi chapter. Prince Genji, the hero of the novel, has fallen in love with a woman named Utsusemi. In this scene, the prince has sneaked into Utsusemi's villa and is peeking into her room. Contemporary viewers would have recognized this as being the Utsusemi chapter by the way she is shown playing the game of go with her companion, Nokiba no Ogi.