Kumiko S. McKee - Koto

Gallery > Koto Series > Minori

Oil Painting on Masonite
80 x 46 inches

Details - Minori


“Minori” means “The Rites” in English and is one of paintings from my “The Tale of Genji” series. “The Tale of Genji” is a story based on the Court life in the Heian period (794 –1185 AD) in Japan and was written by Murasaki-Shikibu in the 11th century. It is considered to be the oldest novel in the world. Minori is the story from chapter 40 of “The Tale of Genji” and the main subject in the image is Lady Murasaki.

Interpretation of the story and the elements of the painting “Minori”:

In chapter 40, Lady Murasaki had been ill for a while and her illness had weakened her. She sensed her death coming soon so she ordered to have a “Houe” (Buddhist memorial service) during the season of the cherry blossoms. As she gazes at the full cherry blossoms and the ritual ceremonies including the “Ryouou no mai” (Dance of Ryouou, which is the ceremonial dance of rites in the Buddhist memorial service), she feels the true beauty of the world. She enjoyed viewing the ceremony, but at the same time felt sad that her life ran short. She sent “Waka” (poetry) to her friends Akashi Lady and Lady Hanachirusato who are also Genji’s concubine. Afterwards, she became very weak during the summer and passed away in the autumn of the same year. The calligraphies in the painting are the poems that she sent to her two friends--one (on the right) to Akashi Lady and another (on the left) to Lady Hanachirusato. The calligraphic text was painted in classical Japanese, which is quite different from modern Japanese.

The Japanese syllables in the “Waka” on the right are:
O_shi_ka_ra_nu – ko_no_mi_na_ga_ra_mo - ka_gi_ri_to_te – ta_ki_gi_tsu_ki_na_n – ko_to_no_ka_na_shi_sa (Japanese: tanka form 5-7-5-7-7)
English translation:
I have no regrets as I bid farewell to this life, yet the dying away of the fire is always sad.

The Japanese syllables in the “Waka” on the left are:
Ta_e_nu_be_ki – mi_no_ri_na_ga_ra_zo – ta_yo_ma_ru_ru – yo_yo_ni_to_mu_su_bu – na_ka_no_chi_gi_ri_o (Japanese: tanka form 5-7-5-7-7)
English translation:
Although these holy rites must be my last, the bond will endure for all the lives to come.

Waka in Heian Era: Waka” came to imply “Tanka”, which is composed of 31-syllables (or sounds) divided into 5 units (5-7-5-7-7 mora pattern). Incidentally, the author of the tale Murasaki Shikibu wrote about 950 waka (poetry) for her Tale of Genji.