Real things in the darkness seem no realer than dreams. — from Tale of Genji
Lady Murasaki, lady-in-waiting at the Imperial Court during Japan’s Heian period, ostensibly wrote Tale of Genji to entertain Empress Akiko. However, her clever sketch of court life became instantly popular and a thousand years later, many consider her to be the first modern novelist.
According to legend, when the empress asked her to write a new tale, Lady Murasaki went on pilgrimage to Ishayama-dera, a day’s journey east of court in Kyoto. There at the temple, she saw the full August moon shining in the waters of Lake Biwa and was inspired to begin her tale of Genji, a courtly lover who has been unjustly exiled. Although her work is written in prose, embedded in the text are 800 waka poems — 31 syllables contained in 5 lines — most of them written by Genji as a way to enthrall the many women he loves and seduces.
In the refined culture of the Heian period, the love poem was a staple of court life, so it seemed only fitting to represent the substance of Murasaki’s work with another equally glorious staple of life — fragrant white rice. Over this full bowl of rice, which looks something like a full moon, is laid a pungent shiso leaf and a curl of yuzu zest. Hints of citrusy hinoki wood and lake water softly accent a forgotten cup of green tea as our author begins her masterpiece.
Notes: fragrant white rice, shiso leaf, bitter yuzu zest, hinoki wood, green tea, lakewater