Lady Akashi (明石の御方)

Akashi no onkata, Lady Akashi, is a fictional character appearing in "The Tale of Genji" by Shikibu Murasaki. She is also called 'Akashi no Kata' and 'Akashi no Kimi' in Japanese. Although she is often called 'Akashi no Ue' by mistake, she is never called 'Ue' in the story because she is a concubine of humble origin.

She was loved by Hikaru Genji while he was in Akashi, and gave birth to Genji's only daughter (later Young Lady Akashi). That resulted in obtaining a status next to that of Lady Murasaki and Hanachirusato. Her father was the Akashi Priest, who is a cousin of Genji's mother Kiritsubo no Koi, and her mother was an Akashi Nun.

The Akashi Priest, who had abandoned the rank of Konoe no chujo (middle captain of the palace guards), became the governor of a province, settled in Akashi and then took tonsure, believed a revelation from a dream that a prospective emperor and empress would be born to his daughter (in other words, his daughter would become the mother of an emperor).

He gave his daughter an education of a level as high as the princesses in Kyoto, and reared her strictly, instructing her that 'If we are not able to realize our ambitions and the revelation does not come true, you are to leap into the sea.'

Later, through the introduction of her father priest, she had repeated meetings with Genji, who had been exiled to Akashi. After Genji returned to the capital, she gave birth to a girl (the later Young Lady Akashi). Even after she herself went up to Kyoto, she was apprehensive that she might be outdone by Genji's numerous lovers due to her humble origin in being a local governor's daughter who had been reared in the country. Therefore, instead of living in Genji's residence (the east lodge at Nijo), she lived in a villa in Oi which her father had prepared. Genji and the young lady who had been born to them, met there as father and daughter. However, soon after that, the young lady was taken to be the adopted daughter of Lady Murasaki. Considering her daughter's future, she had a bitter parting with the young lady, and after that, she could not meet her until her arriving at her womanhood and her bridal entry into court.

When the Rokujo estate was completed, she started to live in the winter quarter, and because of that, she is also called the 'Lady of Winter.'
She could not even be present at the initiation ceremonies celebrating her daughter's arrival at womanhood, but her bridal entry into court provided an opportunity, and she was at last permitted to accompany her. At that time, she finally met her rival of many years, Lady Murasaki, in person. After that, she did everything in her power to guard her daughter, who was now called Lady Kiritsubo. Meanwhile, she and Lady Murasaki, having learned about each other's good points, grew to be on relatively good terms with each other on either side of their daughter. Genji's political power, Lady Akashi's excellent discretion and Young Lady Akashi's giving birth to the first prince of the emperor led to her being openly selected as Empress.

Lady Akashi has a very serious and patient character. She is unobtrusive and behaves cleverly on every occasion, but on the other hand, takes pride in herself probably to make up for her humble origin. Genji recalls that she resembles his ex-lover Rokujo no Miyasudokoro, who also had a high sense of dignity. Her beauty and dignity were no less than those of Imperial princesses. She also had refined tastes for waka poetry and music, and was an especially accomplished performer of koto and biwa. Before Onna San no Miya, an Imperial princess, married Genji, Lady Murasaki had seen Lady Akashi as the biggest threat to her among Genji's numerous lovers. After the death of Lady Murasaki, she comforted Genji in his grief.

After Genji passes away, she disappears from the story except one last time when she is said to have been guarding the princes and princesses of Empress Akashi (in 'Niou Miya' (His Perfumed Highness)). In the illustrated comic 'Asakiyumemishi' ("The Tale of Genji seen in a Shallow Dream"), there is a scene that describes where she is beside Genji at his death, after he had become a Buddhist monk, in an original episode equivalent to 'Kumogakure' (Vanished behind the Clouds).

[Original Japanese]