Ukifune (The Tale of Genji) (浮舟 (源氏物語))
Ukifune is one of the fifty-four chapters of "The Tale of Genji." It is the 51st chapter. This is the seventh chapter of 'Uji jujo' (The Ten Quires of Uji), a part of the tale's third section. The title of this chapter was derived from the waka poetry composed by a woman under Kaoru's patronage when she was on her way, after being taken out by Nioumiya, to a hideaway located on the other side of the Yodo-gawa River. "Tachibana no kojima no iro ha kawaraji o, kono ukifune zo yukue shirarenu" (While I believe your heart will not change like the color of islands with tachibana (mandarin orange tree) thickly grown, I am not sure where I am going to since I am in an unstable position like Ukifune.
Ukifune is the name of a fictitious person who appears in "The Tale of Genji." She is one of the main characters who appears in 'Uji jujo,' a part of the tale's third section, and her name is derived from the above-mentioned waka poem, which was also the origin of the chapter title. Details are shown below.
The tale tells of the spring when Kaoru was 27 years old.
Kaoru left Ukifune unattended at a villa located in Uji City and seldom visited her. On the other hand, Nioumiya, who once saw her at Nijo-in, couldn't forget her. When he came to know the whereabouts of the woman on New Years Day after seeing a letter delivered to Naka no kimi, Nioumiya made his vassal who was well informed about the internal situations of Kaoru's residence probe and finally came to know that the woman lives in Uji as Kaoru's mistress. One night, Nioumiya furtively visited Uji, stole into her bedroom pretending to be Kaoru and coerced Ukifune to sleep together with him. Although Ukifune realized it was someone else, it was too late and she shuddered at her serious mistake. However, she gradually became attracted to Nioumiya.
When visiting Uji in February, Kaoru misunderstood Ukifune's worrying looks as the growth of woman and promised her that he would invite her to Kyoto. Nioumiya, who became impatient when he saw Kaoru was humming an old waka poem with Ukifune in his mind at the night of the court poetry reading, revisited Uji despite it snowing, abducted Ukifune to a hideaway located on the other side of the Yodo-gawa River and spent two days there.
Kaoru proceeded with preparations for receiving Ukifune in Kyoto. Nioumiya told Ukifune that he would receive her before that. Ukifune couldn't consult her mother Chujo no kimi, who knew nothing and was helping with the preparations for going to Kyoto, and worried while listening to the sound of the Uji-gawa River. One day, Kaoru found out about this secret when the messengers of Kaoru and Nioumiya came across each other in Uji and since then, the Uji residence was put on security alert by Kaoru.
Ukifune, who received a letter of grudge from Kaoru and was driven into a corner while being caught between Kaoru and Nioumiya, finally resolved to commit suicide. Immediately before her death, Ukifune wrote letters only to Nioumiya and her mother though she loved Kaoru, Nioumiya, her mother, and Naka no kimi.
Ukifune as a person
She was the third daughter of Uji Hachi no Miya, a younger brother of Hikaru Genji. She was a younger paternal half-sister of Uji no Oikimi and Naka no kimi and closely resembled O no kimi. As her mother was nyobo (a court lady) Chujo no kimi (a niece of the wife of Hachi no Miya), she was not acknowledged by her father Hachi no Miya as his real daughter.
She appears in the last six chapters of 'Uji Jujo,' from 'Yadorigi' to 'Yume no Ukihashi.'
In the text, she was referred to as 'hime' (princess), 'musume' (daughter) or 'onna' (wife) and has no fixed name. The name of 'Ukifune' was derived from the waka poem composed by her and first appeared in commentaries of the ancients. She was called 'Tenarai no kimi' in "Genji monogatari kokeizu" (old genealogies on the Tale of Genji), "Mumyo Zoshi" (Story Without a Name) and "Kakai-sho" Commentary.
She was sometimes called 'Azumaya no kimi.'
She went to the eastern region of Japan in the wake of her mother's remarriage and grew up as a stepdaughter of Hitachi no kuni no suke (Assistant Governor of Hitachi Province) whose rank was zuryo. Although she was given the cold shoulder by Hitachi no suke, Chujo no kimi brought up Ukifune with great care hoping her good match since Ukifune was particularly pretty among Chujo no kimi's many children and came from a line of noble family. When she was over 20, she received an offer of marriage from middle-ranking nobility Sakon no shosho (Minor Captain of the Left Division of Inner Palace Guards). However, as shosho's real purpose was a marriage of convenience in order to get closer to rich Hitachi no suke, he exchanged Ukifune for her sister with the same mother, a real daughter of Hitachi no suke, when he came to know that Ukifune was a stepdaughter of Hitachi no suke. After the marriage proposal was withdrawn, Ukifune couldn't stay at home any more and she was put in custody of her elder paternal half-sister Naka no kimi, who was then the wife of Nioumiya. Thereafter, at Naka no kimi's suggestion, she became the mistress of Kaoru, who was still recalling the image of deceased Oikimi.
Ukifune was given a residence in Uji by Kaoru, but she had a relationship also with Nioumiya when he stole into her residence in Kaoru's absence and was torn between two noble men who were in strong contrast each other. The secret was revealed before long and Ukifune, who was driven into a corner, made up her mind to commit suicide. However, she failed in committing suicide and was rescued by Yokawa no sozu (the Prelate of Yokawa) when she fell down in a mountain. Thereafter, she entered the Buddhist priesthood under the guidance of Yokokawa no sozu and even after her whereabouts were located by Kaoru, she constantly refused to return to be his mistress.
When taking to Ukifune, neither Kaoru nor Nioumiya did hikiuta (poem quotation). Some people assert that this is collateral evidence proving the fact that Ukifune, who was brought up in the eastern region of Japan as a daughter of zuryo (provincial governor) and didn't acquire the knowledge of music, was played down by them as a country-bred woman with no courtly culture and hobbies (however, there were a lot of waka poems composed by her).
She was often compared with 'hitogata' (a doll) that substitutes her deceased sister Oikimi and judging from her personality as well as image, she was a woman who tend to be 'influenced.'
Some people appreciate her resolution of committing suicide as the awakening of self-awareness.
When actually committing suicide, however, she didn't dare to do so and deplored saying 'I wish to be eaten by an ogre.'
Ukifune misunderstood this phantom as Nioumiya, but actually it was the evil spirit of a monk which was later exorcized by Yokawa no sozu ('Tenarai').
In the meantime, this phantom is depicted as the spirit of Hikaru Genji in 'Asaki Yume mishi' (Japanese contemporary comic based on the Tale of Genji) and it also appears as a guide who instructed Ukifune, who was wondering what to do with herself, to enter the Buddhist priesthood.