Utsusemi (The Tale of Genji) (空蝉(源氏物語))

Utsusemi is the cast-off skin of a cicada (order: Pentatomidae), when it hatches.

This is one of the fifty-four chapters of "The Tale of Genji." This is the third chapter.

It is also a nickname for the woman who appears in "The Tale of Genji." She is one of the women whom Hikaru Genji gets to know while in his teens and is influenced by. Her name came from a waka poem that Genji sends her with a cicada shell because she left his courtship leaving a kimono (Japanese traditional clothing) behind. Mainly she appeared in the three chapters of 'Hahakigi' (The Broom Tree), 'Utsusemi,' and 'Sekiya' (The Gatehouse).

Genji, who cannot forget Utsusemi, loves her more than ever in spite of her indifferent attitude, and pays a secret visit to the residence of Kii no kami (Governor of Kii Province) again. He catches a glimpse of Utsusemi playing a game of go with her stepdaughter, Nokiba no Ogi, and he considers that she is not necessarily beautiful, but very temperate, and he is attracted to her again. However, Utsusemi, who notices Genji's visit, escapes from him leaving her thin robes behind. Genji unwillingly has a relationship with Nokiba no Ogi, who is left behind, and brings her thin robes home with him instead. He sends her a poem about the robes which looks like a cast-off skin of a woman, while Utsusemi secretly laments her insecure circumstances that she cannot accept Genji's love.


She was born and brought up as the daughter of a middle-class court noble, and hoped to serve in the Imperial Court once, but she gets married to Iyo no suke (assistant governor of Iyo Province - the present Aichi Prefecture) as his second wife, who is much older than she. The status of woman in those days was dependent upon the status of her father or husband, and she was a middle-class court noble, so there was a difference in degree between Genji, who belongs to the highest class, and her.

She gets married to a man who is much older than her, and his daughter by a previous marriage (Nokiba no Ogi) is almost as old as Utsusemi.

They do not have any children, so she keeps her little brother (Kogimi), who is much younger than her, and brings him up as if he were her own son. The child later serves Genji, and after her husband dies, Genji takes him in publicly stating that the child has worked for him, so he has responsibility.


When Utsusemi was little, she lost her father who was supposed to be her supporter, so she was taken to wife by Iyo no suke, who was looking for a second wife, and she led a quiet and stable life. One day, she has a relationship with Genji, who has heard a rumor about her and he sneaks into her residence out of curiosity when he is in katatagae (to stay the night in a place situated at another point on the compass when one's destination from home lies in an ill-starred direction). She is attracted to Genji's charm and his courtship, but at the same time she is afflicted because she understands that they belong to different classes. So even after they sleep together, she did not give her heart to him, and she leaves the capital following her husband.

Ironically, it is her rejection that makes her an unforgettable figure for Genji, who is a proud-hearted noble. Genji takes in her younger brother, and later invites Utsusemi, who has become a nun, to the Nijohigashi no In residence in order to have her live there.

Personal profile

Though she is modest and looks plain, she is small, so her behavior stands out splendidly and she has good taste. Even when Genji makes an advance to her, she maintains her honor gracefully to the last though she is afflicted, which makes Genji, a young noble, deeply impressed.

It is said that her model would be the author, Murasaki Shikibu, because of the resemblance to her circumstances and status.

[Original Japanese]