Stamp

Here is a stamp from a Japanese train station, the station that serves Uji, a town famed for its tea. The best green tea in all Japan is said to come from Uji. The stamp is styled like a woodblock print, and shows a stylised representation of Murasaki Shikibu before the Byōdoin temple. Murasaki wrote what is thought by many to be the world’s first novel. She didn’t know that’s what she was writing, as she sat down with brush and ink sometime in the distant Heian 12th century. She thought she was writing some diverting tales about an impossibly irresistible young man, an emperor’s son destined never to be emperor himself. She thought they might amuse her friends at court. Maybe. We don’t know for sure. Very little is known about her in truth. Just fragments of a diary. She set the more turbulent parts of her unsuspected pioneering novel in Uji. Byōdoin used to be a royal villa before it became a temple. Some think it’s the model for the palace of the impossibly irresistible young man. Nobody knows. Murasaki can’t tell us, trapped as she is in a fake woodblock print designed to amuse people in transit.

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