Lesson Plan

Let’s Write! Tale of Genji Tea Screens

AL COS Standards
Reading: RLK9, RL1.9, RL2.9, RI2.9
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Photograph of a large, six-paneled screen with an illustration at the top of each panel and painted flowers along the bottom of the screen.


Have students watch Talking About Art: Tale of Genji Tea Screens

Following the video, students will:

  • Write a descriptive sentence about the artwork
  • Think critically about 3 questions and write their answers
  • Write a brief story about barriers in their life
  • Optional: Illustrate their own tea screen


  • Think critically about why objects were used in the past
  • Write a descriptive sentence about the tea screens
  • Write sentences with correct capitalization and punctuation
  • Write a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end


  • Video: Talking About Art: Tale of Genji Tea Screens (video located at the bottom of this page)
  • Paper
  • Pen or pencil
  • Optional: Large butcher paper or construction paper.  (Depending on the size/scale of their project.) 
  • Optional: Paint, Marker, Crayons, or other art materials

Key Terms

  • Tea Screen (Byobu)
  • Genji
  • Barrier
  • Courtly life
  • Social structure/Societal separations
  • Edo Period
  • Heian Period

Quick Guide to the Tale of Genji Tea Screens

  • These two Japanese folding screens from the Edo period depict 12 of the 52 chapters from The Tale of Genji
  • The story was written by Murasaki Shikibu in the early 11th century during the Heian period and is considered the world’s first novel
  • The novel follows the relationships of the legendary and famously amorous Prince Genji and the generation following him
  • These screens were painted around 600 years or so after Murasaki wrote her novel, a testament to the enduring appeal of her work
  • The Tale of Genji was particularly popular during the Edo period, as part of a revival of courtly aesthetics and illustrations of the tale could be found on woodblock prints or folding screens such as these
  • Each illustration on the screens are composed from a bird’s-eye-view referred to as fukinuki yatai (blown-off roof perspective)
  • Fukinuki yatai (along with the odd angles created by sliding doors, screens, and railings) is used in order for the viewer to see both the interior and exterior architectural environments and to emphasize mood
  • These screens are short because they are designed for a Japanese tea ceremony where participants would be seated on the ground

Quick Guide to the Tale of Genji Tea 

  • The Tale of Genji is referred to as a tsukuri-monogatari (large narrative story about aristocratic court romances)
  • Using the life and loves of the emperor’s son Genji, the story provides a fictional description of Heian period court life
  • Courtly life was well known by the author Murasaki Shikibu, as she was a lady-in-waiting (educated member of the nobility serving as a palace attendant) 
  • Genji is romantic, handsome, cultured, and flawed
  • The story generates from a major sin Genji committed against his father Genji fell in love with his father’s youngest wife and had a child together that his father then had to claim as his own in order to save face 
  • Subjects like courtly duty, family ties, heartbreak, death, ghosts, flirtations, and court intrigue are explored 
  • Arguably the most important theme of the Tale of Genji is the concept of mono no aware (the pathos of things)
  • Mono no aware embodies the idea that any experience can move someone and emphasizes that fleeting moments of joy or heartbreak are part of being human

Quick Guide to the Edo Period

  • The Edo period lasted from 1615-1868 CE in Japan
  • Tokugawa Ieyasu gained control of Japan in 1615 and founded the capital Edo (present day Tokyo)
  • The Edo period is named after the capital city instead of the Tokugawa family
  • Although the Tokugawa family maintained a rigid bureaucracy, there was still peace and prosperity 
  • Zen Buddhism declined and was somewhat replaces with a form of Chinese Neo-Confucianism (a philosophy that emphasized loyalty to the state)
  • However, Buddhism remained popular among the the commoner population during this period
  • The shogunate divided the Edo period into four classes: Samurai officials, farmers, artisans, and merchants
  • Eventually, merchants began to control the money supply, thus elevating their status above the samurai 
  • During this time period, a rich cultural atmosphere developed with all levels of society informed, curious, and literate
  • This intellectual society was hungry for all manner of art and so artists worked in a wide variety of styles to appeal to the masses


Byobu were established to be a room divider. Each panel in the Tale of Genji Tea Screen has a barrier. The space is both divided by the six panels of the folding screen and with the artistic elements within each panel. The space is divided into select screens, railings, windows as barriers. The artist also uses odd angels. Each divides the space, separates the men and women, and provides an obstacle.

The teacher will:

  • Play Tale of Genji Tea Screens video
  • Help students formulate descriptive sentences
  • Optional: Help students construct a paper tea screen


Have students share what they wrote, either to the class or in small groups.

Optional: Have students share the imagery they decorated their tea screen with and justify how the imagery relates to obstacles and barriers in life.

Writing Assignments

This Artwork In 1 Sentence

When we put all the facts together, we can create one sentence that describes an artwork.

Here is my sentence:
“This work of art is a tea screen that displays images of a Japanese novel.”

What is your 1 sentence about this artwork?


How would you describe this artwork? Use descriptive terms.

If you were making a tea screen, what would story would you paint on it?

This tea screen was used as a divider in a room. What room would you put a screen in and why?

Write A Story

Although the Tale of Genji follows the life of Prince Genji, it also demonstrates the barriers and obstacles we must overcome in our own lives. One of the reasons the Take of Genji was often illustrated on tea screens was to symbolize barriers.

Have your students write a story about a barrier or obstacle (big or small) that they feel they must overcome in their life.

Related Resources