It was the best-selling example of the genre known as gōkan(合巻?), a popular literary form that merged image with text. The plot centres on the outlandish adventures of Ashikaga Mitsuuji, second son of Ashikaga Yoshimasa, while seeking to recover a stolen sword, mirror, and poem, upon which the security of the realm depend. The preface to the first chapter intrdouces the character Ōfuji, whose nickname is Murasaki Shikibu. In the preface to the tenth chapter, Tanehiko describes his own literary project:
When I first began to write The Rustic Genji an aged friend said to me: "You should try to the best of your ability to preserve the language of the original and not alter the story. It will probably then be of some use to young people who haven't read The Tale of Genji." But a young friend said, "You should vary the plot. Weave in effects from Kabuki and the puppet theatre. Surely there can't be anyone who hasn't read Genji."