This famous 10th century Japanese journal The Pillow Book Penguin, 2006 by Sei Shonagon translated by Dr Meredith McKinney is a bit descriptive than its predecessor The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon Penguin, 1981 translated by Dr Ivan Morris as we can see to compare, tentatively, from the following extracted paragraphs 1 In spring, the dawn when the slowly paling mountain rim is tinged with red, and wisps of faintly crimson purple cloud float in the sky.In summer, the night moonlit nights, of course, but also at the dark of the moon, it s beautiful when fireflies are dancing everywhere in a mazy flight And it s delightful too to see just one or two fly through the darkness, glowing softly Rain falling on a summer night is also lovely p 3 Morris s text 1 In Spring It Is the DawnIn spring it is the dawn that is most beautiful As the light creeps over the hills, their outlines are dyed a faint red and wisps or purplish cloud trail over them.In summer the nights Not only when the moon shines, but on dark nights too, as the fireflies flit to and fro, and even when it rains, how beautiful it is p 21 However, the following seem to surprise us as the reverse, in terms of descriptiveness 4 It breaks my heart to think of parents sending a beloved son into the priesthood Poor priests, they re not the unfeeling lumps of wood that people take them for They re despised for eating that dreadful monastic food, and their sleeping arrangements are no better A young priest must naturally be full of curiosity, and how could he resist the forbidden urge to peep into a room, especially if there s a woman in there But this is criticized as disgraceful too pp 7 8 Morris s text 6 That Parents Should Bring Up Some Beloved SonThat parents should bring up some beloved son of theirs to be a priest is really distressing No doubt it is an auspicious thing to do but unfortunately most people are convinced that a priest is as important as a piece of wood, and they treat him accordingly A priest lives poorly on meagre food, and cannot even sleep without being criticized While he is young, it is only natural that he should be curious about all sorts of things, and, if there are women about, he will probably peep in their direction though, to be sure, with a look of aversion on his face What is wrong about that Yet people immediately find fault with him for even so small a lapse pp 25 26 Being not a Japanese reader and nearly equally enjoying reading both texts, I have no idea which translated text is finer therefore, such a decisive verdict should be honored to a committee whose Japanese and English scholarship has been acknowledged If there are some Sei Shonagon newcomers who would like to start something simpler and manageable, I would recommend The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon The Diary of a Courtesan in Tenth Century Japan Tuttle, 2011 translated by Arthur Waley.Of course, we ve long known this book s fame due to the formidable lady writer s witty observations, sense of humor, ancient traditions, etc in which they undeniably reflect Japan s high level of literacy in the tenth century In a word, there are innumerable scholars and Japanophiles who have since written and studied on this unique book as one of the great literary works of Japan Thus, in my humble review I d like to raise a point related to my observation first made after reading Aubrey s Brief Lives Penguin, 1982 The point concerns with illegible calligraphy in an informal, spoken Thai phrase and I was amazed to come across an English phrase with a similar meaning as narrated in my Aubrey review Surprisingly, I didn t expect to find another mentioned in this ancient work cited as follows You d think that when some fine lady who s surrounded by a bevy of gentlewomen plans to send a message to someone of particular distinction, she should safely assume that none of her ladies would write it in some dreadful chicken scrawl p 153 The phrase in question in some dreadful chicken scrawl depicting such illegibility has its apt meaning similar to the Thai phrase This suggests at least two points 1 Chicken as household fowls have long since been domesticated and observed regarding their lives, nature, habits, etc and 2 Writing legibility has long since been admired, respected and treasured as one of the true attributes of scholarship.In brief, reading this book is worth spending our time since we can learn how they lived, behaved and interacted in the court around a thousand years ago in Japan As such, I think, we simply can t help but admire the nostalgic glimpses brilliantly penned by one of the highly educated courtesans, a smart Japanese court lady named Sei Shonagon. Lovely, amazing, brilliant book from a court lady with spectacular wit and humor I really need to reread this again some day When I have a week to spare.I ve never had to work so hard to read a book before It s been years since I ve read it, but this book took me days and days to read, mainly because of all the footnotes And you HAVE to read the footnotes Every entry had a footnote, and I had to constantly flip back and forth to read it in order to understand the context. A thousand years ago, one evening, a woman picked up her brush, drew it over an inkstone and wrote.In spring it is the dawn that is most beautiful As the light creeps over the hills, their outlines are dyed a faint red and wisps of purplish cloud trail over them.In summer, the nights Not only when the moon shines, but on dark nights too, as the fireflies flit to and fro, and even when it rains, how beautiful it is She was a lady in waiting who served ten years in the court of a Heian Empress her given name has been lost We know her only by her family name and honorific, Sei Shonagon Yet she lives in these ancient notes as surely as if she had only just taken off her long, multi layered court robes and slipped into something comfortable She makes a few last notes, intimate, poetic, or perhaps a little naughty, and listens to the night sounds of the household.The floor boards in the ante room are shining so brightly that they mirror everything nearbyThe curtains glide smoothly back revealing the lady of the house, who under the faded dark robe she is using as her bedclothing wears a white unlined gown of raw silk and a crimson trouser skirt.In another part of the room ladies are huddled together under a closed blind A fire is smoldering deep in the incense burner, giving out a scent that is vaguely melancholy and full of a calm elegance Late in the evening there is a stealthy tap outside A lady in waiting the one who always knows what is happening hurries to the gate and lets in the gentleman visitor Then with a smug look on her face she stealthily leads him to the lady who has been awaiting his arrival.From one side of the hall comes the beautiful sound of lute music The player plucks the strings so gently that one can barely make out the notes.Sei Shonagon is such a study in contrasts She was undeniably bitchy, an inveterate gossip and a dreadful snob She spent her days in idleness, writing poetry, making snarky comments about the servants and lower classes, and flirting with the courtiers.But Sei Shonagon was also quick witted, sensitive and fully awake to all the beauties of the world and when she writes like this I cannot help but like her Things That Make One s Heart Beat Faster Sparrows feeding their young.To pass a place where babies are playing.To sleep in a room where some fine incense has been burnt.To notice that one s elegant Chinese mirror has become a little cloudy.To see a gentleman stop his carriage before one s gate and instruct his attendants to announce his arrival.The ladies of the Heian court were probably allowed freedom than most Japanese women of the time and despite their modest fans and the curtains that screened them from view there was the possibility of semi secret liaisons, preceded and followed by a stylized exchange of poetry And if favors were granted one hoped that all would be graced by a certain style.Frail as a string of bubbles is that ice.A certain victim to the sun s first rays.The ribbon too will quickly come undone.As though it were the frailest gossamer veil.A good lover will behave as elegantly at dawn as at any other time He drags himself out of bed with a look of dismay on his face The lady urges him on Come my friend, it s getting light You don t want anyone to find you here He gives a deep sigh, as if to say that the night has not been nearly long enough and that it is agony to leave Indeed, one s attachment to a man depends largely on the elegance of his leave takingIf poetry and time travel are your thing take a trip back to tenth century Japan and see the world fresh and vivid through Sei Shonagon s eyes Content rating G There are themes of love and late night meetings, but everything is coded and strictly fade to black and softly rustling silk. Less interesting than its closest contemporary, The Tale of Genji, this is another interesting book about the intimate life of the Japanese imperial court during the Heian period as Genji is as well It is full of interesting anecdotes and pillow talk thus the title , but in a less poetic style as Genji which for me remains the reference and the milestone. See the full review at Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon is a fascinating look at Japanese court culture during the 11th century Heian period 794 to 1186.While others may be familiar with Murasaki Shikibu s The Tale of Genji as an example of classic Japanese literature of the time, I chose The Pillow Book instead I always lean towards bucking the trend and I was intrigued by what I had read of Sei Shonagon s attention to detail, unflinching honesty, and acerbic wit in her quest for the perfect comeback.According to Dr Meredith McKinney, an expert in Japanese literature and translator of this edition, Sei Shonagon might have been born around 966 and the last known reference to her was in 1017 She was a member of the court of Empress Consort Teishi Sadako , where she served as a gentlewoman or lady in waiting beginning around 993 until Teishi s death in 1000.While specific details about Sei Shonagon and her book are difficult to confirm, it is believed she completed the book around 1002 It is the oldest book on my classics list There are several editions of the book it has been copied and recopied multiple times I read the Penguin Classics edition which includes an informative introduction written by Meredith McKinney and is full of notes throughout Well researched and thorough, it also includes appendices such as a glossary as well as explanations of colors and clothes, social statuses, and.The Pillow Book is akin to a diary Sei Shonagon mostly tells us stories of her daily life, gossips about her peers, comments on fashion and the seasons It provides a perspective on imperial culture in all its luxury, privilege, and poetry and is considered a masterpiece of Japanese literature According to Sei Shonagon, the book was supposed to have been kept private but started to circulate among the court members when it was discovered after she accidentally left it out on a mat one day around 996.I have never read a book quite like this before While I enjoyed it for its unique content and perspective, it lacks the cohesion I was used to as it jumps around throughout time periods, thoughts, and miscellany At times, Sei Shonagon uses the pages to list examples of seemingly arbitrary topics of her choice, sometimes as ordinary as naming peaks, plants, or bodies of water but at other times are thoughtful Those who are interested in learning about this era of Japanese history or life would find this book compelling I would also recommend this book to poetry lovers, as poetry was an integral part of court society during this period One s knowledge of poetry indicated their intellect, wit, and social standing not only was one expected to know the greats but also to come up with original poetry on the spot Communication between friends, colleagues, and lovers often took place via notes sent by messenger and these notes were often written in poetry, so one needed to be able to read, interpret, and create poems full of flirtation and puns for attention and glory This was one of Sei Shonagon s talents she aimed to delight and surprise with her poetry and humor. He spoke to me of Sei Sh nagon, a lady in waiting to Princess Sadako at the beginning of the 11th century, in the Heian period Do we ever know where history is really made Rulers ruled and used complicated strategies to fight one another Real power was in the hands of a family of hereditary regents the emperor s court had become nothing than a place of intrigues and intellectual games But by learning to draw a sort of melancholy comfort from the contemplation of the tiniest things this small group of idlers left a mark on Japanese sensibility much deeper than the mediocre thundering of the politicians Shonagon had a passion for lists the list of elegant things, distressing things, or even of things not worth doing One day she got the idea of drawing up a list of things that quicken the heart Not a bad criterion I realize when I m filming I bow to the economic miracle, but what I want to show you are the neighborhood celebrations Chris Marker This excerpt is taken from Chris Marker s San Soleil Sunlesshis surreal filmic travelogue in which the filmmaker meditates on time, cultural paradox, and memory Memory informs most of the film As the images flicker randomly, footage from around the world, a British, female narrator intones these ponderous reflections on the soundtrack Not only is Sh nagon directly referred to in the film, but her particular style of voyeuristic observation most certainly influences Marker s approach as a filmmaker, particularly in the case of San Soleil.Sei Sh nagon was a courtly woman who lived in Heian Kyo present day Kyoto She served as a gentlewoman in the court of Empress Fujiwara Teishi of the famous Fujiwara clan, the dominant clan of the Heian period roughly from 794 to 1186 In the context of Japanese history, the Heian period was a time devoid of war, and blessed with the idle calm of peace Makura no S shi The Pillow Bookis a collection of insights, observations, short stories, poetry, and frustrating daily occurrences kept by Sh nagon throughout most her time in the service of empress Teishi Heian period literature is a notoriously complicated cultural phenomenon for the western reader An understanding of the cultural s of Japanese Heian period society, also of its architecture, politics, literary and religious relationship to China, is or less essential in order to appreciate the true brilliance of the work of Sh nagon or Lady Murasaki It s in this sense that Sh nagon will appeal to a contemporary western audience This is because, unlike the sweeping, convoluted narrative of a piece such as The Tale of Genji, The Pillow Book is intimate, full of ephemeral fragments of courtly life in Heian Japan Sh nagon is one of those writers who possess the poignancy of the universally relatable and the timeless For lack of a better comparison, the tiny, cathartic pleasures in life mentioned in the film Amelie resemble Sei s list of things that look enjoyable , or things that create the presence of deep emotion In other words, one doesn t necessarily require a full background knowledge of Japanese culture to be capable of relating to Sei s aesthetic predilection, albeit the sub narratives that weave in and out of The Pillow Book are esoteric, and mainly entail historical gossip as well as stories about poetry competitions.There are, of course, two sides to Sh nagon one is that of the pleasant servant of empress Teishi who enjoys reciting poetry and commenting on the beauty of her pastoral surroundings, the other is a socially duplicitous misanthrope Her contemporary, and stylistic opposite Murasaki Shikubu author of Genji Monogatari The Tale of Genjimentioned something to this affect in her diary, Sei Sh nagon was dreadfully conceited She thought herself so clever and littered her writings with Chinese characters but if you examined them closely, they left a great deal to be desired Those who think of themselves as being superior to everyone else in this way will inevitably suffer and come to a bad end, and people who have become so precious that they go out of their way to try and be sensitive in the most unpromising situations, trying to capture every moment of interest, however slight, are bound to look ridiculous and superficial How can the future turn out well for them One does get this sort of impression from several passages in The Pillow Book First off, Sei was a class snob she repeatedly criticizes the attire of the poverty stricken, as well as their manners She clearly had a pretty short temper, and little patience for the idiosyncrasies of those around her And a majority of the positive lists that she mentions mainly have to do with the beauty of nature, or the complexity of poetry, rather than musings on how wonderful people are in general It s difficult to imagine that this wasn t simply part and parcel of the sensibility of her age Heian courtly life was so idle and lackadaisical to the point where petty back stabbing and spreading vitriolic gossip must have seemed like popular pastimes The Pillow Book is most effectively enjoyed in fragments a good book to pick up at random There really isn t much of a unifying story, and it seems that the most erudite scholar still runs into difficulty in the matter of coming up with a chronology in relation to the layout of the book Herein lies its charm though that of leisurely digesting these observations and considering how much you might be inclined to agree or disagree And Sh nagon s writings are immensely charming if nothing else. AcknowledgementsChronologyIntroductionFurther ReadingNote on the Translation The Pillow Book Appendix 1 PlacesAppendix 2 People and Where They AppearAppendix 3 TimeAppendix 4 Glossary of General TermsAppendix 5 Court Ranks, Titles and BureaucracyAppendix 6 Clothes and Colour GlossaryNotes Incredible, witty, beautiful prose Shonagon Sei was a sarcastic and insightful woman who was unafraid to air out her own prejudices staples among her lists of hated things commoners, and exorcists who fall asleep on the job , as well as her love for all things beautiful and the mildly hilarious Many call this the earliest blog in history, but it s much than that It s a vivid, if not remarkable look into Heian court life through the eyes of a strong Japanese woman, a true individual of that time.My favorite sections were when Sei discusses the Royal Family, specifically the young Empress, whom Sei waited upon Different from the other passages, which vary between bitingly sarcastic portrayals of her peers to descriptions of beautiful landscapes, the entries about the Empress are colored with much gentle and affectionate emotions Disarmingly human It is friendship, adoration, and poetic lyricism all in one A favorite passage from the book Once when I had gone to Kiyomizu Temple for a retreat and was listening with deep emotion to the loud cry of the cicadas, a special messenger brought me a note from Her Majesty written on a sheet of red tinted Chinese paper Count each echo of the temple bell As it tolls the vespers by the mountain s side Then you will know how many times My heart is beating out its love for you What a long stay you are making she added Surely you realize how much I miss you Since I had forgotten to bring along any suitable paper, I wrote my reply on a purple lotus petal. ,, 10,. . The Pillow Book Of Sei Shonagon Is A Fascinating, Detailed Account Of Japanese Court Life In The Eleventh Century Written By A Lady Of The Court At The Height Of Heian Culture, This Book Enthralls With Its Lively Gossip, Witty Observations, And Subtle Impressions Lady Shonagon Was An Erstwhile Rival Of Lady Murasaki, Whose Novel, The Tale Of Genji, Fictionalized The Elite World Lady Shonagon So Eloquently Relates Featuring Reflections On Royal And Religious Ceremonies, Nature, Conversation, Poetry, And Many Other Subjects, The Pillow Book Is An Intimate Look At The Experiences And Outlook Of The Heian Upper Class, Further Enriched By Ivan Morris S Extensive Notes And Critical Contextualization
in Japanese Sei Shonagon c 966 1017 was a Japanese author and a court lady who served the Empress Teishi Sadako around the year 1000 during the middle Heian period She is best known as the author of The Pillow Book makura no s shi.
- 419 pages
- 枕草子 [Makura no sōshi]
- Sei Shōnagon
- 18 February 2019 Sei Shōnagon