The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon


The Pillow Book - Sei Shōnagon,Ivan Morris,SEI

I will definitely have to read the full translation of Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book one day. The best copy I could find was on Scribd, but I’ll find a full translation somewhere, hopefully with context added in by the translator like in this one. Shonagon records random thoughts, short poems, and snippets of stories from a single day. She was a part of Japanese court society in the tenth century and has some fun stories to tell and some opinions that seem fairly normal. There are several assertions made between stories of the translator and what might have happened in the hours between stories. It’s a relatively short read, at about 150 pages, but it paints a picture of Japanese society that is not terribly different from now. What is different, says a lot, and I’m not quite sure I agree with the translator’s notes on why.

Though the tone of the book is playful overall, as it seems to have been intended to be for the entertainment, it doesn’t portray a superficial society. I feel like the priorities are just a little different. I get the idea that writing should be beautiful and that penmanship is important in the same way that it is expressive for people to tattoo or customize their cars or any number of other things over the years. Sometimes the things we write in diaries are not the most profound parts ideas we have or most meaningful parts of our day. That’s part of what’s interesting about it. These are the little things that felt worth sharing in some small way, just like the thoughts on annoying things or very tiresome things, which I generally agree with. I loved her attitude about people wanting her to write them poetry just because her father had been a famous poet.

This is the kind of book I would love to see added to a World Literature class, and I’ll have to check my old textbooks sometime to see if it was at least there, even though it wasn’t what we ended up reading for class.

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