Monday, 26 October 2009

The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon

Sei Shonagon, who was a lady-in-waiting at the court of he Emperor of Japan towards the end of the tenth century AD, wrote her Pillow Book as a sort of very early blog. Here are three more examples of her lists of things which she found worthy of noting.

Things That Have Lost Their Power

A large boat which is high and dry in a creek at ebb-tide.
A woman who has taken off her false locks to comb the short hair that remains.
A large tree that has been blown down in a gale and lies on its side with its roots in the air.
The retreating figure of a Sumo wrestler who has been defeated in a match.

Awkward Things

One has gone to a house and asked to see someone; but the wrong person appears, thinking that it is he who is wanted; this is especially awkward if one has brought a present.

One has allowed oneself to speak badly about someone without really intending to do so; a young child who has overheard it all goes and repeats what one has said in front of the person in question.

Someone sobs out a pathetic story. One is deeply moved; but it so happens that not a single tear comes to one's eyes - most awkward. Though one makes one's face look as if one is going to cry, it is no use; not a single tear will come. Yet there are times when, having heard something happy, one feels the tears streaming out.

Things That Fall From The Sky

Snow. Hail. I do not like sleet, but when it is mixed with pure white snow it is very pretty.
Snow looks wonderful when it has fallen on a roof of cypress bark.

When snow begins to melt a little, or when only a small amount has fallen, it enters into all the cracks between the bricks, so that the roof is black in some places, pure white in others - most attractive.

I like drizzle and hail when they come down on a shingle roof.
I also like frost on a shingle roof or in a garden.


  1. This lady had an eye for detail, as well as a truly thoughtful attitude to life in general.

  2. I love the fact that she considered "Things That Fall from the Sky" a category. Her description of water in all its permutations shows how observant she was, maybe more than we are. The other two categories are also very true; I felt them in the gut. I get the feeling she spent a lot of time walking on eggshells. LOVE xxox

  3. I feel sure she walked on eggshells. I love reading novels of the period in time.

  4. I can't help inserting a little levity here; I would love to have pennies fall from heaven (sky) instead of hail. That will not happen until pigs fly.

  5. Hello Friko,

    I have just treated myself to reading this and your three prior postings. How glad I am to have found precious time to read these slowly, so that I might fully appreciate your writing.

    I love the variety of topics and voices that you send out to us. Each warrents much more than this short comment. If I ever do get to claim my "senior citizen" status and cut back a bit on my working hours, well ... I'll have much more time to connect with delightful folks like you.


  6. Hmmmmm - perhaps I shall follow her example. Take a laptop to bed and do a pillow blog.

  7. wonderful...wonderful...wonderful

    Fearing to 'harm' with any other word, your beautiful writing at the last posts of you, allow me to bow in silence and to wish you a wonderful week.

  8. I like the idea of the Pillow Book as an early blog - I also like the attention to detail. The last category is so interesting, probably because it's about the loss of 'face'.
    I wonder if the ability to cry when necessary/appropriate was a skill expected of Japanese gentlewomen.

  9. Hi Friko

    Beautiful observations.

  10. A most thoughtful blog. Very glad to have "met" you.

  11. jinksy - she is very good at expressing herself too, even many centuries later her wit and thoughtfulness shine through

    Margaret Pangert - she lived in a totally different world from us yet there are many similarities

    QMM - maybe so, happy reading QMM

    Darlene - unfortunately, they don't, either of them

    Frances - praise indeed, thank you for stopping by; you know how much I enjoy your blogs too

    Bonnie - not a bad idea; her ink might not suit our beds though

    robert - thank you robert, you too

    Pondside - that's quite possible

    Martin H - thank you Martin

    Edward - hi there again, I'm glad you like what you see; let's meet more often


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