The Pillow Book (Penguin Classics) (英語) ペーパーバック – 2007/10/30
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The classic portrayal of court life in tenth-century Japan
Written by the court gentlewoman Sei Shonagon, ostensibly for her own amusement, The Pillow Book offers a fascinating exploration of life among the nobility at the height of the Heian period, describing the exquisite pleasures of a confined world in which poetry, love, fashion, and whim dominated, while harsh reality was kept firmly at a distance. Moving elegantly across a wide range of themes including nature, society, and her own flirtations, Sei Shonagon provides a witty and intimate window on a woman's life at court in classical Japan.
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
Sei Shonagon was born approximately a thousand years ago (965 is a likely date) and served as lady-in-waiting at the Court of the Japanese Empress during the last decade of the tenth century. Her father was a provincial official, but is best known as a poet and a scholar. It is possible, though unlikely, that Shonagon was briefly married to a government official, by whom she may have had a son. Her life after her Court service came to an end is totally obscure. There is a tradition that she died in lonely poverty: but this is probably an invention of moralists who were shocked by her promiscuity and thought she deserved retribution. Our knowledge of Shonagon's life and character rests almost exclusively on the Pillow Book itself.
遠い叔父の妹のスケッチ。「月のいとあかきに川を渡れば、牛の歩むままに水晶などのわれたるやうに、水の散りたるこそをかしけれ」 牛が歩くときにはねる水しぶきが月の光を浴びて水晶のようにキラキラしている。この本では、Shattered Crystal と英訳されているがこれも良い。
This very enlightening book came from Sei Shonagon who was a court lady in tenth-century Japan. It is actually a personal diary of a woman who explains all the things she likes and displeases her in the daily life of a court lady. She comments on a wide range of topics such as nature and the seasons, the flowers she likes, the importance of good manners, people she likes and hates, the behavior of servants, the correct behavior of lovers and numerous other topics. This book has real historical value because it covers the everyday life of people who are part of the royal family as well as the servants and mistresses of court life in tenth-century Japan.
What makes this book unique is that it chronicles the common everyday life in early Japan and shows the emphasis on good manners and proper dress and attitude was essential to all from the highest to the lowest. This 411 page paperback book also has some interesting illustrations showing the clothes and houses of this period.
If you are interested in early Japanese culture you should check out this book.
Rating: 4 Stars. Joseph J. Truncale (Author: Zen Poetry Moments: Haiku and senryu for special occasions).
While others may be more 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 more.
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 more 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.
See the full review on my website.
In Sei's world, what people wore, how they combined the colors of their clothing was very complicated and most important for men and women so we get detailed descriptions of who wore what and how he or she looked in it (there was a Bureau of Clothing in the imperial palace). She has strong opinion about style and taste but she hardly mentions facial features and body types. In the love affairs and romantic interests, it was taste and sensibility, not physical appearance, that were the focus. She sights that the man you love and the same man once you've lost all feelings for him seem like two completely different people. It was a joy to read Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book in Meredith McKinney's translation.