The Pillow Book – Sei Shonagon

The Pillow Book is a Japanese classic written over 1000 years ago. It is composed of notes by Sei Shonagon, one of the bridesmaids of the empress in the court. Her voice comes from a 1000 years ago from Japan to the present. It took me a while to figure out how awesome this is. When I started reading the book, I felt like I was chatting with this gorgeous woman. It was like she was talking about yesterday, not 1000 years ago.


The Pillow Book - Sei Shonagon

The small and the simple

The Pillow Book is not one of those books you usually read. It’s what Shonagon wrote to distract herself or just out of boredom. Among these writings are court life, people who live in the palace and pleasant notes that shed light on the period. But the things that make the book enjoyable to read are the things that Shonagon loves and that she thinks are unfortunate. She wrote the moments, scenes, and experiences in such a beautiful way that you find yourself lingering at that moment. In addition to shedding light on Japan’s Heian period, she reminded me something. She reminded me to look at the small and simple beauties of life with awareness. And maybe take notes as well. 

The Pillow Book is a book that you can read in sitting or a year. Just don’t forget to keep it near you at all times. It will make you smile. 

“When crossing a river in bright moonlight, I love to see the water scatter in showers of crystal beneath the oxen’s feet.” 

Sei Shōnagon, The Pillow Book

About the book: The Pillow Book

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. 

About the author: Sei Shonagon

Sei Shonagon was a Japanese author, poet and a court lady who served the Empress Teishi around the year 1000 during the middle Heian period. She is the author of The Pillow Book.

The Pillow Book - Sei Shonagon

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Japanese Literature – A Literary Journey

A Non-Fiction a Month

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