The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon


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.

My review

Now this is a classic! I was reading the diary of Japanese lady of the Court, Sei Shonagon, who was born around a thousand years ago. I felt like I was reading a Heian period blog as I read her notes on life. The words were written as they came to mind. Her comments on life as she knows it are honest and insightful.

Sei Shonagon’s poetry throughout and beautiful descriptions of nature are my favourite parts of her book. I love that poetry was used as a form of communication and I fell in love with some of the ways of the Heian period.

Did I love Sei Shonagon as a person? She was vain, judgmental, yet observant of the natural world. Just like all of us, she had traits that I valued and traits that were lacking.

I learnt a lot from the sections detailing the Court and I particularly enjoyed reading about the Buddhist rituals that would occur. Little has changed in some respects with certain traditions.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading a ‘classic blog’. What an honest portrait and historical account from a woman of the Court in the Heian period.


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