Japanese diarist and poet Sei Shōnagon.

Sei Shonagon

(c. 966 - c. 1025)

Serving the Empress Sadako as a lady-in-waiting from about 991 to 1000, Sei Shonagon possessed a deep knowledge of Japanese and Chinese poetry as well as a quick tongue and a precise eye for court fashion. Among other observations Sei makes in her influential Pillow Book are “Things now useless that recall a glorious past” (“A painter with poor eyesight”), “Things that are far yet near” (“Relations between men and women”), and “Things that look lovely but are horrible inside” (“A heaped plate of food”).

All Writing


In her journal about life as a lady-in-waiting at Heian court, Sei Shonagon expresses her delight in men who keep a transverse flute tucked away in the breast of their robes. “There really is nothing more marvelous,” she writes. “And it’s delightful to discover beside your pillow at daybreak the handsome flute that your lover has inadvertently left behind him.”


In her account of tenth-century Kyoto court life, The Pillow Book, Sei Shōnagon was fond of making lists. “Things later regretted: an adopted child who turns out to have an ugly face”; “Things it’s frustrating and embarrassing to witness: someone insists on telling you about some horrid little child, carried away with her own infatuation with the creature, imitating its voice as she gushes about the cute and winning things it says”; “Moving things: a child dressed in mourning for a parent.”

Issues Contributed