Pillow Talk

Memorizing the Kokinshu...
A long time ago, in Murakami emperor's days, there was a person called Lady Senyouden. I'm sure you all know that she was the daughter of Fujiwara Morotada; he was the ranking Minister of the Left. Now, when she was a young lady, her father the minister taught her, "first things first, you should study penmanship. After that, learn to play the seven stringed lute better than anyone else. Next, memorize all twenty songs from the Kokinshu by heart." The Emperor knew this, and on one of the days of abstinence, he took a copy of the Kokinshu, and put a screen between himself and her. She was a bit surprised by this. The Emperor opened the Kokinshu and asked her "On such-and-such a day, at such a time, what was so-and-so's song?". He wanted to set her an exam, because he thought that she would be really embarrassed if she mis-remembered things or completely forgot them and it would be really funny. He was really trying to psych her out. The Emperor called out a couple of names for his well-read wife, and then he just turned around went back to counting go stones. It was so funny; all the servants around turned green, because when she answered, she didn't just quote the whole song right to the end, but actually she didn't even make a single mistake. When she noticed that she was likely to make a mistake, she just stopped and went through the whole thing over again. After two or three attempts, the Emperor put a bookmark into his book, said "Well, this is just pointless," and gave up. It was so funny...
Posted by sei on February 4, 988 | # | G | 107 Comments

Huh, men!
Current music: Banshikicho Netori
Current mood: Confused

I will never understand men. Their emotions are just really strange, and I just can't work out why they behave the way they do.

I mean, you'll hear about a man who leaves a really pretty woman, and goes off and marries an ugly one. What? Why don't men from the Palace pick the best looking, best-bred girl they can find? It's not like there aren't many of us around.

And aren't they supposed to be romantic? Even if she's way out of his league, isn't he supposed to get all obsessed and pine for her forever?

And when they do get obsessed, it's still really strange. I've heard of men getting so hooked on a girl who everyone's talking about that they'll fall over themselves trying to marry her - even if they've never met her!

Or how can a man possibly love a woman that even the other women think looks ugly? I just do not understand.

I remember a wonderful little girl, really pretty, good hearted. She sent a lovely poem in her excellent handwriting to the man she was after, but he mailed him back with some pretentious garbage. Never even visited her. She was broken-hearted, poor thing, but he didn't seem to care; he had it going with some other woman. We are all really pissed off with his behaviour, even though it had nothing to do with us. The girl's family were up in arms too. But he just didn't seem to care.


Posted by sei on November 12, 987 | # | G | 95 Comments

My favourite birds

  1. OK, I know it's not from our country, but number one has to be the parrot. I think it's really cool; they said it can repeat what you say to it.
  2. The hototogisu.
  3. The water rail.
  4. The snipe.
  5. The oystercatcher.
  6. The greenfinch.
  7. The crested flycatcher.

They say when the mountain bird is in love, it can be satisfied by seeing itself in a mirror. Even thought that's kind of childish, I think it's somehow a bit pitiful. What a pity if the male and the female have to sleep on opposite sides of a valley.

The crane is really magnificent, but its call sounds like it reaches all the way to heaven.

I also like the red-headed sparrow, and the male grosbeak. Oh, and the kinglet.

The heron is a complete eyesore. It has such a miserable look in its eyes. There is just nothing good to say about it at all, but it's quite funny that, like the poem says, "it does not lie alone in Yurugi wood".

As far as water birds go, the mandarin duck is fantastic. They say the male and female take turns brushing snow off the other's wings at night.

The plover is really cool as well.

Posted by sei on August 3, 987 | # | G | 47 Comments

Boy's Day is fantastic

I really enjoy the Boy's Day festival; the smell of the iris and the sage-brush. Everyone from the palace down to the commoners rush around covering their roofs with iris and sage-brush. They all want their houses to look fantastic; you don't see this kind of thing at any other time of year.

This year it was completely clouded over, and they got some of those lovely herbal balls covered in coloured string from the Wardrobe department and brought them up to the Empress's palace, and hung them on either side of the pillars where they hang the curtains. They took down the silk-wrapped crysanthemums that had been up there since the Chrysanthemum Festival last November, and put the herbal balls up in the same place. The balls are supposed to stay up there until the Crysanthemum Festival again this november, but everyone picks off the string from these ones and uses them to tie things up, so eventually there's nothing left.

The young girls who bring the festival food up to Her Majesty put iris combs in their hair and wear little abstinence tags. They tie branches of trees and and long iris branches onto their Chinese silk jackets and overcoats with lightly died threads. I mean, there's nothing new about this, it happens every single year, but I think it's quite elegant.

It's a bit like the cherry blossoms - they blossom every year just the same, but they're still pretty. Don't you think?

Posted by sei on May 29, 987 | # | G | 57 Comments

Things that really piss me off

Posted by sei on May 17, 987 | # | G | 45 Comments

Husbands and wives

Sometimes I try and imagine what it would be like for one of those women who live at home. They serve their husbands faithfully. They don't actually have one single exciting goal or ambition in life but they think that they're happy doing what they're doing. Stupid women. I just feel sorry for them, really.

Those kinds of women are often from pretty good families, but they've had no chance to have any experience of the world. I wish they could live inside our community for a while, although they'd have to start at the bottom of the pile as Attendants; but at least they might see the world a bit, you know?

I really can't stand guys who think that Palace women are shallow, but I guess I can understand where they're coming from. The court women don't hide behind fans and screens like most girls, but they show their faces out in the open. And it's not just the ladies-in-waiting, but we even get to see Their Imperial Majesties, and nobles in the court, and courtiers, and other high-ranking officials. All the women in the Palace get to see these guys - the ladies-in-waiting, their relatives, the housekeepers and even the toilet cleaners, the most common women around. I guess it's no wonder those guys think we're immodest.

But, you know, are they any better? When they come to the Palace, they stare at the famous people around here just the same. I guess we're as bad as each other.

The funny thing is that the women who used to work at the Palace but who've now gone home and got married are called "Madam" and get treated amazingly well. Some people seem to think that these women aren't really that femme, after showing their faces at the Palace for all those years, but when they get impressive titles, or get called back to the Palace for some function, or have to work for the Court at the Kamo Festival, they're still pretty impressive.

And to be honest, even if they just stay at home they really gain from their time at the Palace. They do really well as wives when they get married.

There was one girl who got married to a local governor, and they had a daughter; the daughter got called up to the capital to dance in the Gosechi, and her parents could go up to the capital and not feel like idiots, having to ask everyone else what the correct protocol was. They knew exactly what they were supposed to do; I think that's absolutely how it should be, to be honest.

Posted by sei on May 11, 987 | # | G | 26 Comments

The way carpenters eat

Carpenters eat in such a weird way. When they'd finished the main part of the palace and were starting the eastern wing, I noticed a bunch of them sitting down to eat. I sat on the veranda to watch them.

The minute they got their food, they picked up the soup bowls and drunk the soup in one go. Then they got rid of the bowls and moved onto the vegetables. I thought they weren't going to touch their rice, but next minute they picked up the rice bowls and ate all the rice too.

The weirdest thing was that they all did this, so I guess it must just be a carpenter's thing. I can't say I particularly like it.

Posted by sei on May 9, 987 | # | G | 33 Comments

Things that fall from the sky

When snow melts a bit, or when there's only been a little bit of it, it gets in the cracks between the bricks; the roof is black in some patches and white in other patches. It looks great.

Posted by sei on April 21, 987 | # | G | 67 Comments

Crossing a river

I love it when you're crossing a river in the moonlight and water scatters under the oxen's feet, like crystal showers.

Posted by sei on April 21, 987 | # | G | 52 Comments

The rain that swells the water

One time, I had a boyfriend who would always mail me the day after we had slept together. Once he said that he saw no point in our relationship and didn't have anything left to say to me.

The next day game, and there was nothing from him. I was pretty fed up when the dawn came with no next-morning mail. "Well", I thought as the day wore on, "I guess he actually meant it."

The day after that it rained really hard. Dawn came, noon came, and still no word; he'd forgotten all about me. Then I was sitting outside on the veranda in the evening, and a boy came up with an umbrella in one hand and a letter in the other. I tore open the letter, and the message was: "The rain that swells the water".

I thought this was more beautiful than a whole pile of poems.

Posted by sei on April 3, 987 | # | G | 44 Comments

Priests and Exorcists

I really can't understand why any parent would want to bring up their son to become a priest. I'm sure it's a great thing for them, but sadly most people think that a priest is about as useful as a piece of wood, and they treat them around the same.

Priests live on hardly any good food, and they can't even sleep without being criticized. And when they're young - well, it's only natural for them to be interested in the things of the world, and I'm sure they take a peep when there are women around, (in a po-faced kind of way, of course) and let's be honest, is that really so bad? But people will criticize him them stuff like that.

It's not as bad as being an exorcist, I guess. You've got to go up to Mitake, Kumano and the other sacred mountains, and it's a hell of a trek. Once people hear that your prayers work, they summon you here, there and everywhere to get prayed for: the better you are, the less peace you get. If you have to go to visit someone who's really ill, you wear yourself out praying to get rid of the spirits, but if you then fail asleep, people will just say "this priest does nothing other than sleep." That's got to be really embarrassing; I can understand what the guy feels.

Well, that's how it used to be at least; I think the priests have an easier life these days.

Posted by sei on March 19, 987 | # | G | 40 Comments

Things I think are elegant

Posted by sei on March 15, 987 | # | G | 31 Comments

Small Children and Babies

Small children and babies should be fat. Provincial governors should be fat too, and other people who have done well for themselves. If they're too thin, it makes you think they're miserable.

Posted by sei on March 12, 987 | # | G | 59 Comments

Times and seasons

Spring: dawn. The light creeps over the hills, turning them faint red; purple clouds trail over them.

Summer: nights. The moon shines, and fireflies flitter to and fro on the darker nights. When it rains, too, it's beautiful.

Autumn: eveningtime. the day comes to an end, the sun sinks over the hills, birds fly back to their nests in threes and fours, or twos and threes. Geese and crows and things in flocks, like tiny specks, so small you can hardly make them out. And I can't forget the sound of the wind and the sound of the insects when the sun has gone down.

Winter: early mornings. Nothing better than the snow falling at night. White frost on the ground. Or when there's no frost or snow but it's really cold and the servants run around stoking the fires - it really feels like winter. When the afternoon comes and it's not so cold, the fires in the braziers turn to white ash.

Posted by sei on March 3, 987 | # | G | 87 Comments

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This is a new translation of Sei Shonagon's "Pillow Book", a 10th century blog. I used this source, amongst others freely available on the net, and the Tsunogawa Sofia Bunko edition. I knew those classical Japanese lessons would be useful someday.

Dates are mainly fictitous, although notes in Ivan Morris' translation have been used where possible to try and turn the entries into a coherent stream. The ordering of postings is significantly different from the original.