The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon
The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon is an immensely detailed account of court life in eleventh-century Japan. Written at the height of Heian culture, it is a classic text of great literary beauty, full of lively anecdotes, humorous observations, and subtle impressions. Sei Shonagon was a contemporary and erstwhile rival of Lady Murasaki, whose novel, The Tale of Genji, fictionalized the court life that Lady Shonagon captures so vividly in her diary. The Pillow Book contains her reflections on royal and religious ceremonies, nature, pilgrimage, conversation, and poetry. Lady Shonagon shares character sketches and the things she both loves and loathes. Her style is so eloquent, her wit so sharp, even the briefest fragments enchant us. There is no better introduction to the daily preoccupations of the Heian upper class, and Ivan Morris's notes and contextualization enrich the material for scholars and general readers.