The Pillow Book of Sei Sh┼Źnagon – pt. 1

Sei Shonagon

5. Different ways of speaking

– A priest’s language.

– The speech of men and women.

– The common people always tend to add extra syllables to their words.

When the festival approaches, I enjoy seeing the men go to and fro with rolls of yellowish green and deep violet material which they have loosely wrapped in paper and placed in the lids of long boxes.

In the old days even people of humble station had a taste for the arts and were interested in elegant pastimes.

A carriage passes with a nasty, creaking noise. Annoying to think that the passengers may not even be aware of this! If I am travelling in someone’s carriage and I hear it creaking, I dislike not only the noise but also the owner of the carriage.

A person who recites a spell himself after sneezing. In fact I detest anyone who sneezes, except the master of the house.

Sometimes one greatly dislikes a person for no particular reason – and then that person goes and does something hateful.


16. Things that make one’s heart beat faster

Sparrows feeding their young. To pass a place where babies are playing. To sleep in a room where some fine incense has been burnt. To notice that one’s elegant Chinese mirror has become a little cloudy. To see a gentleman stop his carriage before one’s gate and instruct his attendants to announce his arrival. To wash one’s hair, make one’s toilet, and put on scented robes; even if not a soul sees one, these preparations still produce an inner pleasure.

It is night and one is expecting a visitor. Suddenly one is startled by the sound of rain-drops, which the wind blows against the shutters.

66. Whether it be a plant or tree, a bird or insect, I can never be indifferent to anything that is connected with some special occasion or that has once moved or delighted me.


67. They say when the copper pheasant cries for its mate it can be consoled if one puts a mirror before it – a very moving thought. What misery these birds must suffer if they are separated from each other by a gorge or a ravine!

111. I need hardly say how splendid I find a learned Doctor of Literature. He may be of lowly appearance, and of course he is of low rank; but the world at large regards him as an impressive figure. As an imperial tutor, he is consulted about all sorts of special matters, and he is free to approach the most eminent members of the Emperor’s family. When he has composed one of his prayers for the Emperor or the introduction to some poem, he becomes the object of universal praise.

61. (p. 114) ‘When you have gone away and face the sun that shines so crimson in the East be mindful of the friends you left behind, who in this city gaze upon the endless rains.’


A woman is angry with her lover about some trifle and refuses to continue lying next to him. After fidgeting about in bed, she decides to get up. The man gently tries to draw her back, but she is still cross. ‘Very well then,’ he says, feeling that she has gone too far. ‘As you please.’ Full of resentment, he buries himself under his bedclothes and settles down for the night. It is a cold night and since the woman is wearing only an unlined robe, she soon begins to feel uncomfortable. Everyone else in the house is asleep, and besides it would be most unseemly for her to get up alone and walk about. As the night wears on, she lies there on her side of the bed feeling very annoyed that the quarrel did not take place earlier in the evening when it would have been easy to leave. Then she begins to hear strange sounds in the back of the house and outside. Frightened, she gently moves over in bed towards her lover, tugging at the bedclothes, whereupon he annoys her further by pretending to be asleep. ‘Why not be standoffish a little longer?’ he asks her finally.

A man whom one loves gets drunk and keeps repeating himself.

A carriage overturns. One would have imagined that such a solid, bulky object would remain forever on its wheels. It all seems like a dream – astonishing and senseless.


As for the hototogisu, they were singing to each other so loudly that we were almost deafened.

At that moment it started to rain in earnest.

One day when I was alone he came up to me and said, ‘My dear lady, I have something I must tell you at once – something that I’ve just heard.’ ‘And what may that be?’ I asked. He approached my curtain. ‘I heard someone who instead of saying, “Bring your body closer,” used the phrase, “Bring up your five parts.”‘ And again I burst into laughter.

Three Women Playing