Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Tag: Shonagon

Episode 271 – You’re Going on the List

This week, we cover the fascinating tale of Sei Shonagon and the Makura no Soushi, or Pillow Book. Why is a collection of anecdotes considered to be one of Japan’s greatest literary classics? What makes the Pillow Book so famous? And why does Isaac love it so very much?

Sources

Henitiuk, Valerie. Worlding Sei Shonagon: The Pillow Book in Translation.

Sato, Hiroaki. Legends of the Samurai.

Ivanova, Gergana. Unbinding the Pillow Book: The Many Lives of a Japanese Classic.

Images

Sei Shonagon views the snow in Yamato province, by Utagawa. A Tokugawa era woodblock print.

Sei Shonagon as depicted in a mid-Edo woodblock print.

Sei Shonagon, from the late Edo woodblock print series “Six Fashionable Female Poetic Immortals.” I think she would have adored being described with all those words.

Sei Shonagon with her poem from the Hyakunin Isshu (no. 62) above.

Sei Shonagon became one of the most famous women in Japanese history, justifying her inclusion in this series of woodblocks by Utagawa Kunisada I: A Mirror of the Renowned Exemplary Women of Japan.

Episode 4 – The Golden Age of Heian

This week’s episode covers the Heian Period (794-1185 AD). We will be discussing the political structure of the Heian government, the major changes that occured in the period, and the aristocratic culture of the time.

You can listen to the episode here.

Sources:

Totman, A History of Japan.

Morris, Ivan. The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

“Ladies in Rivalry,” by John Delacour. http://weblog.delacour.net/archives/2002/03/ladies_in_rivalry.php

Images (courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation)

Fujiwara no Michinaga was the most powerful power-broker of this era and led the Fujiwara to the height of their power; he dominated Japanese politics during the latter half of the 10th century, and was reputed to be able to enthrone and dethrone emperors at will.

Fujiwara no Michinaga was the most powerful power-broker of this era and led the Fujiwara to the height of their power; he dominated Japanese politics during the latter half of the 10th century, and was reputed to be able to enthrone and dethrone emperors at will.

This is a diorama of Kyoto from the period; right now we're looking north towards the grounds of the Imperial palace.

This is a diorama of Kyoto from the period; right now we’re looking north towards the grounds of the Imperial palace.

This is a map of the central part of Kyoto, constructed during the Heian period. The yellow area is the Imperial palace. The black-and-white striped line is the modern Japan Rail line, and the red area is the modern Kyoto station.

This is a map of the central part of Kyoto, constructed during the Heian period. The yellow area is the Imperial palace. The black-and-white striped line is the modern Japan Rail line, and the red area is the modern Kyoto station.

An image of Sei Shonagon from the Edo Period, approximately 800 years after her death. The writing above her is one of her poems, which is included in the Hyakunin Isshu.

An image of Sei Shonagon from the Edo Period, approximately 800 years after her death. The writing above her is one of her poems, which is included in the Hyakunin Isshu.

According to (a probably untrue) legend, Murasaki Shikibu was inspired to write the Tale of Genji while gazing towards the moon during a visit to a temple. This is an artist's representation of that event from the Edo Period, about 800 years after the fact.

According to (a probably untrue) legend, Murasaki Shikibu was inspired to write the Tale of Genji while gazing towards the moon during a visit to a temple. This is an artist’s representation of that event from the Edo Period, about 800 years after the fact.

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