This book is a personal diary which had to remain secret, as the author states at the end: `whatever people may think of my book, I still regret that it ever came to light.' However, it has an enormous historical/sociological importance, because it gives a very rare insight into the palace life of a Japanese puppet emperor around AD 1000. The author expresses also her personal vision on mankind, men and women, her social, sexual and moral preferences as well as her remarkable poetic inspiration.
Palace life Palace life was completely cut off from the rest of the population. The palace was a golden prison and its life turned around the puppet emperor, the empress and her ladies in waiting. It consisted mostly of chatter, intrigues, gossip, secret encounters with lovers, exchanges of messages written as short poems, like `My name, though innocent of rain / Has long been spattered by unfounded tales.' Daily life was uplifted by ceremonies, festivals (dance, music), excursions or pilgrimages (temple visits).
Mankind As a haughty person, the author's vision on mankind is highly influenced by her admiration of status (power) and her obsession with etiquette. Men should not be trusted: `A man's heart is a shameful thing. When he is with a woman whom he finds tiresome and distasteful, he does not show that he dislikes her, but makes her believe she can count on him.' And, `how shameful when a man seduces some helpless Court lady, and, having made her pregnant, abandons her without caring in the slightest way about her future.' She scorns the plebeians: `what is it like to be one of those women who live at home, faithfully serving their husbands - women who have not a single existing prospect in life, yet who believe that they are perfectly happy.' And, `it is unpleasant to see a woman of a certain age with a young husband; and it is most unsuitable when she becomes jealous of him because he has gone to visit someone else.' (!)
This book is a goldmine for Japanese scholars. For `normal' readers it can become boring with its many trivial scenes about sewing, eating and drinking, carriages, clothes, birds, trees etc. However, its human, literary and sincere emotional qualities make this pillow talk, written some one thousand years ago, one of the highlights of world literature. Not to be missed.
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