The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon

Sei Shonagon was a contemporary and erstwhile rival of Lady Murasaki, whose novel fictionalizes the court life Shonagon describes. is a collection of anecdotes, memories of court and religious ceremonies, character sketches, lists of things the author enjoyed or loathed, places that interested her, diary entries, descriptions of nature, pilgrimages, conversations, poetry exchanges—indeed, almost everything that made up daily life for the upper classes in japan during the Heian period. Her style is so eloquent, her observations so skillfully chosen, and her wit so sharp that even the smallest detail she records can attract and hold the attention of any modern reader. Language Notes (Product Description from
Year of Publication
paperback edition
Number of Pages
Columbia University Press
Average: 4.5 (2 votes)


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Classic Japanese Literature of the Heian Period

Field of Interest/Specialty: AP World History & World Religions
Posted On: 11/26/2014

Amy Swartz
Grades 9-12
Courses: AP World History, AP US History, Global Issues, World Religions
Warrior Run High School, Turbotville, PA
The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon is one of the most significant works of early Japanese literature, as it provides insights into life at court during the Heian Period, over one thousand years ago. Female court ladies, such as Shōnagon, produced literature and poetry of this period, allowing readers to witness the esteemed behavior, fashions, social interaction, and experiences among the upper classes of this period. The introduction to this volume is extremely helpful in preparing the inexperienced reader of this work for the style, organization, translation, and language usage of the text, in order to enhance the reader’s understanding and experience.
As a teacher of AP World History students, selections of this text would be useful in helping students discover the nuances of court life in Heian Japan. The lists, such as, “Embarrassing Things,” and “Things That Have Lost Their Power”, and excerpts, such as “On the Day after a Fierce Autumn Wind,” and “A Family Has Finally Arranged the Marriage,” allow insight into the amusement, frivolity, sadness, shallowness, and preeminence found within The Pillow Book. As mentioned by others, many teachers choose to assign students selections from The Pillow Book and of The Tale of Genji for comparison and contrasting purposes. Different sections of this novel could be assigned to various students, allowing the students to share their impressions of this period (verbally, through art, collage, or in writing) with their peers, creating a comprehensive class representation of the Heian period. Some students may need additional support with comprehension while reading the selections. This work of literature should be found in school libraries or in teacher’s personal libraries, as it could also be useful in contrast to other world literature written by female authors of different time periods and/or locations.

The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon

Field of Interest/Specialty:
Posted On: 04/21/2010

For High School and College level
This is a very personal and refreshingly frank series of writings by a lady-in-waiting of the Heian court in Japan. Sei Shōnagon critiques the world around her in terms that students often can understand, whether she is making cracks about the men at court, commenting on another lady's taste in clothing, or fussing about fleas. The book is also filled with reflections on nature and life. Sei Shōnagon is considered one of the greatest writers of prose in Japanese history. [Review by Brenda G. Jordan]
I have often used short sections of this book--easy to do since it is written in short sections--in classes. This book provides a more lively and spirited counterpart to The Tale of Genji, and students are always interested to hear that Sei Shōnagon and Murasaki Shikibu were in rival circles at the same court. Highly recommended.