The Pillow Book of SEI Shōnagon

Ivan Morris (Translator)


The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon is a fascinating, detailed account of Japanese court life in the eleventh century. Written by a lady of the court at the height of Heian culture, this book enthralls with its lively gossip, witty observations, and subtle impressions. Lady Shonagon was an erstwhile rival of Lady Murasaki, whose novel, The Tale of Genji, fictionalized the elite world Lady Shonagon so eloquently relates. Featuring reflections on royal and religious ceremonies, nature, conversation, poetry, and many other subjects, The Pillow Book is an intimate look at the experiences and outlook of the Heian upper class, further enriched by Ivan Morris's extensive notes and critical contextualization.

Product Details

Columbia University Press
Publish Date
December 30, 1991
5.44 X 8.01 X 1.04 inches | 1.0 pounds

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About the Author

Ivan Morris (1925-1976) was considered the most versatile Japanese translator of his generation and wrote widely on modern and ancient Japan. He taught at Columbia University and was chair of its Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. His books include translations of Lady Sarashina's As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams, Jiro Osaragi's The Journey, Ihara Saikaku's The Life of an Amorous Woman, and Yukio Mishima's The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, as well as several historical studies, including The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan, The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan, and Nationalism and the Right Wing in Japan: A Study of Postwar Trends.


The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon has not only amply filled the long-felt need for a full English translation, but has also made a contribution to Heian studies.... A mine of information... [Morris's] translation maintains a high quality throughout.--Journal of Asian Studies
The Pillow Book is one of the three most important works of its kind in Japanese literature, and Professor Morris has given it handsome treatment.--Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland
Gives all sorts of insights into the court life of the times, and into the worldly character and mentality of its author. It comes over extraordinarily well in this translation, and can rank with any other collection of court memoirs the world over.--Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies
The liveliest and most endearing of Heian writers, and the one who gives the most intimate and vivid picture of life at court.... Its denizens emerge as real and never-to-be-forgotten people.... Morris belongs to the literary rather than the literal school of translators, and his talents are shown here at their best.--Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies
"[Morris's] scholarship is a living thing... he sees through all the painted paper screens.... Outstanding.--New York Times
A beautiful translation.--Japan Quarterly
A mine of information.--Journal of Asian Studies
Shonagon comes through vividly.... [Morris] has given us for the first time in full a delightful and fascinating book which is also a work of notable scholarship.--The Observer