17 NOVEMBER 1967, Page 8

Lists of things from the 'Pillow Book'


Sei Shonagon was born in Japan approximately one thousand years ago. She wrote her 'Pillow Book,' or collection of personal reflections, dur- ing her years of service as lady-in-waiting to the Empress Sadako. The work, which is regarded as being of the greatest importance in Japanese literature, is almost unknown in the West. These extracts are taken from 'The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon,' translated and edited by Ivan Morris, to be published by the Oxford University Press on 23 November at 55s.


The north side of a house.

Someone with an excessive reputation for goodness.

An old man who has lived to be too old. A frivolous woman.

A mud wall that has started to crumble.


The voice of someone who blows his nose while he is speaking.

The expression of a woman plucking her eyebrows.


A son-in-law who is praised by his adoptive father; a young bride who is loved by her mother-in-law.

A silver tweezer that is good at plucking out the hair.

A servant who does not speak badly about his master.

A person who is in no way eccentric or imperfect, who is superior in both mind and body, and who remains flawless all his life.

People who live together and still manage to behave with reserve towards each other. However much these people may try to hide their weaknesses, they usually fail.

To avoid getting ink stains on the notebook into which one is copying stories, poems, or the like. If it is a very fine notebook, one takes the greatest care not to make a blot; yet somehow one never seems to succeed.

When people, whether they be men or women or priests, have promised each other eternal friendship, it is rare for them to stay on good terms until the end.

A servant who is pleasant to his master.

One has given some silk to the fuller and, when he sends it back, it is so beautiful that one cries out in admiration.


While entertaining a visitor, one hears some servants chatting without any restraint in one of the back rooms. It is embarrassing to know that one's visitor can overhear. But how to stop them?

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

To have spoken about someone not knowing that he could overhear. This is embarrassing even if it be a servant or some other com- pletely insignificant person.

To hear one's servants making merry. This is equally annoying if one is on a journey and staying in cramped quarters or at home and hears the servants in a neighbouring room.

Parents, convinced that their ugly child is adorable, pet him and repeat the things he has said, imitating his voice.

An ignoramus who in the presence of some learned person puts on a knowing air and con- verses about men of old.

A man recites his own poems (not especially good ones) and tells one about the praise they have received—most embarrassing.

Lying awake at night, one says something to one's companion, who simply goes on sleeping.

An adopted son-in-law who has long since stopped visiting his wife runs into his father- in-law in a public place.


A child who is full of filial piety. The cry of a deer. . . .

How moving is the grasshopper's cry at the end of the Ninth Month, and at the beginning of the Tenth, when it sounds so feeble that one can hardly tell whether it is really there!

A hen sitting on her chicks.

In a garden during the late autumn the dewdrops glittering like jewels on the asaji reeds.

River bamboo swaying in the evening breeze.

To wake up at dawn or in the middle of the night—this is always moving.

Two young people are in love with each other; but someone is in their way and they are prevented from doing as they want.

A mountain village in the snow.

An attractive man or woman in mourning.

It is dawn towards the end of the month; one has stayed up all night talking, and now one sees the moon over the crest of the hills, looking so pale and forlorn that one wonders whether it is really there.

A field in autumn.

Old priests doing their religious exercises.

A dilapidated house overgrown with goose- grass; the garden is rank with sage-brush and other weeds; the moon shines so brightly over the whole scene that there is not a single dark corner; and the wind blows gently.


One has gone to a house and asked to see someone; but the wrong person appears, thinking that it is he who is wanted; this is especially awkward if one has brought a present.

One has allowed oneself to speak badly about someone without really intending to do so; a young child who has overheard it all goes and repeats what one has said in front of the person in question.

Someone sobs out a pathetic story. One is deeply moved; but it so happens that not a single tear comes to one's eyes—most awk- ward. Though one makes one's face look as if one is going to cry, it is no use: not a single tear will come. Yet there are times when, having heard something happy, one feels the tears streaming out.


To leave home because of an abstinence. To be unable to move a piece forward in a game of backgammon.

The house of a man who has not received a post during the period of official appoint. ments.

The most boring time of all is when it rains heavily.


Violet robes, wistaria blossoms—indeed, anything of this colour.

Scarlet things look ugly in the moonlight,


Someone who has an ugly voice yet speaks and laughs without restraint.

A drowsy voice reciting incantations. Someone who speaks while her teeth are being blackened.

A commonplace person who talks IA hile eating.

The sound of someone practising the flageolet.


Priests. Fruit. Houses. Provision bags. Ink. sticks for inkstones.

Men's eyes: when they are too narrow, they look feminine. On the other hand, if they were as large as metal bowls, I should find them rather frightening.

Round braziers. Winter cherries. Pine trees The petals of yellow roses.

Horses as well as oxen should be large.


A piece of thread when one wants to sev, something in a hurry.

A lamp stand.

The hair of a woman of the lower classes should be neat and short.

The speech of a young girl.


Thunder at night.

When a thief has entered the house next door, one is extremely frightened. If he breaks into the house where one is actually living, one loses consciousness and knows nothing more.

A fire in a near-by house is also frightening.


A ceremony of incantation performed by several priests when one is ill.

When a person whom one loves has faller) ill, what a relief to have the reassurances of a trusted friend!

To have one's parents beside one v,hee something frightening happens.


A Secretary in the Ministry of Ceremonial who has been raised to the Fifth Rank. Coarse black hair.

A new cloth screen. (When it is old and dirty, it is not worth including among vulgar things; such a screen escapes criticism since people do not even notice its existence.) If one immediately decorates a new cloth screco with elaborate designs of cherry-blossons richly colouring it with chalk, cinnabar, and the like, it becomes still more vulgar. All pro- vincial things are vulgar, whether they be screens, sliding-doors, or cupboards.

The hood of a straw-mat carriage. The trouser-skirts worn by members of the Imperial Police.

An Iyo blind made of thick reeds. A little priest who is still only a child but already becoming fat. An Izumo straw mat that actually conies from Izumo.