Friday, March 19, 2010

'Pillow Book' Friday: Week Five (Unsuitable things, playful flirting, and cats with white fur)

The Pillow BookIt's the fifth week of our read-along of The Pillow Book of Sei Sh┼Źnagon, so this week we're looking at entries 41 to 50, as presented in the McKinney version.  However, as always I've included the corresponding numbers in the Morris translation too, when possible, for those of you reading along with that version.  For more information on the different translations, please visit the 'Pillow Book' Friday page. 

Week Five:
McKinney:  Entries 41 - 50 (p. 47 to 52)
Morris:  Entries 31 - 35 (p. 70 to 75)

[41] In the seventh month when the wind blows hard and the rain is beating down, and your fan lies forgotten because of the sudden coolness in the air, it's delightful to take a midday nap snuggled up under a lightly padded kimono that gives off a faint whiff of perspiration.
Morris (31): In the Seventh Month, when there are fierce winds and heavy showers...

[42] Unsuitable things
Morris (32): Unsuitable things

[43] A lot of us are gathered in the Long Room, indulging in some rather rowdy chatter, when a fine-looking young fellow or a servant lad to the Palace Guard Captains comes by, carrying a handsome bundle or sack of clothes...
Morris (33): I was standing in a corridor of the palace with several other women when we noticed some servants passing.  We summoned them to us (in what I admit was a rather unladylike fashion) and they turned out to be a group of handsome male attendants and pages carrying attractively wrapped bundles and bags.

[44] No menial position could be finer than that of the palace groundswoman.

[45] Among the serving men's positions, the gentleman's escort guard is the finest.
Morris (34): Gentlemen should always have escorts.

[46] Secretary Controller Yukinari was standing by the lattice fence in front of the west side of the Office of the Empress's Household, engaged in long conversation with one of the ladies within...
Morris (35): Once I saw Yukinari, the Controller First Secretary, engaged in a long conversation with a lady near the garden fence...

[47] Horses - In horses, very black ones with just a little white somewhere are special.  [...]  Black horses with four white feet are also charming.

[48] Oxen - An ox should have a tiny splash of white on its forehead, and the underbelly, legs and tail should be all white.

[49] Cats - Cats should be completely black except for the belly, which should be very white.

[50] Carriage runners and escort guards should be trim, slightly on the thin side.

My thoughts:
The Pillow Book (Japanese)Reading her list of Unsuitable things this week took me a bit beyond simple amusement and had me shaking my head.  She's just so blatantly classist, and condescending, and ageist!  Here are some of them; you can judge for yourself.  The Morris translation had a few additional things listed, or occasionally translated with additional meaning, some of which I've included here.
Unsuitable things
Snow falling on the houses of the common people.  Moonlight shining into such houses is also a great shame.  (McKinney)

A woman who, though well past her youth, is pregnant and walks along panting. (Morris) 

An old man who's nodding off, or a heavily bearded old fellow popping nuts into his mouth.  (McKinney)
A toothless crone screwing up her face as she eats sour plums. (McKinney)
A commoner wearing crimson skirted trousers. (McKinney)

A woman with ugly hair wearing a robe of white damask.  (Morris)
A handsome man with an ugly wife.  (Morris)

Ugly writing on red paper.  (Morris)
And so on.  As if common people don't deserve to have snow, or can't appreciate a beautiful moonlit night.  I guess to her, if you weren't young, beautiful, and a member of high society, she had nothing but disdain for you. 

She redeemed herself though with entry [46], which I think was my favourite this week.  It was a little bit of a longer entry, which described an interesting episode that showed some playful flirting and interaction between Sei and a male contemporary.  I enjoyed their banter, and it ended on such a playful note that it made me smile. 

And then her brief comments on horses, oxen and cats (see above) quite amused me.  She apparently thinks they should all be black with some white markings, white bellies being the best.  I wonder what she'd think of our all-white Bailey.  Probably not much!  LOL.  Even though she can be incredibly arrogant, after each week's reading I am left simply chuckling at her sense of self-importance.  I wonder what, or who, she'll put down next!

How is your reading of The Pillow Book going?  Does Sei's blatant classism, and arrogance, especially evident in this week's entry [42] Unsuitable Things, amuse you or annoy you?

Previous posts:
Week One (Entries 1-10)
Week Two (11-20)
Week Three (21-30)
Week Four (31-40)

For next week:
McKinney:  Entries 51 - 60 (p. 53 to 56)
Morris:  Entries 36 - 41 (p. 76 to 79)

[51] Page boys

[52] Ox handlers

[53] The nightly roll call of the senior courtiers is a very fine thing.
Morris (36): The roll-call of the senior courtiers is a delightful event...

[54] It's disgusting when a well-bred young man ...
Morris (37): It is hateful when a well-bred young man...

[55] Young people and babies should be plump.
Morris (38): Small children and babies ought to be plump.

[56] Little children waving quaint toy bows or sticks about in play are wonderfully cute.
Morris (40): Travelling in my carriage one day...

[57] The central gate of a grand house lies open...
Morris (41):  Once when I was passing the house of a certain great man...

[58] Waterfalls

[59] Rivers

[60] I do wish men, when they're taking their leave from a lady at dawn...

Note: I couldn't find a corresponding entry in the McKinney version for entry 39 in the Morris.

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  1. Hi,
    This is my second comment on Pillow Book.

    I really want to say thank you Inspring,
    for letting me read Pillow book again.

    I am Japanese and had to study Pillow Book in
    Hish School in Classical Japanese class.

    I did not enjoy this book as much at that time.

    I finally borrowed pillow book from the library today. A bookstore nearby does not have

    I know Sei looks down on common people and
    opinionated. But she is HONEST.

    She never pretend that she is ignorant.

    One of my highshcool teachers liked Sei,
    because she is so "perky", and the other highshcool
    teacher hated her and prefer Lady Murasaki
    because Lady Murasaki is modest.

    Lady Murasaki said in her diary, I think, that because she is a woman, she does not know
    Kanji (Chinese Character), even does not know how to write the number one (which is the easiest Kanji)

    Thanks again for making me read this Japanese classic.

  2. When I read this a few months ago, it mostly just amused me. She's so full of herself it makes for amusing reading, I think. I like seeing her perspective!

  3. sumit - Hi! Thanks for taking the time to comment, and you're very welcome! I'm glad to hear that you're enjoying re-reading The Pillow Book. It's a shame that reading classics in high school often puts us off them. I think this must happen in every country, lol.

    I like Sei for being "perky" too! And you're right, she is honest. Painfully so sometimes, but certainly honest.

    I haven't yet read The Tale of Genji or her diary or anything much about Lady Murasaki. I think that will be my extra reading project for next year. About her comment about not knowing kanji, I think that was actually the norm at that time?? Chinese writing was strictly for men. It was the same in China, from what I understand. But hey, even I can write the kanji for number one! :P

    Rebecca - It mostly amuses me too. Just occasionally one of her offhand comments makes me shake my head. It's definitely fun to see things from her perspective.


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