In the tenth century, Japan was both physically and culturally isolated from the rest of the world. The Pillow Book recaptures this lost world with the diary of a young court lady. Sei Shōnagon was a contemporary of Murasaki Shikibu, who wrote the well-known novel The Tale of Genji. Unlike the latter's fictionalized view of the Heian-era court, Shōnagon's journal provides a lively miscellany of anecdotes, observations, and gossip, intended to be read in juicy bits and pieces.
This unique volume was first rendered into English in 1889. In 1928, Arthur Waley, a seminal figure in the Western studies of Japanese culture, undertook a translation. The distinguished scholar devised this abridged version of the text, re-creating in English the stylistic beauty of its prose and the vitality of its narrative. Waley's interpretation offers a fascinating glimpse of the artistic pursuits of the royal court and its constant round of rituals, festivals, and ceremonies.