This 11th Century Book Reads Almost Exactly Like A Modern Day Blog

by Charlotte Ahlin

Before there was Twitter, before there was even such a thing as a gossip column or Dorothy Parker or widespread literacy, there was The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon. Sei lived around the year 1000, in modern day Kyōto, Japan, and she was, by all accounts, one brassy broad. Everyone on Earth must now immediately drop everything they are doing and read her Pillow Book. It's one part diary, one part witty observations, one part gossip column, and a whole lot of lists with no particular purpose— so, essentially, a blog.

Sei's 11th Century blog is remarkable for the way in which it records the ins and outs of daily life in Japan of the year 1000, but really, the main appeal of The Pillow Book is that Sei is a hilarious, drama-loving queen. She's witty. She's petty. According to Murasaki, Sei's rival lady poet at court, Sei was "dreadfully conceited" and "thought herself so clever." While Murasaki was writing The Tale of Genji, an epic novel about a noble prince, Sei was writing about the latest drama with the palace cat. And yet somehow, over a thousand years later, Sei's musings on dating and fashion and minor annoyances are still all too relevant to modern readers. So here are just a few of Sei's thoughts, to remind you that witty blogging springs eternal:

The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon, $10, Amazon


Pleasing Things

"Finding a large number of tales that one has not read before. Or acquiring the second volume of a tale whose first volume one has enjoyed. But often it is a disappointment."


Things That Make Your Heart Beat Fast

"To wash your hair, apply your makeup and put on clothes that are well-scented with incense. Even if you’re somewhere where no one special will see you, you still feel a heady sense of pleasure inside."


Things That Make The Heart Lurch With Anxiety

"Watching a horse-race. Twisting up a paper hair-binding cord (because it might break).

Your heart naturally lurches when you hear the voice of your secret lover in an unexpected place, but the same thing happens even when you hear someone else talking about him. It also lurches when someone you really detest arrives for a visit. Indeed the heart is a creature amazingly prone to lurching. It even lurches in sympathy with another woman when the next-morning letter from a man who stayed with her for the first time the night before is late in arriving."


Hateful Things

"A lover who is leaving at dawn announces that he has to find his fan and his paper. "I know I put them somewhere last night," he says. Since it is pitch dark, he gropes about the room, bumping into the furniture and muttering, "Strange! Where on earth can they be?"…"Hateful" is an understatement."


Things People Despise

"A crumbling earth wall.

People who have a reputation for being exceptionally good-natured."


Infuriating Things

"A very ordinary person, who beams inanely as she prattles on.

A baby who cries when you’re trying to hear something. A flock of crows clamoring raucously, all flying around chaotically with noisily flapping wings. A dog that discovers a clandestine lover as he comes creeping in, and barks.

A man you’ve had to conceal in some unsatisfactory hiding place, who then begins to snore."


Men Talking

"A man who has nothing in particular to recommend him discusses all sorts of subjects at random as though he knew everything."


Things That Cry In The Night

"Everything that cries in the night is wonderful. With the exception, of course, of babies."


Rare Things

"A pair of silver tweezers that can actually pull out hairs properly.

You never find an instance of two people living together who continue to be overawed by each other's excellence and always treat each other with scrupulous care and respect, so such a relationship is obviously a great rarity.

Copying out a tale or a volume of poems without smearing any ink on the book you're copying from. If you're copying it from some beautiful bound book, you try to take immense care, but somehow you always manage to get ink on it.

Two women, let alone a man and a woman, who vow themselves to each other forever, and actually manage to remain on good terms to the end."


Things That Create The Appearance Of Deep Emotion

"The sound of your voice when you’re constantly blowing your runny nose as you talk.

Plucking your eyebrows."


People's Affections

"I must always come first in people’s affections. Otherwise, I would far rather be hated... In fact, I would rather die than be loved but come second or third."


Awkward Things

"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 awkward. 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."


Things Without Merit

"An ugly person with a bad character.

Rice starch that has become mixed with water… I know that this is a very vulgar item and everyone will dislike my mentioning it, but that should not stop me."


Talking About Exes

"A man with whom one is having an affair keeps singing the praises of some woman he used to know. Even if it is a thing of the past, this can be very annoying. How much more so if he is still seeing the woman! (Yet sometimes I find it is not as unpleasant as all that.)"


Dependable Things

"In life there are two things which are dependable. The pleasures of the flesh and the pleasures of literature."

The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon, $10, Amazon