The Gossamer Years: The Diary of a Noblewoman of Heian Japan
Michitsuna no Haha
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Author note: Translated by Edward Seidensticker
Publish Year note: First published 974
Written in the tenth century, the Kagero Nikki, translated here as The Gossamer Years, belongs to the same period as the celebrated Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. Like The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, The Gossamer Years is a journal kept by a noblewoman.
This frank autobiography diary reveals two tempestuous decades of the author's unhappy marriage and her growing indignation at rival wives and mistresses. To impetuous to be satisfied as a subsidiary wife, this beautiful noblewoman of the Heian dynasty protests the marriage system of her time in one of Japanese literature's earliest attempts to portray difficult elements of the predominant social hierarchy.
Very little is known of the author outside of what is related in her diary. Her name is unknown -- but she was related to the Lady Murasaki, author of The Tale of Genji, and to Sei Shonagon, author of The Pillow Book.
A classic work of early Japanese prose, The Gossamer Years offers a timeless and intimate glimpse into the culture of ancient Japan.
for his coolness. Nothing in fact came of the interviews, and the Prince did not even ask after my health. And surely it was impossible for me to take the initiative and ask him what had caused this strange aloofness. One morning after the shutters had been raised, I looked out and saw that it had rained during the night, and the trees were covered with dewlike drops. I jotted down a verse: "A dew has fallen on the leaves while I have waited through the night; the dew will vanish with the
madness. "What can you be thinking of," I sent back, "to come off on such a weird expedition? Really, I intend to stay here only the night. And it would not be wise for you to defile the temple. Please go back immediately-it must be getting late." Those were the first of a great number of messages the boy had to deliver that night, up and down a flight of stairs that must have been more than a hundred yards long.140 My attendants, sentimental things, said they found him most pathetic. Finally
my direction was forbidden, but on the following day, the Twenty-eighth, his carriage appeared at about two in the afternoon. It was pulled up into the garden, the blinds raised, and a support put under the shafts, and he climbed out under the red plums, just then in full bloom. He gazed up at them in admiration as he approached; it was a little as though he were in competition with them. Later it occurred to him that south was forbidden for the following day.30 "Why didn't you tell me?" he
at court over the Yawata Festival.39 I went quietly off to join a relative who was going to the shrine, but returned before dark.40 The young people indicated strongly that they would like to see the court procession-it would not yet have passed, they said-and I sent them off in the carriage that had just brought me back. The following day they clamored to see the return procession. I was in bed, not at all well, but I had to acquiesce and four of us started off in a palm-frond carriage.41 We
incidents represented. For what it is, in any case, the evidence points to an architecture that in its basic principles was not different from Japanese architecture today: a wooden framework, removable walls, and an emphasis on restraint and simplicity in the choice of materials and furnishings. Unlike the modern Japanese house, the Heian mansion in its standard form was a collection of rectangular buildings laid out in a symmetrical pattern and joined by covered passageways. Each building was