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The Diary of Lady Murasaki

3.84  ·  Rating Details  ·  857 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
'When I go out to sit on the veranda and gaze,
I sem to be always conjuring up visions of the past'

The Diary recorded by Lady Murasaki (c. 973 c. 1020), author of The Tale of Genji, is an intimate picture of her life as tutor and companion to the young Empress Shoshi. Told in a series of vignettes, it offers revealing glimpses of the Japanese imperial palace the auspicious
Paperback, Reprinted with corrections , 144 pages
Published 2005 by Penguin Classics (first published 1010)
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A Note on Japanese Names and Dates
Introduction (Cultural Background, The Author, The Diary)

--The Diary of Lady Murasaki

Appendix 1: Ground-plans and Map
Appendix 2: Additional Sources
A Guide to Further Reading
Justin Evans
Apr 13, 2015 Justin Evans added it
Shelves: essays
There's no meaning to the star rating here, so I forgo it.

This was a very odd reading experience: the editor and translator of the Penguin edition seemed most keen to stop me reading the actual diary itself. He stressed, time and again, that it's very hard to understand what's going on and there's really not that much here etc etc... Well, that's true. On the other hand, the actual diary is very short, Bowring's annotations, introductions and appendices are helpful, and, unless we've all been m
It has come to my attention through Goodreads that I’m quite the slow reader nowadays. Personally I blame the Internet, or rather I spend a great deal of time reading, but more of it turns out to be silly digital articles than books.

The upside of all this that when I do finish a book it becomes quite a significant milestone in my mind. This would explain why I feel there is so much to say about this rather slim thing of a diary left to us by Lady Murasaki, author of The Tale of Genji and court
Oct 29, 2010 Nickolas rated it it was amazing
"The Diary of Lady Murasaki" written by Murasaki Shikibu and translated by Richard Bowring isn't for everyone. It begins as a very detailed record of the birth of a new Prince in the Heian Japanese Court, as seen through Murasaki's eyes. Detailing all the costume and rituals of the court, some readers may get bored of reading paragraphs dedicated to a certain woman's ceremonial dress or what exactly happens on the 5th day of a Prince's life.

Later it becomes more reflective on Murasaki's life an
Nov 07, 2015 Gina rated it it was ok
Shelves: rereads
One word of advice: if you don't know anything about Japanese history or culture and have the Penguin Classics edition, read the introduction, including the notes about Japanese naming. It is so much more helpful in understanding what's going on if you do.

Since this was the diary of an actual woman, there's not much to say other than that there are a lot of descriptions of clothing, some amusing moments, and the most interesting parts happen on pages 47-59, when she examines the characters of th
Feb 24, 2015 Brendan rated it liked it
"One had a little fault in the colour combination at the wrist opening. When she went before the Royal presence to fetch something, the nobles and high officials noticed it. Afterwards, Lady Saisho regretted it deeply. It was not so bad; only one colour was a little too pale."

That's it. That sums up much of the Heian period writing....

Which is both wrong, and unfair, but I tell you it doesn't miss the mark. I mean, there's a reason it's considered a kind of golden age. Golden age for the nobilit
Jan 29, 2015 Dexter rated it it was amazing
I wanted to read a non-Western memoir and a memoir from Japan's medieval era (the Heian period), a delicate, diaphanous world of gossip, court frivolity, fastidious fashion, and secret musings and longings. Murasaki Shikibu is known for writing the world's first novel, and reading her vignettes about her daily life at court are a treat. She does have a pensiveness about her, a pervasive melancholy, but it's an exquisite melancholy to be adored. This memoir contains beautiful sentences and observ ...more
Feb 10, 2016 Juliana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wrote about this book here:
Jan 31, 2015 Isobel rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014
It feels rather odd reviewing someone's diary; you can hardly critique the plot or characters, and I doubt it was written in the hope of being a great literary work, so it would be strange to comment on the language and form. I guess what I can talk about is my enjoyment of the book, and how it made me feel.

Lady Murasaki is often credited as having written the first ever novel, The Tale of Genji, in the 11th century, and I was interested in reading a snippet of the life of a woman who lived duri
Aug 04, 2013 Paul rated it liked it
It’s a slim volume, and indeed in the introduction by Richard Bowring, it is general consensus that the diary as I was holding in my hands is fragments of what it was. Which is a shame because it would have been a beautiful piece of history as a whole. Instead we are left to mere speculation for a lot of parts, including as to why the tone changes from a journal style to that of a letter written to an intimate.

Indeed the theories for this are expounded in the thorough introduction which covers J
Jun 15, 2013 Douglas rated it really liked it
I read The Diary of Lady Murasaki in preparation for another attempt on The Tale of Genji. The Diary is a slight work in every sense of the word, registering at 66 pages (not counting the 44 pages of introductory material, well put together by Richard Bowring). You think the English Royal family has it tough? Japanese court life was (and by all accounts, to some degree still is) incredibly insular and stultifying. And it was doubly tough on the female members of the royal family and their entour ...more
Jun 07, 2012 Liz rated it really liked it
Murasaki, I could listen all day to your seesawing between bitching about the other women at court and attacks of shame at your own spiteful pettiness. the appendix of the edition I have includes excerpts from the diaries of other people who were present at the events Murasaki was recording, which cement my suspicion that men are boring.
Sep 28, 2014 George rated it really liked it
Shelves: japan, historical
It is impossible, after finishing this beautiful book, to believe that Murasaki Shikibu has been dead for a thousand years - through her diary and poetry you sense a real human spirit.

The diary, and Murasaki herself, are even more appealing when contrasted against the grandeur and ritual of the Heian court she served.

The ceremonies, competitions, veneration of poetry and gorgeous colours and costumes are unbelievably vivid, intricate and fascinating.

Although the formality of the court seems alie
Jane Tara
May 07, 2013 Jane Tara rated it liked it
Quite a wonderful read, although I'm still a card carrying member of team Sei Shonagon over Murasaki.
Deborah Schuff
Dec 28, 2013 Deborah Schuff rated it really liked it
Murasaki Shikibu wrote the world's first novel. She also invented the world's first anti-hero. AND she wrote it in Japanese, a language then spurned for all "serious" work (read by "literate men") in favor of a Sino-Japanese language in much the same way that Latin was favored over the individual national languages of Europe in the Middle Ages. She and other Imperial court ladies wrote their journals/diaries/"pillow" books in Japanese, thereby creating and fleshing out the Japanese language.

Aug 26, 2014 Kyle rated it it was amazing
A few things I picked up on while living in Japan: two of the writing systems (hiragana and katakana) were designed for female and male authors, respectively; Heian-kyo was one of the many capitol cities for an island country; and Genji Monogatari is one of the most revered classics, although nobody I know has ever read it beginning to end. Starting off with these seemingly contrary statements (shouldn't men and women speaking the same language have similar writing habits? why isn't a famous, na ...more
Elizabeth Reuter
Jun 28, 2012 Elizabeth Reuter rated it it was amazing
I'm not a fan of Tale of Genji, but as a history nut, I thought I'd check out the author's diary anyway.

Very, very glad I did.

Shikibu's diary is an average diary, recording her daily life and feelings, but she puts the most mundane events in such beautiful evocative language--obviously, kudos to the translator, too--that a simple activity like watching the moon becomes a splendid image of light and color on the page.

While Sei Shonagon, Shikibu's literary rival, wrote with sharp wit and clear i
Sep 30, 2013 Frimple rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed-badly
This edition is very up front about what may well be its only major failing, it doesn't contain the poetry that Murasaki included throughout. Richard Bowring, in the extremely helpful and informative introduction, explains that he felt that they would not be of interest to the intended reader and that he didn't feel he was up to the task of translating them and maintaining their poetry and often very obscure meanings and references. I've, perhaps cruelly, taken off a star in recognition of their ...more
Feb 26, 2012 Rebecca rated it really liked it
Murasaki Shikibu is mainly known for her The tale of Genji, but she has made another important contribution to the literary heritage of old Japan, and that is her diary, or nikki as they are called in Japanese. A nikki is a collection of reflections and describtions of events, but not perhaps in a way a modern diary-writer would understand the task. Fair enough, this is written a little over a thousand years ago, conventions on writing change over time.

This diary is written in the first years of
Zen Cho
Unsurprisingly, I liked the personal analysis bits better than the records of rituals bits. The gossiping about the other court women bit was also good. I did find the detailed descriptions of clothes amusing; wish they'd had pictures.

The introduction by Richard Bowring was enlightening, but parts of it grated on me, though I couldn't tell you why. And it annoyed me that it was so explicitly targeted at a Western audience. The latest reprinting was in, what, 2003? C'mon.

Interesting thing I learn
Jenni C
May 14, 2014 Jenni C rated it liked it
Shelves: asian-history
Actual (translated in English) account of a famous female author in Heian Period of Japan. She talks of fashion, society, and personalities within the royal court. It's not an action movie :) but gives a glimpse into the circle of the elite during that time.
Jul 02, 2011 Sue rated it liked it
Recommended to Sue by: Michelle
Shelves: book-club
This is one of two June book clubs selections.
I can't say I enjoyed this book very much. Parts of it was interesting. It did give you a view of what court life was like in Japan back then. Overall I found it a difficult read, going back and forth between the text and the footnotes made for a jaring flow. I also found the listings of the names of everyone who attended the every ceremony boring and the description of everyones dress was too much. One or two descriptions to give a picture of what t
Zeynep Bal
Sep 26, 2015 Zeynep Bal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
inanılmaz güzel bir kitap. Esin Esen'in girişinde verdiği bilgiler kitabın okunmasını kolaylastirmakla birlikte Heian dönemi ile ilgili ciddi bilgiler edinmenize sebep oluyor.
May 24, 2007 Briynne rated it really liked it
I read this on suggestion from my little brother, who is a history major who focuses on Asian history. It's, as the title suggests, the diary of a court lady from Japan, c. 1000 AD. Lady Murasaki went on to write the first novel ever, "The Tale of the Genji", but this is just a cool collection of her observations of the court, the royal family, and the events of her life there. She likes to dicuss kimonos in length - it's so much fun to read. Like Cosmo from a thousand years ago.
Ray Noyes
Apr 05, 2016 Ray Noyes rated it liked it
These snippets of court life are contained in the much more extensive and more readable The Tale of Murasaki. This edition suffers from the introduction being almost as long as the book. As such, as a whole, it is a frustrating read.
Matt Brant
This highly readable translation will appeal to university students and specialists. The introduction provides interesting and necessary background about customs, games, poetics, fashion, and issues of power and imperial succession. Scholarly stuff aside, this book gives us general readers another proof of the magic of reading. As if by telepathy, we in 2008 can connect with somebody living in 1008.
Feb 04, 2016 Judith rated it really liked it
I bought & have now read this, as someone classed it on a par with Sei Shonagon.

I love Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book. Murasaki talks about Sei Shonagon & obviously knew her.

This isn't another Pillow Book. But it is an extra layer on the period.

For anyone interested in reading more about the people and their times.

And, it's not a long book.....
Feb 15, 2016 Megan rated it liked it
Invaluable for history, but not an easy read
Jul 10, 2011 Cindy rated it it was ok
I liked reading about all the ceremony etc...but I guess I would have prefered a few less names. It read more like a letter than a diary. Still, it was interesting reading about a different era than I've read in the past. I actually gave it a 2 1/2.
Fragmented but intriguing. I actually read it side-by-side with Liza Dalby's Tale of Murasaki, which is one of my favourite books. I was pretty surprised to learn some passages I thought could only be fiction had actually happened in real life.
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Murasaki Shikibu, or Lady Murasaki as she is sometimes known in English, was a Japanese novelist, poet, and a maid of honor of the imperial court during the Heian period. She is best known as the author of The Tale of Genji, written in Japanese between about 1000 and 1008, one of the earliest and most famous novels in human history. "Murasaki Shikibu" was not her real name; her actual name is unkn ...more
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“ To be pleasant, gentle, calm and self-possessed: this is the basis of good taste and charm in a woman. No matter how amorous or passionate you may be, as long as you are straightforward and refrain from causing others embarrassment, no one will mind. But women who are too vain and act pretentiously, to the extent that they make others feel uncomfortable, will themselves become the object of attention; and once that happens, people will find fault with whatever they say or do; whether it be how they enter a room, how they sit down, how they stand up or how they take their leave. Those who end up contradicting themselves and those who disparage their companions are also carefully watched and listened to all the more. As long as you are free from such faults, people will surely refrain from listening to tittle-tattle and will want to show you sympathy, if only for the sake of politeness.
I am of the opinion that when you intentionally cause hurt to another, or indeed if you do ill through mere thoughtless behavior, you fully deserve to be censured in public. Some people are so good-natured that they can still care for those who despise them, but I myself find it very difficult. Did the Buddha himself in all his compassion ever preach that one should simply ignore those who slander the Three Treasures? How in this sullied world of ours can those who are hard done by be expected to reciprocate in kind?”
“Well, we never expected this!" they all say. "No one liked her. They all said she was pretentious, awkward, difficult to approach, prickly, too fond of her tales, haughty, prone to versifying, disdainful, cantankerous, and scornful. But when you meet her, she is strangely meek, a completely different person altogether!"

How embarrassing! Do they really look upon me as a dull thing, I wonder? But I am what I am.”
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