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The Diary of Lady Murasaki

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  1,498 ratings  ·  115 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 , 90 pages
Published 2005 by Penguin Classics (first published 1010)
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May 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, classics, japan
Murasaki Shikibu was one of the women renowned for producing Japanese literature during the Heian Era. She is the author of the famous Genji Monogatari, and by the time this diary was written, she had already become famous as an author. As a lady in waiting to Empress Shoshi, Murasaki writes about the birth of Shoshi's second son, Atshuhira, in The Diary of Lady Murasaki.

The translation of my edition is done by Richard Bowring, a British historian specialising in Japanese history and culture. H
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
E. G.
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
Thus do I criticize others from various angles – but here is one who has survived this far without having achieved anything of note. I have nothing in particular to look forward to in the future that might afford me the slightest consolation, but I am not the kind of person to abandon herself completely to despair. And yet, by the same token, I cannot entirely rid myself of such feelings. On autumn evenings, which positively encourage nostalgia, when I go out to sit on the veranda and gaze, I se
Justin Evans
Apr 13, 2015 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
T.D. Whittle
Apr 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviews
This is perhaps better read before reading The Tale of Genji, which I've only just finished. I was still on a high from that masterpiece when I dived into the diary. It's precisely what it claims to be, a diary, but not a deeply intimate one. It lacks the vivid liveliness of the novel, and seems so dry after experiencing the dramas of Prince Genji, Lady Murasaki, and their contemporaries.

The Diary is a factual recounting of daily court life with some personal reflection woven throughout the tex
Oct 21, 2010 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
Bri Fidelity
Less a memoir and more a series of pretty, impressionistic word-pictures, strung together like Christmas cards: little sketches of a fussy, formal, effete world, long gone.

'It is still the depth of night. The moon has clouded over, darkening the shadows under the trees. There come voices: 'Can we open the shutters?' 'But the servants will not be ready yet!' 'Attendant! Open up!' Then the bell for the dawn watch suddenly wakes everyone up and the Ritual of the Five Mystic Kings begins...'

'I was a
Jan 06, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: japanese
So I’m doing a lil survey of Heian-period female-written literature consisting of six books: The Diary of Lady Murasaki, The Tale of Genji, As I Crossed A Bridge of Dreams, The Gossamer Years, The Pillow Book, and The Confessions of Lady Nijo (okay, technically that last one is Kamakura period but what’s a century among friends).

Murasaki’s diary was… a little disappointing, honestly. This from the author of the world’s first novel (arguably)? Fairly dry with its dogged insistence of random deta
M.M. Strawberry Library & Reviews
Wellp, that was boring as fuck.

I am still giving this 3 stars to be fair, because this was written over a thousand years ago, where things were very different on nearly every level. I'm not going to slam this book with a 1-star rating just because I didn't like it - that wouldn't be fair.

But as a history buff, I hoped that I would enjoy this more than I did. For almost 2/3 of the book, it's pretty dry and boring, describing life in the palace around an Empress giving birth to a child, and lots o

Another unexpected favourite! So much so that I'm putting it on my physical wishlist. I read it as a kind of appetiser for The Tale of Genji to see if Murasaki's writing style was to my taste before committing to 1.200 pages of Heian prose, and while I'm still to start The Tale of Genji, the diary is actually so beautiful that even if that one should turn out to be a flop, the author has already earned a place in my heart.

A good introduction is absolutely necessary to understand what's going o
A collection of diary fragments by 11th century Heian era, Murasaki Shikibu. It is written in kana, a system developed for vernacular Japanese, more common among women, who were generally not schooled in Chinese. Unlike modern journals or magazines, Heian journals tend to emphasize important events more than ordinary everyday life and do not follow a strict chronological order. The work includes vignettes, waka poems and an epistolary section written in the form of a long letter.

The diary was pr
I want to reveal all to you, the good and the bad, worldly matters and private sorrows, things that I cannot really go on discussing in this letter. But, even though one may be thinking about and describing someone objectionable, should one really go on like this, I wonder? But you must find life irksome at times. I know you do, as you can see. Write to me with your own thoughts — no matter if you have less to say than all my useless prattle, I would love to hear from you.
The problem with a
Pontus Alexander
. . . the process of remembering and forgetting is itself an eternal fascination, and the diary is to be an illustration of that process. (Introduction) 

How is it that a little incident like this suddenly comes back to one, whereas something that moved one deeply at the time can simply be forgotten with the passage of the years?

I can’t really put into words why I found this diary of a lady active in the Japanese Imperial court, around the year 1000, to be so captivating and emotionally moving
Brendan Coster
Feb 23, 2015 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
Young At Heart Reader
As a diary, I can't in fairness give this a star rating. Who am I to judge the star worth of someone's experiences and thoughts?

Anyway, I read this book a) because oh my God a diary from 1000 years ago I just have to and b) Murasaki, who wrote the first novel. Though I didn't quite expect the elaborate detail on clothing and rituals, it was interesting to see what great importance these elements had at the time.

While I was hoping for some more personal thoughts, what I got was surprisingly rela
Oct 02, 2012 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
Jan 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: witmonth
I wrote about this book here: ...more
Jun 03, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Amazing to think this work is over 1000 years old. It details the rituals and ceremonies at the imperial Japanese court surrounding the birth of a Royal Prince.

Interesting from a historical perspective but not a particular engaging read. Dry in places.
Jan 15, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
if it was just her being melancholy, thinkin bout da moon, talkin shit about ppl, and describing clothes, i would give it 5 stars. the scribe-like historical accounting tho... kinda boring.
Marija S.
The book has a nice, extensive introduction with notes about the cultural background, the author and style, also a guide for further reading, ground plan maps, etc. but on the other hand e.g. omits to draw a parallel with the poem line: "may these pebbles grow to mighty rocks" and Kimigayo lyrics. In a word, I cannot discern how extensive and detailed the footnotes are.

Since the main text of the book is a classic just for the fact of its existence and circumstances of its origin, I will refrain
Jan 02, 2021 rated it really liked it

Lady Murasaki (c.973-c.1020) wrote the Japanese classic The Tale of Genji. If memory serves me right, scholars theorize that her writing success brought her to court? Don't quote me. I might have that wrong. In this, her journal entries give readers a sense of what day to day court life was like, especially for women, during the Heian Period. Some days are very simple, most days actually, but I found it incredibly fascinating to connect to people that lived around a thousand years ago. I expecte
Aug 01, 2013 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 07, 2012 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 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: japan
Not as interesting as the Kagero Kikki oder the Pillow Book but those interested in 11th century Japan won't get around reading Murasaki's diary, if only for the prominence of the author. However this edition non the less deserves plenty of stars because of the excellent annotations and the outstanding preface. ...more
May 08, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic snapshot of the thoughts and feelings of a lady a millennium ago.
For those looking for a "diary" in the conventional sense, this book might be a slight disappointment. Murasaki Shikibu does not recount her everyday life and her inner world in the ordered way we are used to find in this genre. This diary is more of a collection of her accounts of big events, with the occasional introspection. That's it. It's very short and a bit sketchy. You should only come to this book if you've already read the Genji monogatari or have a particular interest in Japanese hist ...more
At first I thought it was lovely as Murasaki included poems and descriptions of her surroundings. Still over time it dragged on. She wrote of the petty details of court life. She said she was not interested in such things, and over time I was not either.
Nov 23, 2014 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
May 20, 2014 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
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Murasaki Shikibu, or Lady Murasaki as she is sometimes known in English (Japanese: 紫式部), 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 act ...more

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