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The Diary of Lady Murasaki

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'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 birth of a prince, rivalries between the Emperor's consorts, with sharp criticism of Murasaki's fellow ladies-in-waiting and drunken courtiers, and telling remarks about the timid Empress and her powerful father, Michinaga. The Diary is also a work of great subtlety and intense personal reflection, as Murasaki makes penetrating insights into human psychology her pragmatic observations always balanced by an exquisite and pensive melancholy.

In his illuminating introduction, Richard Bowing discusses what is known of Murasaki's life, and the religion, ceremonies, costumes, architecture and politics of her time, to explain the cultural background to her vivid evocation of court life. This edition also includes an explanation of Japanese names and dates, appendices and updated further reading.

Translated and introduced by RICHARD BOWRING

90 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1010

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About the author

Murasaki Shikibu

197 books391 followers
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 actual name is unknown, though some scholars have postulated that her given name might have been Takako (for Fujiwara Takako). Her diary states that she was nicknamed "Murasaki" ("purple wisteria blossom") at court, after a character in The Tale of Genji. "Shikibu" refers to her father's position in the Bureau of Ceremony (shikibu-shō).


Murasaki Shikibu. (2007, October 8). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:03, October 19, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?t...

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 163 reviews
Profile Image for Kavita.
757 reviews364 followers
May 15, 2020
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. He has done a highly commendable job. Without the detailed introduction provided by the translator, putting everything into context, I would not have enjoyed the book as much as I did.

However, some confusions remain. For instance, I frequently had no idea who was who and how they were related. There were times when there was a list of names and while it might have made sense to contemporaries, many of these names are now almost obscure. Also, whom did 'Her Majesty' and 'Her Excellency' refer to? One of them definitely refers to Empress Shoshi, but which one? And it's a mystery who the other woman is. It could be Ichijo's mother or his first wife.

The first half of the diary is a detailed description of the ceremonies taking place after the birth. Then at some point, the tone of the diary changes to become much more personal. As mentioned in the introduction, it does appear that only fragments of the original diary have remained. But though the rows of names and descriptions of robes does pall after a while, there are some interesting insights to the culture.

It was amusing to read how much Murasaki appeared to despise Sei Shonogan, the author of the famous The Pillow Book. I wondered why until I did some research and realised that it made sense since Sei Shonogan served Empress Teishi, first wife of Emperor Ichijo, while Murasaki served Empress Shoshi, the second wife and consort. This speaks of interesting court intrigues but sadly, Murasaki doesn't get into any particulars.

Murasaki tends to be rather morose and depressed for most of the narrative when she is not in description mode. One does wonder what her story was. There was a time when she mentions holding Chinese books collected by someone close to her. Husband or father? Did she miss him badly and hence was so depressed? The book has left me intensely curious about this lady and her life!
Profile Image for Leajk.
102 reviews70 followers
January 18, 2015
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 lady and tutor to an empress.

It is so slim in fact that many academics, as mentioned in the excellent foreword, keep having this nagging suspicion that this is a re-written version and perhaps just a fragment of the original. It sad to think of how much that is probably lost, that this sliver is so filled with so many descriptions of court life when you long to know more of the inner life of Murasaki.

Although, or perhaps because of, being a novice to all things Heian Period (794 - 1192), or Japanese history in general (I’m reading this in part due to my interest in women’s history and in part as preparation to someday reading the intimidating The Tale of Genji), I found that the descriptions of court life and ceremonies quite intriguing. At one moment it all seems impossibly stiff and otherworthly, the next moment the very same people are drunk and crying at the sight of their son or flirting shamelessly with the closet person in sight.

My enjoyment of the court descriptions probably has to do with Murasaki’s reflective style. When I compare her to the very formal diaries, all written in the male only Chinese, included in the Appendix, I realize how lucky we are to have her records.

That is not to say that reading her is a laugh-riot. She is somber and pensive to say the least. At the moment I’m telling myself that I have to finish this review before getting further along with The Pillow Book, the exuberant diary/notebook/list-fest of her contemporary Sei Shonagon. It appears that The Pillow Book is far more popular among the Goodread crowd and it’s supposed to be a more lust filled and engaging read. To me it appears to be a question of different but equally intriguing styles. Murasaki is melancholy sure, but it is a beautiful melancholy with an incredible eye for pointing out the follies of those around her.

The tone almost reminds me of one of my first loves, Austen:

”Lady Koshosho is so indefinably elegant and graceful she reminds one of a weeping willow in spring. She has a lovely figure and a charming manner, but is far too retiring, diffident to the point of being incapable of making up her mind about anything, so naïve it makes one want to weep. Whenever someone unscrupulous tries to take advantage of her or spreads rumors, she immediately takes it all to heart. She is so vulnerable and so easily dismayed that you would think she was on the point of expiring. I do worry about her.”

Doesn't that just sound like a description of Jane Bennet ?Though of course most of this book is in the tone of the later Austen, the Mansfield Park and Persuasion Austen. The seclusive Murasaki constantly withdraws from the court festivities she describes in such detail:

"Realizing that it was bound to a terribly drunken affair this evening, Lady Saisho and I decided to retire once the formal part was over. We were just about to leave when His Excellency’s two sons, together with Kantetaka and some other gentleman, came into the eastern gallery and started to create a commotion. We hid behind the dais, but his Excellency pulled back the curtains and we were both caught.
’A poem each for the Prince!’ he cried. ’Then I’ll let you go!’”

”I felt quite depressed and went to my room for a while to rest. I had intended to go over later if I felt better, but then Kohyoe and Kohobu came in and sat themselves down by the hibachi. ’It’s so crowded over there, you can hardly see a thing!’ they complained. His Excellency appeared. ’What do you think you’re all doing, sitting around like this?’ he said. ’Come along with me!’”

Of course, being a very reflexive person she’s well aware of her own rather gloomy aura:

"And when I play my koto rather badly to myself in the cool breeze of the evening, I worry lest someone might hear me and recognize how I am ’adding to the sadness of it all’, how vain and sad of me.”

This and similar reflections saves her from sounding all too bitter and self indulgent. And as a reader how can one not feel for her when all she tries to do is to be alone with her books:

"Whenever my loneliness threatens to overwhelm me, I take out one or two of them to look at; but my women gather together behind my back. ’It’s because she goes on like that she is so miserable. What kind of lady is it who reads Chinese books?’ they whisper. ’In the past it was not even the done thing to read sutras!’ ’Yes,' I feel like replying, ’but I’ve never met anyone who lived longer just because they believed in superstitions!’”

We also learn a bit about how she became a learned lady, the teacher to the empress and her feelings of being an author:

"When my brother,…, was a young boy learning the Chinese classics, I was in the habit of listening with him and I became unusually proficient at understanding those passages that he found too difficult to grasp and memorize. Father a most learned man, was always regretting the fact: ’Just my luck!’ he would say. ’What a pity she was not born a man!’ But then I gradually realized that people were saying ’It’s bad enough when a man flaunts his Chinese learning; she will come to no good,’ and since I have avoided writing the simplest character.” (my feminist hearts bleed for her)

"Then Her Majesty asked me to read with her here and there from the Collected Works of Po Chü-i, and because she evinced a desire to know more about such things, to keep it secret we carefully chose times when other women would not be present, and, from the summer before last, I started giving her informal lessons on the two volumes of ’New Ballads’. I hid this fact from others, as did Her Majesty, but somehow both His Excellency and His Majesty got wind of it and they had some beautiful copies made of the various Chinese books, which His Excellency then presented to her.”

”I tried reading the Tale [of Genji] again, but it did not seem to be the same as before and I was disappointed. Those with whom I had discussed things of mutual interest - how vain and frivolous they must consider me no, I thought; and then ashamed that I could even contemplate such a remark, I found it difficult to write to them.”

There is something about this book that sparks my imagination. Perhaps it is the fact that it is written over a thousand years ago and yet I feel like I would connect and be bffs with Murasaki straight away (which is obviously me fangirling, she would at the very least think me very uncultured for not knowing all the Chinese classics, I'll have to work on that). Here are a few of my favorite theories/fan-fiction ideas about this book:

- Murasaki is actually lesbian which would explain why she’s constantly trying to withdraw from the public male places and go hang out with only the other court ladies, it would also work nicely with this passage:

"In particular I missed Lady Dainagon, who would often talk to me as we lay close by Her Majesty in the evenings. Had I then indeed succumbed to court life?
I sent to her the following:
How I long for those waters on which we lay
A longing keener than the frost on a duck’s wing

To which she replied:
Awakening to find no friend to brush away the frost
The mandarin duck longs for her mate at night

(Footnote by the translator: Mandarin ducks were supposed to always go around in inseparable pairs. This common metaphor for lovers originally came from Chinese literature but had by this time become firmly a part of the Japanese poetic vocabulary. These poems should be seen as forming a conventional exchange between close friends - nothing more.)”

Obviously the translator is trying to destroy my fan fiction right here, but that doesn't really change anything.

- Murasaki meets Jane Austen, and perhaps Sai Shonagon, in a parallel universe and they discuss the pro and cons of living in the country side (both Murasaki and Shonagon hade fathers who were provincial governors, but at least Shonagon had a very snobbish attitude towards the countryside, Austen obviously abhors all thing city and/or court), the downside of having to downplay your intelligence and wit as to not offend society, the hilarity in male critics not taking your work seriously because you’re a woman and you mention clothes in your books, the upside in not getting a formal education leaving you entirely free (you’re upper class with time on your hands after all) to make up a much more interesting education on your own, deploring that you all had to rely on getting your education from male classics when you’re well aware (now) that women have been writing since forever (considering asking Edhuanna to join the conversation)
Profile Image for Justin Evans.
1,525 reviews774 followers
April 13, 2015
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 massively hoaxed, this is a bit of a diary by one of the great writers the human species has ever thrown up (I confess, I say this based on reputation, rather than a thorough knowledge of Genji), and is well worth reading for that alone. Murasaki is a charming diarist, even though she's describing rituals and goings-on that I really do not understand even in the slightest (in brief: a royal baby is born. Much ritual follows). What I do understand, however, is gentle melancholy, which is here in spades, and literary snark, of which there is only half a spadeful, but boy, what a spadeful she drops on Shonagon's head. That's a spat I'd *love* to know more about.

I say Bowring's editorial work is helpful, but it isn't that helpful. For instance, people are often referred to by honorary titles ("Her Excellency", "Her Majesty" etc...) But we're never told what those titles might mean. I think I worked it out, but I could easily be wrong. Given that we have multiple architectural diagrams of fairly easy to visualize buildings, the note to read another book to learn about the titles seems a little grudging.
Profile Image for Florencia.
649 reviews1,898 followers
December 1, 2018
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 seem to be always conjuring up visions of the past – ‘and did they praise the beauty of this moon of yore?’ Knowing full well that I am inviting the kind of misfortune one should avoid, I become uneasy and move inside a little, while still, of course, continuing to recall the past.
Each one of us is quite different. Some are confident, open and forthcoming. Others are born pessimists, amused by nothing, the kind who search through old letters, carry out penances, intone sūtras without end, and clack their beads, all of which makes one feel uncomfortable. So I hesitate to do even those things I should be able to do quite freely, only too aware of my own servants’ prying eyes. How much more so at court, where I have many things I would like to say but always think the better of it, because there would be no point in explaining to people who would never understand. I cannot be bothered to discuss matters in front of those women who continually carp and are so full of themselves: it would only cause trouble. It is so rare to find someone of true understanding; for the most part they judge purely by their own standards and ignore everyone else.


The timeless nature of this passage is unquestionable and thus rather unsettling; the same concerns for centuries.

Feb 27, 18
* Photo credit: Portrait of Murasaki Shikibu by Tosa Mitsuoki / CC
** Maybe later on my blog.
Profile Image for Rosamund Taylor.
Author 1 book120 followers
June 3, 2022
Murasaki Shikibu was a contemporary of Sei Shonagon, and writes of the same milieu as described in The Pillow Book: the Heian court. The Heian period was one of relative stability in Japanese history, in which culture and art flourished. Shikibu is primarily known for her novel, The Tale of Genji, one of the most important works of literature in the world. Her diary is a much smaller affair, concentrating on the birth of a child to the empress, and a number of observations on courtly life, and some Buddhist thought. It's interesting to compare this diary to The Pillow Book - reading Sei Shonagon's observations is like talking to a witty and entertaining, but self-absorbed friend, and being completely enthralled, even if she never asks you how you are. When I read it, I feel completely absorbed by her personality. Shikibu's diary is a much cooler work, with less gossip, bitchiness and general chitchat: Shikibu focuses on precise descriptions of the historically significant birth, and the emotional impact it has on her and on everyone in the court. She writes with poetic intensity, and much of her work is very beautiful. It's interesting, too, that the world she describes feels so different to that of The Pillow Book even though it's essentially the same place. It's also worth noting that the diary is understood to be incomplete, and a longer work may have given us a different sense of Shikibu's world.

While I don't think Richard Bowring is as bad (i.e. as sexist) as Seidensticker (Sei Shonagon's original translator), I found some aspects of the translation and footnotes to be intrusive or to feel arbitrary. However, I think this is the only complete translation in English and I'm glad to have it.
Profile Image for plainzt .
491 reviews50 followers
December 13, 2022
DNF. Türkçe edisyonu protesto ediyor ve okumayı bırakıyorum. Dipnotları kitabın sonuna değil adı üstünde yer aldığı sayfanın dibine koymayı öğrenin artık. Bu kadar fazla ek bilgi verilmesi gereken tarihi bir metinde sürekli arka sayfalara dönmemiz bekleniyor. İngilizce çevirisinden okuyacağım.
Profile Image for Hulyacln.
779 reviews365 followers
June 26, 2019
Heian (784-1192) dönemindeyiz.
Doğum yapmak dahi kirli bir eylem kadın için..dil öğrenmek,başını gökyüzüne kaldırıp mehtabın ışığına hayranlığı yazmak ise bir o kadar küçük düşürücü..
Adından,doğum ve ölüm tarihinden bile emin olmadığımız bir kadın çıkıyor sonra..Elleri mürekkep lekeleriyle doluyor, yazıyor.. sayfalarca..
Bir kitabında karakterini şöyle konuşturuyor:
“Bir hikayenin ne olduğuyla ve nasıl oluştuğuyla ilgili bir görüşüm var.Roman sadece bir yazarın,diğer bir kişinin maceraları hakkında yazdığı bir öykü değildir.Tam tersine, bu kişinin insana ve eşyaya dair deneyiminden gelir.Bu deneyim o kadar etkileyici ve sarsıcıdır ki,kişi kalbinin sesini durduramaz.Kişinin kendi yaşamında ya da çevresindekilerin yaşamında gördüğü şeyler o kadar önemlidir ki,öylesine unutulup gideceği düşüncesi dayanılmazdır.İnsanların tüm bu şeylerden bihaber olacağı bir zaman gelmemelidir.İşte bence sanat böyle doğmuştur.
Mono no aware,geçiciliğin/eşyanın hüznünü derinlerinde hissediyor o ve bu sert rüzgara karşı unutmamayı siper ediniyor..Söz’ün uçuculuğuna karşı da fırçasını mürekkeple buluşturuyor~
Murasaki Shikibu’nun günlüğü bir ‘nikki’, evet günlük ama günü gününe alınan kayıtlardan ziyade yaşadıklarının ardından kalan hatıralar demek daha doğru görünüyor. Duyguların demlenmesi beklenilmiş, karşısına çıkan tüm güzellikler sindirilmiş ve bedene dahil edilmişçesine.. Sarayı anlatıyor, o görkemi, çiçeklerin içinde uyandırdığı tomurcukları~
Ve en çok renkleri.
Bir eserden keyif almanız için kurguya,büyük sözlere ihtiyacınız yok aslında.. Yazarın dönemine dair naif bir başkaldırışı dahi eseri sahiplenmenizi sağlıyor. Benim için, tam da bu sebeple Murasaki Shikibu’nun kelimeleri değerli. 1000 yıl öncesine dokunmak gibi..
Giydiklerimiz, yaşadığımız yerler, baktığımız çiçekler farklı bile olsa~
Eseri değerli kılan biri daha var: Esin Esen. Çevirisiyle, ön bilgilendirmesi ve notlarıyla büyük bir emek gösteriyor Esen.. Büyük şükran doluyum çeviri sanatçılarına.. İyi ki varsınız! Ve iyi ki kurduğunuz köprüler hayatlarımızın uçlarını bir araya getiriyor🙏🏻
Profile Image for Ezgi Tülü.
414 reviews1,109 followers
March 24, 2018
suyun üstündeki
su kuşlarına
nasıl kayıtsız kalayım?
ben de geçiriyorum günlerimi
dalgalanıp duran bu belirsiz dünyada

Kuşlar o kadar çok kalpten eğleniyor gibi görünse de, bence kendilerince bu dünyadan acı çekiyorlardır. Elimde olmadan kendimle karşılaştırıveriyorum onları.
Profile Image for E. G..
1,112 reviews669 followers
January 8, 2022
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
Profile Image for Carolien.
771 reviews143 followers
January 24, 2022
Written between 1007 and 1010, the author reflects on life at the Japanese court at the time. Interesting descriptions of events and the king's visit to the prime minister and the clothes sound beautiful. I read this to get an idea of the author's style before committing to The Tale of Genji, and am now comfortable that I can tackle this monster.
Profile Image for T.D. Whittle.
Author 3 books188 followers
July 24, 2022
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 text. The fiction version shimmers to life and transports you back to medieval Japan, but the diary did not have that mesmerizing power, at least not for me.
Profile Image for M.M. Strawberry Library & Reviews.
4,033 reviews329 followers
December 19, 2020
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 of details about the colors the court ladies wore. The latter part of the book gets more personal with some commentaries (including negative ones) of other ladies in waiting/court ladies.

I certainly didn't expect this to be written in the same tone as how a 21st-century woman might write in a diary. Still, it bored me. I suppose for people who are really interested in life in 11th century Japan in the royal court, this would be more interesting, but life for a court lady was pretty limited and segmented, with rituals and formalities and so on, seems like life as a servant would have been more interesting because of all the rules about formalities and what have you that high-born people had to follow.

So I think one major reason I was bored with this was because I was expecting a bigger slice of life, and all I got was a tiny sliver?
Profile Image for Nickolas.
3 reviews3 followers
October 29, 2010
"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 and the lives of the People around her. It's a relatively short read, but it will only prove interesting to someone who is fascinated by the workings of Japanese Heian Court at it's peak. If you have no prior knowledge or interest on the subject, I wouldn't suggest reading it.

The passages where Murasaki talks of her rivals are my favorite. She has strong opinions on Sei Shonagon (author of "The Pillow Book") and on Izumi Shikibu (a famous poet and contemporary of Murasaki).

Another alternative would be checking out "The Tale of Murasaki" written by cultural anthropologist Liza Dalby. She wrote a fantastic historical fiction novel about Murasaki based on what scholars know and speculate about one of Japan's first and most celebrated author.
Profile Image for Bri Fidelity.
79 reviews
June 6, 2016
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 absent from the mansion the day the Governor of Harima gave a banquet as a forfeit for losing a game of go, and it was only later that...'

'Sometime after the twentieth of the eighth month, those nobles and senior courtiers whose presence was required at the mansion started to stay the night. They would take naps on the bridge and the veranda of the east wing, and play music in desultory fashion. The younger members, who were as yet unskilled in either koto or flute, held competitions to see who was the best at chanting sūtras and they practiced the latest songs together...'

'His Excellency carried the baby prince in his arms, preceded by Lady Koshōshō with the sword, and Miya no Naishi with the tiger's head.'

'On the last night of the year, the ceremony for casting out devils was over very early, so I was resting in my room, blackening my teeth and putting on a light powder, when...'

'On the ninth of the ninth month, Lady Hyōbu brought me floss-silk damp with chrysanthemum dew.

'"Here," she said, "Her Excellency sent this especially for you. She said you were to use it carefully to wipe old age away!"'

It's like the Dreamlands - or Gormenghast.
Profile Image for Alp Turgut.
396 reviews123 followers
July 27, 2018
Edebiyat tarihinin en önemli eserlerinden biri olarak kabul edilen "The Tale of Genji"nin yazarı Murasaki Shikibu’nun hayatına dair daha çok şey öğrenebilmenizi sağlayan "Murasaki Shikibu’nun Günlüğü", sadece yazar hakkında değil aynı zamanda o dönemlerde geçen Japon törenleri hakkında da bir takım ilginç bilgiler veriyor. Kadın olduğu için çevresi tarafından baskı görmesine rağmen tarihe adını kazımış Shikibu’nun imparator ailesi yanında hizmetli olarak çalıştığı sıralarda gördüğü törenleri harika bir tasvirle günlük şeklinde okuyucuya sunuyor. Yazar ve kültür hakkında daha çok bilgi edinmek isteyenlerin mutlaka okuması gerektiğini düşündüğüm eserin en büyük eksiği ise devamlılık sağlayamaması. Bu yüzden çok da güçlü bir eser olduğunu söyleyemeyeceğim. Tam notum: 3,5/5.

İstanbul, Türkiye

Alp Turgut

Profile Image for Annie.
899 reviews307 followers
May 28, 2016
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 details, told in a cool, detached, slightly depressing voice.

I guess it’s a good introduction to the period— I’m situated, I have an image of what a Heian-period noblewoman’s world is like— which should serve me over the next few weeks of reading, but I was glad this one was short! Sincerely hope Mursaki’s the Tale of Genji is more engaging.
Profile Image for Israel.
280 reviews
April 16, 2018
Fascinante vision, por parte de la autora del "Genji Monogatari", de la sociedad cortesana del periodo Heian, que hara las delicias de cualquier apasionado a la literatura y la cultura japonesa. Y ademas con una introduccion sobresaliente de Carlos Rubio acerca de la autora, su vida y su obra.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,287 reviews731 followers
October 3, 2017
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 text like this is, unless you come at it with a whole host of previous experience with related materials and interests, it's not going to do much. Sure, you could marvel at the depth of psychological analysis present in a text written half a century before the Norman Conquest occurred on the opposite ends of the earth, but even my eyes started glazing over near the end of the last trailing description of aesthetic arrangements, and I've already read and loved The Tale of Genji. I'm not suggesting you tackle TToG first, or that you commit to an academic career path centered around Heian Japan (unless you're not white, there's enough neo-Orientalism floating around), but just that if you're in the habit of skipping both forewords and afterwords in your textual engagement, you're not going to have much of a worthwhile time. Admittedly, the afterword is tedious with its almost complete excision of inner reflection and the foreword is abhorrently Christocentric (Japan's belief system was not evolving on the trajectory towards a Jesus cult), but they still give much needed orientation for a person reading a millennium after the text's composition.

The best parts of this text for me were any time The Tale of Genji was mentioned. If one knew only the general prescriptions of women not being educated or encouraged to write in the dominant language (Chinese) of their day, one would probably imagine a stereotypical Dickinson situation (even this assumption doesn't adhere to the facts of the Transcendentalist poet's life in conjunction with publication), wherein the text was unearthed after death and brought to public view against the creator's misguided wishes. This was not the case with Murasaki (the evidence for the name also shows up in this text), as her position in court was much affected, although the details of the positives and the negatives are hazy, by the revealing of her composition and her having composed it well within her lifetime. On a less academic note, I also got a kick out of her scathing remarks on Sei Shonagon; I had known of them previously, but encountering them firsthand (as firsthand as translation of ancient Japanese into English can get) will make my reading of The Pillow Book all the richer. It's also not difficult to be drawn into Murasaki's meditations, mournful as they are, as they are truly are, in the lazily overused sense of the word, "modern" in their equivocating nostalgia and social analysis. I'll never be able to read the original in the language it was written in, but I wouldn't mind reading other engagements with this short text, should they ever cross my way.

Throughout my self-imposed, if wandering and dabbling, completionist attempts, I've remained aware that certain authors will never rise up the ranks through sheer number, and not just due to the limits of my personal interest. Murasaki Shikibu is such a one, which is why I saved her microtome until I felt like revisiting my memories of her writing. Unlike most with limited bibliography, though, she benefits from a grand reception in the halls of text and textual analysis, well- earned by her display of literary skill so early in the echelons of history. I can only hope interest in her, both biographical and metafictional, remain alive in these art-killing times.
So you see — I still fret over what others think of me, and, if I had to sum up my position, I would have to admit that I still retain a deep sense of attachment to this world. But what can I do about it?
Profile Image for Minnie.
172 reviews51 followers
November 25, 2020

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 on here, and Bowring has done a superb job without being too extensive. The first half is dedicated to a general overview of power, gender and social status in Heian Japan, followed by little spotlights on themes that are prevalent in the diary - poetry, religious rituals, architecture, fashion, court titles. The latter half contains a very short biography (Murasaki is similar to Shakespeare in that we know barely anything about her but have a fairly large body of work that people have been tempted to mine for autobiographical references) and discussions about the date of composition and the very likely possibility that what survives is only a fragment of the original diary.
As someone who knows barely enough about contemporary Japanese culture, let alone its history, I found the information very well-delivered and absolutely sufficient in helping me understand the diary. Bowring might perhaps have added a short sentence clarifying that Their Majesties are the imperial pair and Their Excellencies are the parents of the Empress, because I've seen some reviewers being confused about who is meant by those titles, but to me it was clear enough. On the point of translation I am hardly qualified to pass any kind of judgement, but the text was fluid to read and felt very immediate (the best kind of translation is when you feel like the author is speaking directly to you, not whispering the words into someone else's ear to pass it on to you). The only thing that tripped me up sometimes was the use of the title "bishop", which for me at least has exclusively Christian connotations and seemed out of place in a Japanese diary; but perhaps there is no good equivalent for the Japanese title in English and this is the best approximation Bowring could come up with.

While Murasaki's accounts of court rituals are without a doubt extremely interesting (especially her detailed descriptions of the ladies' dresses, though I can see how some people might find that exhausting in the long run), my favourite parts were actually the sudden self-reflecting passages interspersed throughout. Murasaki was obviously weighed down by something from her past that she never specified in her diary, but I imagine she must have been suffering a lot for her to become so melancholy on the most trivial of occasions. For example, shortly after the much-awaited birth of the Crown Prince, elaborate preparations begin for the arrival of the Emperor, part of which were of course flower decorations.
As the day for the imperial visit to the mansion approached, everything was repaired and polished. Rare chrysanthemums were ordered and transplanted. As I gazed out at them through the wraiths of morning mist - some fading to varying hues, others yellow and in their prime, all arranged in various ways - it seemed to me that old age might indeed be conquered. But then for some strange reason - if only my appetites were more mundane, I might find more joy in life, regain a little youth, and face it all with equanimity - seeing and hearing these marvellous, auspicious events only served to strengthen my yearnings. I felt downcast, vexed that nothing was turning out as I had hoped and that my misery simply seemed to increase.
"But why?" I asked myself. "Now surely is the time to forget. It does me no good to fret, and besides, it will only make matters worse."
As day dawned, I looked outside and saw the ducks playing about on the lake as if they had not a care in the world:

Can I remain indifferent to those birds on the water?
I too am floating in a sad uncertain world.

They looked as though they were enjoying life but must suffer greatly, I thought.

What is she trying to forget? What is this misery that is haunting her? Are the cut flowers and the delay of their decay any clues? I really would have liked to find out, to hear her confide what was obviously weighing her down so much.
Profile Image for Hilâl.
154 reviews1 follower
June 3, 2016
Çok beğenerek okuduğum kitaplardan biri oldu. Beklettiğime üzüldüm biraz ama o arada Murasaki'nin en ünlü eseri Genji Monogatari'nin 2009 yapımı olan animesini izlemek istemiştim (aslında okumak istedim ama çevirisi yok Türkçe'de, bu kitaba öyle rastlamıştım zaten, Genji'yi ararken) ve onu da bitirmem uzun sürdü.

Kitabımız Heian döneminde yaşamış, bazı araştırmacıların dünyanın en eski romanı olarak kabul ettiği Genji Monogatari'nin yazarı olan Murasaki Shikibu'nun nedimelik yaptığı dönemleri anlattığı 3 ciltten ( kitabın içeriği 3 kısımdan oluşuyor, orjinale yakın diye cilt kelimesi kullanılmış sanırım) oluşan, günü gününe yazılmamış, daha çok hatırat denilebilecek bir eserdi. Bu 3 cilt dediğim ana metin 76 sayfa, dipnotlar ve kaynakça da 20 sayfa ve çevirmenin eklediği dönemle alakalı 40-50 sayfalık bir kısım da var. Aslında orjinal metnin daha uzun olduğu düşünülüyormuş ama kanıt yok, zaten Murasaki Shikibu'nun adı bile bilinmiyor.

Shikibu, günlüğünde prenslerin doğum zamanlarını, saray hayatını, tanıdığı insanlardan bahsediyordu. Hatta ana metnin çoğunluğunda nedimelerin kıyafetlerini anlattığını söyleyebilirim. (saray hayatında çok önemli olsa gerek) Ama Shikibu'nun üslubu öyle harika ki kitabı elinizden bırakmak istemiyorsunuz. Bu kadar betimlemeyi takmıyorsunuz (yani, aslında günlük bu değil mi, betimleme normaldir.) En sevdiğim kısım 2.cilt oldu, çünkü kendi duygularını ön plana çıkardığı kısımdı, Shikibu orada aynen şunu diyor: Bu şekilde ondan bundan bahsederek, kendisine ait hatırlanacak bir tek şeyi bile olmadan yaşayıp giden biri... Bu cümle beni fazlasıyla etkiledi, zira genel olarak Japon edebiyatından okuduğum kitaplardan hissettiğim yalnızlık ve yabancılaşmanın yansımasını gördüğümü düşündüm. Ama fazla uzunca bir kısım değildi bu duygu içerikli kısım.

Heian dönemi Japonya'nın edebiyat alanında da fazlaca aktif olduğu bir dönemmiş, bu yüzden kitabın içinde geçen şiirler vardı, aslında bunlar atışma gibi, birbirine cevap verdiğin, gizli anlamlar içeren dizeler. Onları da okumak çok hoşuma gitti, zaten Karuta isimli oyundan dolayı biraz şiirlerine ilgi duyuyordum, belki bu kitabın vesilesiyle bu alanda farklı şeyler de okuyabilirim.

5 yerine 4 vermemin sebepleri ise;
1.si, kitabın başındaki dönemle alakalı bilgilere rağmen bu konudaki bilgi birikimim yeterli değildi ve verim alamadığımı düşünmem,
2.si, Genji Monogatari'nin animesini pek sevmemiş olmam. Onla hiç alakası yok filan diyeceksiniz ama bilmiyorum, o etkiledi bence beni. :D Ama kitap versiyonunu Esin Esen gibi bir çevirmenle okuyabilsek keşke, Shikibu'nun dilini çok güzel yansıtmıştı çünkü.

Genel manada bilgilendirici ve güzeldi. Tavsiye ederim ama Japon edebiyatına, hatta geleneksel Japon edebiyatına ilginiz yoksa, kesinlikle sıkıcı olacaktır.
Profile Image for NipPop Bologna.
49 reviews31 followers
April 18, 2021
Videorecensione: x

Murasaki Shikibu, già autrice del “classico per eccellenza” della letteratura giapponese, cioè del Genji Monogatari, la storia del principe Genji, in questo diario ci lascia una testimonianza di un frammento della sua vita.

I diari delle dame di corte in epoca Heian rappresentano un genere molto praticato che all’epoca godeva tuttavia di scarsissima considerazione. Si trattava di opere comunque semi-letterarie, con una circolazione semi-privata, anche se è chiaro che sono scritte per essere lette e non semplicemente per raccogliere lo sfogo intimo ed emozionale delle autrici.

Erano appunto testi considerati tutto sommato secondari rispetto a produzioni di maggiore prestigio, di maggiore successo, come potevano essere i monogatari come il Genji, quindi racconti di fiction, oppure la poesia, il waka in particolare.

I diari delle dame di corte, tuttavia, per noi rappresentano oggi una testimonianza preziosa sulla vita di queste donne che all’interno di una società di stampo patriarcale: una società che era dominata a livello aristocratico dalla poligamia, che ovviamente costituiva per le donne un motivo e un elemento di precarietà e di fragilità. Nonostante ciò, sono proprio loro a diventare le protagoniste della letteratura giapponese, della prima forma di vera letteratura giapponese.

Murasaki Shikibu è stata una di queste dame, è stata una delle più brillanti, delle più colte. Si ritiene che sia entrata a servizio a corte attorno al 1005 per rimanerci circa una decina d’anni - e questi sono anni che in realtà vedono fiorire un numero di scrittrici particolarmente brillanti veramente notevole.

Tutto questo fervore è legato al fatto che siamo in un periodo in cui per la prima volta ci sono due consorti imperiali. Infatti l’imperatore Ichijō, che era allora sul trono, aveva due consorti principali: Teishi, figlia di Fujiwara no Michitaka e Sōshi, figlia di Fujiwara no Michinaga, che diventerà l’uomo politico più brillante e più potente dell’epoca.

Attorno a queste due dame di alto lignaggio si costituiscono dei circoli di dame di corte, che brillano non solo per l’eleganza, la raffinatezza e la bellezza ma anche per la loro cultura, per il loro ingegno e per la loro creatività in ambito letterario. Murasaki Shikibu era al servizio di Sōshi, la sua famiglia era legata alla famiglia, al ramo dei Fujiwara rappresentato da Michinaga, che poi diventerà il capo famiglia a tutti gli effetti.

Clicca qui per guardare la recensione completa!
Profile Image for Gina.
281 reviews7 followers
November 7, 2015
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 the women she's surrounded with and expresses some of her own personal thoughts about matters of propriety and so on.

I may keep it on my shelves just for those last parts.
Profile Image for Meltem Sağlam.
Author 1 book90 followers
November 26, 2018
Heian (784-1192) Dönemi’nde yaşamış bir saray nedimesinin günlük notları. O dönemde saray nedimeleri, soylu ailelerin kızlarından ve önemli edebi kişiliklerden seçiliyormuş. Metnin belli bir sistemi yok. Dönemin saray kültürünü, gelenek ve alışkanlıklarını, törenlerini, en ince detaylarına kadar giysilerinin özelliklerini, yaşam alanlarını ve kısmen insan ilişkilerini merak edenler için mükemmel bir kaynak.

“… üstünde uyuduğumuz suyu
sunanın teleklerindeki kırağıdan
az değil
yalnız yattığım gecenin soğuğu

üzerimdeki kırağıyı silip atacak
arkadaşım yokken uyandığımda
gecenin bir yarısı
eşini özleyen yaban ördeği gibi
…”; sf:38.
Profile Image for Zeynep Bal.
45 reviews2 followers
September 26, 2015
inanılmaz güzel bir kitap. Esin Esen'in girişinde verdiği bilgiler kitabın okunmasını kolaylastirmakla birlikte Heian dönemi ile ilgili ciddi bilgiler edinmenize sebep oluyor.
Profile Image for Pontus Alexander.
122 reviews109 followers
March 22, 2020
. . . 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. Perhaps my mind was “tuned in” to nostalgia after having watched Only Yesterday,(the Takahata film) the same day as I started reading Lady Murasaki’s diary. Memories long lost of my own life started floating around while reading, even my dreams at night changed from daily worries and fears to dreams of nostalgic melancholy.

Even though the setting and the culture of the diary is so alien to me and my life, I could put myself into her situation of isolation, grasp for something more to this world, and just the general feeling of time passing by.

° Can I remain indifferent to those birds on the water? 

I too am floating in a sad uncertain world.

° For some years now I had existed day to day in listless fashion, taking note of the flowers, the birds in song, the way the skies change from season to season, the moon, the frost and snow, doing little more than registering the passage of time. How would it all turn out? . . . 

° Indeed everything, however slight, conspired to make me feel as if I had entreated a different world.

° As does the year, so do my days draw to an end;

How desolate the sounds of the wind in my heart 

. . .

° Sei Shōnagon, for instance, was dreadfully conceited . . .
Well, her Pillow Book is still next on the list for me!

I would have to admit that I still retain a deep sense of attachment to this world. But what can I do about it?
Profile Image for Elif.
978 reviews25 followers
December 29, 2022
İnsanları eleştirmek kolay, ama kalbini doğru kullanmak zor. Bu gerçeği unutup en akıllı benim diye düşünmek, insanları hakir görmek, insanlar hakkında kötü sözler sarf etmek o insanın kendi seviyesini ortaya çıkarır.
Murasaki Shikibu’nun Günlüğü bir süredir okuma listemde yer alıyordu. Murasaki Shikibu’nun ismiyle daha öncesinde çok az yerde karşılaştım, Japon edebiyatı açısından son derece önemli bir kadından neden daha çok bahsedilmediğini tahmin etmek zor değil. Kendisi kadınların eğitimine doğru düzgün önem gösterilmemiş bir dönemde eğitim görmüş ve kendisini geliştirmiş, normalde kadınlara öğretilmeyen Çince’yi öğrenmiş biri. Bunu da elbette babası sayesinde yapabilmiş. Bu kitap onun günlüğünden çok daha fazlasını içeriyor. Gerçekten özenli bir baskıya sahip. Başlangıç kısmında yer alan açıklamalarla Murasaki Shikibu’nun yaşadığı Heinan dönemi detaylandırılmış ve kitapta en çok keyif aldığım kısım burasıydı. Kadınların hareketlerini kısıtlayan 20 parça kıyafet giymeleri, nasıl bir hayat sürdükleri, soyluların içerisindeki önem sırasını ve daha fazlasını anlatmışlar. Sonrasında 3 kısımdan oluşan günlük yer alıyor. Prensin doğumu, yapılan kutlamalar, seremoniler derken Murasaki Shikibu sarayın en ilginç olaylarını detaylarıyla aktarmayı başarmış. Günümüz günlük tarzından ziyade imparatoriçe ve sarayda olup bitenlerin görsel anlatımını içeriyor. Kendi düşünceleri, özel yaşantısı çok daha az yere sahip. Elbette burada 1000 yıllık bir kitaptan söz ediyoruz anlatılan her bir cümle ve bu cümlelerin nasıl yazıldığı bile büyük bir öneme sahip. Notlar kısmı da ayrıca detaylarla dolu ki eğer bu kadar özenli bir baskı olmasaydı kitabın bana katacakları çok daha sınırlı olurdu. Farklı bir okumaydı, Japon kültürü hakkında birçok bilgi edinmemi sağladı. Ayrıca o dönemde sarayda yaşıyor olsaydım sıkıntıdan ve kıyafet yoğunluğundan boğulacağımı düşündüm 😄
Profile Image for Brendan Coster.
268 reviews10 followers
February 24, 2015
"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 nobility in the Court, of course, since all that glory is built on the backs of 250 years of peasant rice farmers....

But that quote is meaningful in the context of this group whose greatest worries involved sex, courtesy, and fashion. There was barely any war, it, and the preceding Nara period, we essentially dark ages for most the rest of the world. There was barely any war or violence, and the Heian period saw a fairly low amount of plague/natural disasters, certainly nothing great enough to cause it's collapse.... though, of course, that golden age did cause it's own collapse. Once the rest of toughened-rising-warrior-caste Japan realized they were being led by a handful of pampered socialites, there was literally no way for that era to maintain itself in the face it's own decadent self destruction.

"It was not so bad;" No, not for the right people, but then... "Only one colour was a little too pale." With our historical hindsight, this is no different then, "Et in Arcadia ego" (or, even in Arcadia, death is there). Which is all to say, the culture, the attitude, the ideas and things of a golden age are the very things that sew it's own destruction.
Profile Image for Mert.
Author 2 books61 followers
September 25, 2020
Puanım 3/5 (%65/100)

Kitabın başında Esin Esen tarafından hazırlanmış çok güzel bir bölüm bulunuyor. O kısmı kesinlikle okumanızı tavsiye ediyorum. Heian dönemi, Murasaki Shikibu ve Japon kültürüne ve tarihine ait birçok bilgi bulunuyor. Bu kısmı özellikle dikkatle ve büyük zevkle okudum. Sarayda kadınların kıyafetlerinden, saçlarından tutun da sarayın mimarisine kadar bir sürü bilgi verilmiş.

Gelelim kitabın asıl kısmına. Murasaki Shikibu'nun günlüğü üç ana ciltten oluşuyor. İlk cilt Prens Atsuhira'nın doğumu ve onun önemini anlatıyor. Bu kısımda Heian dönemine dair birçok şey öğrenmek de mümkün. İkinci cilt mektup bölümü diye adlandırılmış ve içerisindeki bilgilerin aslında Murasaki'nin arkadaşına yazdığı mektuplar olduğu düşünülüyor. Bu kısım yazarın iç dünyasını ve onun stilini öğrendiğimiz kısım. Üçüncü ve son kısım ise genel olarak saray yaşamını anlatıyor. Prens Atsuhira'dan sonra gelen Prens Atsunaga ve sarayda gerçekleşen birçok olay anlatılıyor. Bu üç bölümün de birbirinden bağımsız okunması gerekiyor. Japon tarihine ve kültürüne ilgi duyuyorsanız okumanız gereken bir kitap olduğunu düşünüyorum.
Profile Image for Young At Heart Reader.
182 reviews3 followers
May 31, 2017
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 relatable and profound. I mean, a woman talking about how out of place she feels and how she wants to distance herself from despair, yet can't rid herself of it. 1000 years between us and there is that connection in emotions and experience. Incredible.
Profile Image for Carlo.
85 reviews
June 3, 2018
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.
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