A short note on the term Pillow book

Pillow book is a form of a commonplace book that appears to have originated in Japan. It is a compilation of notes, jottings, ‘occasional writings; the sort of thing that might go into an extended diary or journal. More generally, a pillow book is a collection of notebooks or notes which have been collated to show a period of someone or something’s life.

A classic example, and one of the earliest extant, is The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, which is titled Makura no Sōshi (‘notes of the pillow”) and was composed c. 1000. Sei Shõnagon was a lady-in-waiting to Empress Sadako during the last decade of the 10th c. The story of its origin is that when a bundle of unused notebooks was brought to the Empress she wondered what to do with them. The lady-in-waiting suggested that she should have them and make them into a pillow. That may have meant putting them into the drawers of a wooden pillow. She subsequently filled the notebooks with random facts and jottings, lists, and so forth. This early pillow book is the forerunner of a traditional Japanese genre called zuihitsu (‘occasional writings’) which still exists.

Other major works from the same period include Kamo no Chōmei’s Hōjōki and Yoshida Kenkō’s Tsurezuregusa

Peter Greenaway released his film The Pillow Book in 1996.

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