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.
I concealed my tears as best I could. On about the twentieth day of the retreat I dreamed that my hair was cut and my forehead bared like a nun. Seven or eight days later I dreamed that a viper was crawling among my entrails and gnawing at my liver, and that the proper remedy for the difficulty was to pour water over my face. I do not know whether these dreams were good or bad, but I write them down so that those who hear of my fate will know what trust to put in dreams and signs from the
may have seemed a pointless one.35 As when I had passed before, there were women and children gathering herbs in the marshes at Kitano,36 with little apparent regard for how they might look, and I thought of the old poem about the marsh grasses and the skirt wet from melting snow.37 The scenery around Funaoka was most impressive. It was dark when I reached home, and after I had gone to bed I was again startled by a pounding on the gate, and again, strangely, it was the Prince. I wondered whether
after we were all undressed and in bed. It was a strange month indeed that saw so many visits, especially since, with the annual lists of appointments and honors, it was such a busy month at court. The Second Month came, and the red plums were redder and brighter than usual; but there was no one to enjoy them with me. The boy did break off a branch and send it to the lady from Yamato with this poem: "As I wait and wait the long years through, my tears stain my sleeves the bloody color of these
Kaneie and of Takaaki's wife, left Kyoto to become a priest early in 962, first on Mt. Hiei and later on Tōnomine, a mountain south of Nara. He is the principal subject (the compilation seems to have been by someone else) of a journal, largely poetic, called the Takamitsu Nikki or Tōnomine Shōshō Monoeatari. The author here plans the details of her letter to substantiate the story that it comes from the hermit at Tōnomine: it is on gray kanyaeami, official paper (perhaps lending a certain
because of this benevolent sign from the Buddha the author and Kaneie were reconciled. 99. The original is less clear. Something about the boat surprises. 100. A popular song of the day? 101. Near the point where the Seta River flows from Lake Biwa. There are other literary references to Yamabukinosaki and Ikagasaki, but neither place has been identified. 102. In the Seventh Month. 103. Tokoro, which usually stands for Kurōdodokoro. See Note 121, Book 1. 104. Subjects and objects are not