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Sei Shōnagon

(fl late 10th century). One of the best known of the brilliant women writers of the Heian period (794-1185); author of Makura no sōshi (996-1012; tr The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon). Two superlative prose works distinguish Japanese literature of the period around the year 1000. One is the Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji); the other is Makura no sōshi, a slender volume of short eyewitness narratives, casual essays, impressions, reflections, lists, and imagined scenes. Sei worked as a lady-in-waiting at the court of Sadako (976-1001), who was the consort of the young emperor Ichijō (r 986-1011). Makura no sōshi is valued not only as a literary masterpiece, but as a work of historical significance as well. The impressions of the world about her result that Sei Shōnagon recorded in it result in a detailed account of events and customs at the Heian court. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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