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  • Reading a Heian BlogA New Translation of Makura no Sōshi
  • Machiko Midorikawa (bio)
Sei Shōnagon . The Pillow Book. Translated by Meredith McKinney. London: Penguin Books, 2006. 400 pages. Softcover £10.99/$16.00.

To a greater or lesser degree, any work of classical Japanese literature will require modern readers to reconsider basic concepts of form or genre, but Makura no sōshi is perhaps the extreme case. As modern readers, we are used to conventional written styles of fiction and verse, as well as diaries, criticism, letters, reportage, and e-mail, but an encounter with Makura no sōshi forces us to rethink from scratch our understanding of literary form and genre. The work incorporates three basic components: diary-style sections (nikkiteki shōdan), random jottings (zuisōteki shōdan), and catalogues (ruijūteki shōdan). The catalogues are easy enough to distinguish from the other two elements, but diary-style sections and random jottings are sometimes harder to differentiate. It is perhaps best to emphasize the interrelations between the three types, as is sometimes recommended.1

From the end of the 1990s, research on Makura no sōshi entered a new era. A new scholarly edition of the text based on the Sankanbon lineage was published, followed soon after by an encyclopedic dictionary.2 These publications came decades after comparable publications on Genji monogatari, Ikeda Kikan's edition of 1953 and dictionary of 1960. As if making up for lost time, researchers on Makura no sōshi began to approach the text in its variant forms in a new way, with the Sankanbon text becoming the most read of the different versions. It is entirely appropriate, then, that in the first complete English translation since Ivan Morris's of 1967,3 Meredith McKinney has based her new translation on this version. [End Page 143]

The Sankanbon Makura no Sōshi

The Sankanbon is not a single text, but a lineage of related manuscripts. It takes its name from the fact that most of these manuscripts consist of three kan, or fascicles. The Yōmei Bunko manuscript of the Sankanbon has become the standard base text, giving it a position among texts of Makura no sōshi analogous to the Ōshimabon among texts of Genji monogatari. Texts for general readers are based on these versions. Those who do research on Makura no sōshi read the Sankanbon version in conjunction with other versions, principally the Nōinbon text.

As is the case with most Heian classics, no manuscript in the author's hand has survived. Throughout the Edo period and into the early twentieth century, people typically read Makura no sōshi in the woodblock-printed version with commentary by Kitamura Kigin (1625-1705) known as Makura no sōshi shunshoshō(Makura no sōshi, Notes on Spring, the Dawn), first printed in the Keian era (1648-1651). Modern textual criticism of the work began with Ikeda Kikan's discovery in 1923 of the Maeda-ke-bon , a manuscript thought to date to the Kamakura period. Ikeda reexamined the known texts of the work and divided them on the basis of their content and structure into two groups comprising a total of four lineages:

  1. A.

    Zassan keitai (randomly organized texts)

    1. 1. Sankanbon keitō (Sankanbon lineage)

    2. 2. Den Nōin shojihon keitō (Nōinbon lineage, more literally, "lineage of texts deriving from one held to have been possessed by Nōin")

  2. B.

    Ruisan keitai (organized texts)

    1. 3. Sakaibon keitō (Sakaibon lineage)

    2. 4. Maeda-ke-bon (kohon) ( ; Maeda-ke-bon, single manuscript) 4

The so-called zassan keitai group consists of texts in which the different elements (diary, lists, and jottings) are jumbled together, whereas ruisan keitai describes texts in which the sections have been arranged in some kind of order. Ikeda Kikan concluded that the original version of Makura no sōshi (Urtext) was in the ruisan keitai, or organized format, but this theory was convincingly over-turned by Kusunoki Michitaka .5 Researchers now believe that the organized texts were created through later editing and that the randomly arranged texts are closer to the work as it was originally written.

The Nōinbon takes its name from the...


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