A List of “Rare Things” From 11th-Century Japanese Court Lady Sei Shonagon, World’s First Blogger
By Maria Popova
Between the 990s and the early 11th century, Japanese court lady Sei Shonagon set out to record her observations of and musings on life, Japanese culture, the intricacies of the human condition. Her writings were eventually collected and published in The Pillow Book (public library) in 1002. An archive of pictures and illustrations, records of interesting events in court, and daily personal thoughts, many in list-form, this was arguably the world’s first “blog” by conceptual format and Sh?nagon the world’s first blogger*.
Among her lists was this lovely meditation on “rare things”:
71. Rare Things–
A son-in-law who’s praised by his wife’s father. Likewise, a wife who’s loved by her mother-in-law.
A pair of silver tweezers that can actually pull out hairs properly.
A retainer who doesn’t speak ill of his master.
A person who is without a single quirk. Someone who’s superior in both appearance and character, and who’s remained utterly blameless throughout his long dealings with the world.
You never find an instance of two people living together who continue to be overawed by each other’s excellence and always treat each other with scrupulous care and respect, so such a relationship is obviously a great rarity.
Copying out a tale or a volume of poems without smearing any ink on the book you’re copying from. If you’re copying it from some beautiful bound book, you try to take immense care, but somehow you always manage to get ink on it.
Two women, let alone a man and a woman, who vow themselves to each other forever, and actually manage to remain on good terms to the end.
For a related treat, see these 5 vintage versions of modern social media.
* Thanks to reader Paul Simon for the tip
Published August 15, 2012