The Pillow Book of Lady Kasa


162 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations
ISBN 0-919688-66-7
DDC C813'.6





Reviewed by Patricia Morley

Patricia Morley is professor emerita of English and Canadian Studies at
Concordia University and an avid outdoor recreationist. She is the
author of several books, including The Mountain Is Moving: Japanese
Women’s Lives, Kurlek and Margaret Laurence: T


This fictional diary of a Japanese court lady who lived more than 1000
ago, together with its pseudo-scholarly introduction, are the delightful
misrepresentations of Barrie Sherwood’s first novel. Naran society was
shaped by hierarchy, ritual, and tradition. Citizens of every social
rank had little choice but to conform. “Pillow books,” as the
mock-scholar informs us, were informal notes on the day’s events kept
by the aristocracy inside their “pillows”: read, wooden boxes.
Hairstyles were so ornate that they were protected and worn for weeks,
thanks to such pillows.

The legitimate sample of this Japanese literary genre is The Pillow
Book of Sei Shonagon, a collection of anecdotes, poems, sketches, and
lists of whatever amused or displeased this court lady. Sherwood’s
fictional authority, in an introduction, puts forward “Kasa’s pillow
book” as one of the great archeological discoveries in Japanese
history. The text begins in the fall with the Chrysanthemum Festival.
The lady is horrified to find herself amused rather than impressed by
the ceremonial procession. Historical and cultural information slips
down easily for the reader thanks to the dialogue and personalities
involved. Court intrigue abounds, as do lyric poems inserted as
commentary on events.

The Pillow Book of Lady Kasa makes a delightful introduction to the
attitudes and amusements of Japan’s ancient courtly society. History
has rarely been easier to read.


Sherwood, Barrie., “The Pillow Book of Lady Kasa,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,