Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
It was the custom among aristocrats in those days to call court lady (nyōbō) with a combined name which was taken from their clan name and some court office which is their own or their relatives' office. "Sei" (清) comes from the Kiyohara (清原) clan and "Shōnagon" was a government post. It is unknown which of her relatives held the post of shōnagon. Her real name is also unknown. It has been a topic of interest among scholars, who generally favor Kiyowara Nagiko (清原 諾子) as a likely possibility.
Her life is almost unknown except what is said in her writings. She was the daughter of Kiyohara no Motosuke , a scholar and famous waka poet. Her grandfather Kiyohara no Fukayabu was also known as a famous waka poet. They were middle ranking members of the court and had difficulties since they were never granted an office in the court.
She married three times, as far as we know, and had at least a daughter. When she began to serve the Empress Teishi, the empress of Emperor Ichijō, she was supposedly divorced and unmarried. As soon as she served the Empress, she was fascinated by the young and beautiful Empress who was a teenager when they met.
Shōnagon achieved fame through her work, The Pillow Book. The Pillow Book is a collection of lists, gossip, poetry, observations, complaints and anything else she found of interest during her years in the court during the middle Heian Period. In The Pillow Book Shōnagon reports the troubles Empress Teishi had after her father died and Fujiwara no Michinaga made one his of daughters another empress of the Emperor Ichijō. Because of the risk of fire, the royals lived outside of the Grand Palace, and the Empress Teishi lived in a part of Chugushiki, the Bureau of Serving the Empress. Sei Shōnagon referred to the death of her greatest supporter lightly and didn't imply it was difficult. Her writing depicts the Court of the young Empress as full of an elegant and merry atmosphere.
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