SFU English 380: Mutilation and Foreign Relations in the Japanese Novel

A class blog for students of English 380 - "Literature in Translation" - at Simon Fraser University in Autumn 2005.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

First Reading

As stated in lecture, the first book in the course is Makura no Soshi [ 枕草子 ] - Pillow Tales by Sei Shonagon [ 清少納言] circa 1000 AD. You should be read to section 59 by Thursdays's lecture.

Following up on my comment that "Sei Shonagon" is not the author's name as we understand people's names, "shonagaon"[ 少納言 ] is Heian Japanese for "[minor] councillor" - in other words, an honorific way to designate her court function - and "Sei" [ 清 ] is an alternative way to read the name of the clan-family into which she was born: specifically "Kiyohara" [ 清原 ].

This is similar to the name "Genji" - Gen [ 源 ] is an alternative way to read the kanji for "Minamoto" and ji [ 氏 ] is a kanji for "family." As we will hear, "Genji"'s father, the Emperor, decided for political reasons (mainly one of his mothers-in-law playing Agrippina) to make him a commoner and thus bestowed on him the honourary surname "Minamoto" customary in such occasions.


At 12:06 PM, Blogger Joycelyn said...

I don't know if anyone is interested in knowing, but when I went Japan, the tour guide told me this.

People used to have no last names. When last names were implemented, the emperor sent his officials to give people their last names. Some rich people would bribe the officials to give them a good last name, such as "Rich Field", which would present the family as owners of many fields making them rich. People who had no money to bride the officials would have last names that was not as good. At that time, the family name represents their status, so it was important to get a good last name as it symbolizes the family status.


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