What is a pillow book?


Posted on February 15, 2013 by

Why is Pillow Book of the Flower Samurai a pillow book? What is a pillow book?

Has anyone read or seen the movie of “Memoirs of a Geisha?” Remember when Chiyo, or later Sayuri,  practiced to sleep on a pillow, basically a neck rest, so she would not disturb her hair?

In ancient  Japan, people did sleep on these hard pillows. I knew basically what they looked like, and I  believe these are a fairly typical pillows:

 pillows from old Japan

The pillow on the left is an empty wooden one and the one on the right is lacquered with maki-e (MA- KEE-A) which is gold and/or silver powder applied into the lacquer for design. The results are exquisite. These pillows, as you can see, are both hollow. When the aristocratic women would keep a diary, they stored them inside their pillows. That is why the diaries are called “pillow books.”

 I found the picture below with the pillow on top of the hard lacquered maki-e wedge. But I really don’t think that the women used that kind of pillow on top of a regular wooden pillow. While pillows existed in the Heian period,  they were mostly square. When Hitomi calls Kozaishō to her “office,” she notices that Hitomi’s pillows haven’t been changed for new ones for the season. Those pillows would be the square ones.




While this picture of the two women postdates Kozaishō  by several centuries, the arrangement and quilts would not have changed much.

Two women sleeping under winter quilts

Two women sleeping under winter quilts


I’m wondering if after hard day in front of the computer, sleeping with my neck supported on one of those wooden pillows might not be a good thing?

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