The Diary of Murasaki Shikibu – Descriptions of ladies of the court

LADY DAINAGON is very small and refined, white, beautiful, and round, though in demeanour very lofty. Her hair is three inches longer than her height. She uses exquisitely carved hairpins. Her face is lovely, her manners delicate and charming.

LADY SENJI is also a little person, and haughty. Her hair is fine and glossy and one foot longer than the ordinary. She puts us to shame, her carriage is so noble. When she walks before us we feel so much in the shade that we are uncomfortable. Her mind and speech make us feel that a really noble person ought to be like her.

LADY SHIKIBU is her younger sister. She is too plump, and her complexion is a fragrant white. She has a bright small face and beautiful hair, although it is not long. She presents herself before the Queen with false hair. Her plump appearance, oh, smile-giving! Her eyes and forehead are lovely indeed; her smile is full of sweetness.

LADY KOHYOÉ-NO-JO is also refined. These ladies cannot be looked down upon by court nobles. With every one some fault is to be found, but only those who are ever mindful to conceal it even when alone, can completely succeed.

There is also LADY GOSETCHI-NO-BEN. She is the adopted daughter of Middle Adviser Hei. Her face is like a picture. She has a broad forehead and eyelids drooping at the corners. Her features are not remarkable at any point, but her complexion is white, her hands and arms are pretty. When I saw her in the spring for the first time her hair, which was profusely abundant, was one foot longer than herself, but it suddenly became thinner at the ends, and now it is only a little longer than she is.

1. Draw a picture showing the features of a “beautiful” Japanese woman described above.
2. Why do you think they wanted the women to be “round” and “plump”?
3. Describe the way the women’s faces were supposed to look.
4. Describe the way the women’s hair was supposed to be.

Adapted from Mr. Roughton