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Shonagon’s entry “Especially Delightful is the First Day” from The Pillow Book describes the New Year’s festivities that would take place in the imperial palace. These festivities went on for weeks after New Year’s Day. Although Shonagon’s “Especially Delightful is the First Day” was written over a thousand years ago, the feelings of enjoyment and excitement are still relatable today. The first line in “Especially Delightful is the First Day” recalls how New Year’s Day is often covered in mist.
This entry in The Pillow Book records memorable events that Shonagon recalls during the first couple weeks of the new year. She mentions both events that happen every year and particular memories.
“Especially Delightful is the First Day” contains many details and descriptions that bring Shonagon’s memories to life. The events she chooses to write about range from amusing mishaps to her impressions of some of the Fourth and Fifth Rank officials. The entry is arranged in chronological order, making it easier to imagine the atmosphere in the palace during the beginning of the year.
The entry begins with the arrival of the nobility who reside outside of the palace and ends with the period of appointments. This entry is meant to amuse the reader. One of the first stories Shonagon mentions in “Especially Delightful is the First Day” is how there was a large bump in the road caused by the ground-beam of the palace’s Central Gate. When carriages were drawn over the ground beam, the ladies bumped their heads together and had the combs knocked out of their hair.
Shonagon enjoyed listening to the laughter after this happened. Another humorous story is how on the fifteenth day all the women would carry a hidden gruel stick to try and hit others. Shonagon notes how “Even in the Palace, where the atmosphere is usually so solemn, everything is in confusion on this day, and no one stands on ceremony”. This is especially noteworthy because of the emphasis on customs and decorum during the Heian Period. A few of the stories in this entry aren’t as humorous, but they are still amusing. On the eve of the last day of the old year, the world feels tense with excitement. Friends and strangers alike gather to welcome the new year.
When a large group gathers at the door, I enjoy the laughing that can be heard in the confusion. Soon after everyone arrives my father starts to sing karaoke. Later on, someone will begin trying to sing in a funny voice. Extra food is eaten with the excuse that it is the last time this year. Some people have been drinking, and I can smell it on them. I try to avoid them. As midnight approaches, everyone boards the neighbor’s boat or goes onto the balcony. The excitement builds every second midnight draws closer. As midnight finally strikes, the sky is lit by dozens of fireworks. The sky eventually grows dark again and everyone returns home. More games and food are enjoyed with the excuse that it is the first time this year.
It is unfortunate if someone drinks so much they end up being an annoyance to others. For my entry, I chose to base it on my New Year’s Eves spent living on the water. I also updated the timeline for my story; because the holiday is typically celebrated only on December 31st and the morning of the 1st. I tried to keep my intended audience rather broad, even more so than Shonagon. Although, because of the limited amount of literate people in Japan during the Heian Period, Shonagon’s intended audience would have had to have been rather narrow. It seems likely that her intended audience would have been other court ladies, who made up a large part of the literary community at the time.
Even today, because her story is about Heian court life, the audience for The Pillow Book is somewhat niche. However, despite the setting for the book, the emotions Shonagon expresses in her story make it relatable for a modern audience. The amusing stories Shonagon tells about in her entry “Especially Delightful is the First Day” offer a glimpse into how New Year’s was celebrated in the Heian Period. Although the celebration was much longer and more extravagant for Shonagon, it was used to gather people together to enjoy the coming year just like today.
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