Sei Shōnagon (circa 9661017/1025) was a lady in waiting to the Heian Japanese Empress Sadako (aka Teishi) and famous for her learning as well as her wit which was unkind but very genuine. Sei was good company if you were her social superior or one of the few people she genuinely liked. Otherwise... not so much.
While we know a great deal about what she was like and how she thought from The Pillow Book we know practically nothing about her life. She was certainly a member of the Kiyowara family, probably a daughter of Kiyowara no Motosuke. Her real name is unknown, but many scholars think it might have been Kiyohara Nagiko. She may have been briefly married to one Tachibana no Norimitsu by whom she had a son and there is a tradition that she died in poverty which is very likely a Karmic Death inflicted on her by later commentators who were aroused to moral dismay by her frankly described participation in the ambiguous and affair-ridden mess that was Heian-era marriage and romance.
Her personality was direct and aggressive by nature, only slightly modified by the customs of her time and place, and she was refreshingly free from the self-pity that seems to permeate the writings of other Heian women.
- Friend to All Children: Sei rather surprisingly is this - at least of pretty well behaved children.
- Jerkass: A section of the Pillow Book describes the court ladies' reaction to an illiterate commoner who comes to beg alms from the palace after his house has burnt down. Sei writes for him a poem about the tragedy of transience, which he delightedly leaves with believing it to a promissory note. The ladies all think this is hilarious.
- Like a God to Me: Sei's attitude to the Empress Sadako - possibly sincere.
- Really Gets Around: Sei describes the correct way of receiving male visitors and is clearly on close terms with a number of men about the court.
- The Rival: With Murasaki Shikibu who served the Empress Akiko, Sadako's rival. Murasaki's opinion of Sei is the heading quote. Sei had nothing at all to say about Murasaki herself but plenty of unkind remarks to make about her late husband and brother.
- Shrines and Temples: Sei's religion is barely skin deep but she very much enjoys her regular pilgrimages to assorted fashionable Temples around the Capital.