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Creator / Sei Shonagon

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Sei Shonagon, for instance, was dreadfully conceited. She thought herself so clever, and littered her writings with Chinese characters, but if you examine them closely, they left a great deal to be desired.
Murasaki Shikibu, Diary

Sei Shōnagon (circa 966–1017/1025) 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 else about her life. She was certainly a member of the Kiyohara family, probably a daughter of Kiyohara no Motosuke. Her real name is unknown, but many scholars think it might have been Kiyohara no Nagiko. She may have been briefly married to Tachibana no Norimitsu, by whom she had a son. 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. Or she may have married a second time and had a daughter.

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.

Appears in the following works:

  • Uta Koi - She appears in several episodes of the anime, interacting with other members of the court.
  • Fate/Grand Order:
    • She is an Archer-Class Servant and a foil to Murasaki Shikibu, basically being way more hyperactive and embracing modern technology in writing and generally more hip to her old fashioned rival. Their relationship can be likened to a lighter version of the modern 'Boomer (Murasaki) vs Zoomer (Sei)' slang.
    • In the 6th Summer Event, she is a Berserker-class Servant. She wears swimsuits and acts like a delinquent, attacking people with hammers and spray painting graffiti.

Examples from her life:

  • Friend to All Children: Sei rather surprisingly was 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.
  • Photographic Memory: She was rumored to have this since she wrote down to the slightest detail about events that happened years ago.
  • Really Gets Around: Sei described the correct way of receiving male visitors and was 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 was barely skin deep, but she very much enjoyed her regular pilgrimages to assorted fashionable temples around the capital.

Alternative Title(s): Sei Shounagon