Noblewoman’s Diary in Heian Japan
Mother of Michitsuna offers a realistic and insightful look into the life in the Heian
Court in her intensely personal diaries,
The Gossamer Years
. Through her exposition of court life, Mother of Michitsuna unravels her disapproval of the marriage system , and the diminished roles of Heian woman. Written as a diary, the author strictly writes of personal events and relations, spanning her lifetime. Through the authors biased perspective,
Gossamer Years helps showcase various the roles of women, and their interactions in the
Heian Court. Fuelled by romance, jealousy, and passion -
The Gossamer Years serves as a powerful piece of social commentary, and shows the shifting roles of women through
In her introduction, Mother of Michitsuna expresses her interest in sharing her life story with others, making many of these recounts from years past (30). She questions her successes and roles in society, seeking wisdom and guidance from these who read her journal (30). Divided into three books, each section inspects different periods in her life; beginning with her courtship with Fujiwara no Kaneie, “the Prince”, book one recounts poems and prose shared between these two during their early relations. Book two documents her failing relation with Fujiwara, and the effects of their relationship on
Mother of Michitsuna. Through her grieving, she finds solace in her children in book three, devoting herself for her son and daughter for the remainder of her life.
Born to a provincial governor, Fukiwara no Tomoyasu, Mother of Michitsuna was a lower member of the aristocratic class (Seidensticker, 10). She begins through sharing the plentiful poems her and Fujiwara shared in the early 950s. These writings were used to connect and express affection. Mother of Michitsuna was originally repelled by Fujiwara, “ the handwriting was astonishingly bad… I was half inclined not to answer,” (31). Beyond her critics, she often is reminded and left wondering of poetry and prose, expressing her expertise and skill in the craft; “I murmured, and I thought of the old poem…” (Michitsuna,
48). From “relatives not of particularly high rank,” Mother of Michitsuna slowly saw her relatives and family depart, leaving her lonely and dissatisfied. This longing for emotional attachment greatly impacts her future relations with Fujiwara.
After her father's departure to the north, and her sister’s relations with her husband- Mother of Michitsuna was left feeling alone, longing for companionship (32-38).
Only after her mother’s death, Mother of Michitsuna is left devastated;
"Early in the autumn, my mother died. I had managed somehow to hold myself together while she was alive, but my wretchedness now was something few people know. I of all the family had been most attached to her,
and I had hoped and prayed that I should not survive her. Now she was dead.
For a time it seemed that my prayer would be answered-I quite lost control of my arms and legs, and felt that I must even stop breathing."(Seidensticker
At this critical period, after her period of mourning, she connects with Fujiwara no
Kaneie, “the Prince”. Through his illness, the author uncovers and expresses her deep commitment to the Prince, even visiting his residence - an unheard of task for a woman to do (54). Mother of Michitsuna quickly summarizes the 10 years they shared, only to evaporate quickly over seemingly “trivialities which led to strong words on both sides, and he left in a fit of rage,” (56). Through the death of the Emperor, the Prince was made “a first secretary in the the Imperial Secretariat”, quickly becoming a “celebrated figure”, causing problems for Mother of Michitsuna. “Lady Joganden moved into the west wing of my house.
From before dark on New Year’s Eve there was a great stir over the exorcism of devils. I listened to it all happily.” (Michitsuna, 57-58)
As the Prince divided his time…