Biography Sugawara Takesue no Musume

Sugawara Takesue no Musume

photo of Sugawara Takesue no Musume
  • Time Period1009 - 1070
  • Place
  • CountryJapan

Poet Biography

This author's name means "daughter of Sugawara no Takasue"; she was born in Kyoto but raised in the east when her father was an assistant governor. In Sarashina nikki she tells her story from age 12 to about age 52. Until she was about 30, she tells us, she did little but read tales like Murasaki Shikibu's "Menji monogatari"; then for about five years she was at court as an attendant to a princess. When she was about 36, she married and had several children. Once married, she was free to travel, and her pleasure in making pilgrimages and seeing natural landscape seems to have taken the place of her earlier escape into tales. When she was about 49, her husband died, and she started to take more seriously the Buddhism she had until then treated lightly. The meaning of the traditional title of Sarashina nikki isn't clear: Sarashina is the name of a province referred to in one of the poems (and the subject of a legend of an old woman abandoned by her relatives), but the word itself is not used in the memoir.

In addition to Sarashina nikki, Sugawara Takasue no Musume is credited with having written two monogatari. The two tales were attributed to her by Fujiwara Teika, a major literary figure and one usually reliable in his attributions. Recent studies support Teika's attribution, but even today some believe that she wrote only one or the other of the works. The problem for scholars is that the two tales, Yowa no Nezame monogatari and Hamamatsu Chunagon monogatari, are quite different from one another.

The more interesting of the two attributed works, Yowa no Nezame (Wakefulness at night), originally consisted of four parts, but the second and fourth are lost, so less that one-half survives, although contemporary criticism gives a good notion of most of the plot. Nezame is unusual because of its focus on character. It contains relatively little action; it deals almost exclusively with the characters' thoughts and feelings.

The tale tells of the life of Nezame, daughter of a retired prince: she is made pregnant by her sister's fiance, Chunagon ("Chunagon" means Middle Counselor), and has his child in secrecy. The first half of the extant work tells something of Nezame's thoughts but deals mostly with those of Chunagon and members of her family. The second half of the work focuses more fully on Nezame. Here, the Emperor tries to seduce Nezame; he is unsuccessful, but Chunagon remains suspicious. Nezame cares what Chunagon thinks, but her greatest concern is for her "honor": people have assumed that she was at least indiscreet in having children by an unknown man, and now they will believe the worst of her---that she had given in to the Emperor, or even that, as rumor had it, her own sister's death was in some way caused by her.

Hamamatsu Chunagon monogatari (Hamamatsu is a section of Osaka) originally had six chapters; the first has been lost, but we know much of what it contained. The hero, Chunagon, (not the same character as in Nezame) goes to China in search of the reincarnation of his dead father; he finds him, but he also finds and falls in love with a consort of the Chinese emperor. She has Chunagon's child, whom the hero takes back to Japan and raises. In Japan, he searches for and finds the mother and a sister of the Chinese consort; needless to say, he has a romance with the sister. If Nezame has been criticized by some for its narrow plot, Hamamatsu surely makes up for that.