Museum Dictionary

Meigetsuki (The Record of the Clear Moon): The Diary of Fujiwara Sadaie

Do you keep a diary? It is a difficult task to keep one up day after day, isn't it! Did you know that the Nihon Shoki, one of the oldest books in Japan (written in the year 720 A.D.), was based on even earlier diaries? This means that people have been keeping diaries since ancient times! On the other hand, the Kojiki, another of the oldest books in Japan (written in 712 A.D.), is said to have been written based on a recitation from memory of a woman named Hie-no-Are. In that age, very few people knew how to write, so the number of people who actually kept diaries was probably extremely small.

The writing of diaries became widespread in Japan in the Heian Period, from the ninth through the twelfth centuries. Diaries were most popular among the aristocracy, the upper-class families. However, unlike those we keep today, their diaries had almost no details about the events of their daily lives. Instead, the Heian aristocrats filled their diaries with details about the procedures for meetings and ceremonies at the Imperial Court. These aristocrats thought of diaries as records to hand down to their children and grandchildren! They kept detailed diaries of the rules of Court so that their descendants would not make embarrassing mistakes at official ceremonies. For them, diaries were written with the understanding that they would eventually be read by other people! This is why they did not write their private thoughts or feelings. One might almost say that the diaries of the Heian Period, especially the early years, were less like diaries than they were like Imperial Court etiquette manuals!

People began to write their personal thoughts and feelings in diaries in the late-Heian Period, as the formalities of the Court began to change. The photo below is of a diary written in just that period.

  • Meigetsuki
    Meigetsuki (The Record of the Clear Moon) (Detail)
    Kamakura Period
    Handscroll, ink on paper, 28.5 x 1522.0 cm
    Important Cultural Property
    (Kyoto National Museum)

This is the diary of a man named Fujiwara Sadaie. The diary has the very elegant name, Meigetsuki, which means The Record of the Clear Moon. Sadaie was an aristocrat and a very talented poet, especially of Japanese-style poems called waka. He even received Imperial commissions to be the chief compiler of two famous poetry anthologies, the Shinkokin Wakashu (New Collection of Japanese Poems of Ancient and Modern Times) and the Shinchokusen Wakashu (A New Royally Ordered Collection of Japanese Poems). Fujiwara Sadaie also compiled the one-hundred poems in the famous Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (The Ogura Collection of Single Poems by a Hundred Poets), still used today in Japan for the popular New Years card game, karuta.

Sadaie kept a regular diary almost constantly from his teens until he was in his eighties! Today, Sadaie's diaries from about age nineteen to seventy-four are still in existence. Most of them are kept in the home of his descendants in Kyoto, the Reizei family.

  • Meigetsuki
    Meigetsuki (The Record of the Clear Moon) (Detail)
    Important Cultural Property
    (Kyoto National Museum)

The photos shown here are of from one volume of The Record of the Clear Moon that runs from January to March in the year 1199 A.D., when Sadaie's was thirty-eight years old. On January 11th of this same year, Minamoto Yoritomo, the Shogun of Japan, died in the city of Kamakura. The diary records this event. However, we also learn from the diary that Sadaie did not find out about Yoritomo's death until January 18th! This proves how very far away from each other the capital of Kyoto and the Shogunate stronghold of Kamakura were in those days!

In later times, the Japanese came to think of Sadaie as having been almost a god! He was referred to by his artist name, Teika. It became popular to not only mitate his poetic style, but also his calligraphy (handwriting)! As you can see from the photo above, Sadaie's handwriting was extremely individualistic and unusual. This type of writing emerged into a standard style of calligraphy called the Teika Style. But Teika himself never thought of himself as having good handwriting. In fact, in The Record of the Clear Moon, he writes that his characters "looked like the devil!"

Not only its content, but also the "devilish" handwriting of Fujiwara Sadaie make The Record of the Clear Moon a fascinating diary!

Text by Mamoru Shimosaka, Department of Public Relations
English Translation by Melissa M. Rinne, Department of Archives

A Message to Museum Visitors

↑ Back to Top