Monday, November 1, 2010

Autumn at dusk

Image via here

"Autumn is best at dusk as the hills, now in the full direct sunlight, seem quite closer, and as crows fly away from ones vantage point into their nesting places in threes, then in fours, then in pairs; how moving it is, this combination of light and darkness. It is more wonderful even when geese and the like, in formation, fly away and become specks in the sky.  The sun finally sets, and then it is the sound of the wind, and the chirping of insects."
This is an excerpt from The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon (966-1017).  She said autumn is best at dusk about a thousand years ago.   Some of you could relate to this scenery  in spite of the time and place difference.  Do you share her ideas about the best time of day in atutumn?

One of my favorite sunset scenes is at Todai-ji Nigatsu-do Hall.  The contrast of light and darkness: while the sky remains bright and blue, the darkness is fallen on the ground.

From an hour before sunset till the last light fades, the sky is noisy with the calling of crows in one place and bulbuls in another heading for the same direction respectively.  On the earth, deer are feeding heavily.

In autumn, I prefer daytime to go out to get fun and sun, though dusk is a good time for me all the year around.  Here In Nara City, it is hazy in the autumn afternoon even on a sunny day.  I miss and long for bright skies...., but to take it positive, I must be content feeling myself embraced by the soft and gentle atmosphere of the misty city where groves, time-honored temples and shrines give off tender sentiments.  

Sei Shonagon drawn in 17th Century
A little more about The Pillow Book
It is an essay full of aesthetically pleasing/displeasing and delightful/undelightful images and ideas.  The tone is light and witty expressing Sei Shonagon's own ideal of amusement or delight.  I've just started reading and it is  interesting to find out what an intelligent court lady of a thousand years ago had in her mind. 

Sei Shonagon wrote about other seasons as follows:

"In spring, the dawn - when the slowly paling mountain rim is tinged with red, and wisps of faintly crimson-purple cloud float in the sky.
In summer, the night - moonlit nights, of course, but also at the dark of the moon, it's beautiful when fireflies are dancing everywhere in a mazy flight.  And It's delightful too to see just one or two fly through the darkenss, glowing softly.  Rain falling on a summer night is also lovely."
"In winter, the time of early morning prayer - if snow is falling, of course, it's unutterably delightful, but it's perfect too if there's a pure white frost, or even just when it's very cold , and they hasten to build up the fires in the braziers and carry in fresh charcoal.  But it's unpleasant, as the day draws on and the air grows warmer, how the brazie fire dies down to white ash."


  1. Hi, Stardust.
    Now is the best time to see the dusk and sunset from the hill in Nara. I know how beautiful the sunset at Todai-ji Nigatsu-do Hall.
    Of course, I share the idea of Sei Shonagon.

  2. An excellent piece of writing, combining great photos with simple commentary and informative quotes from the Japanese classics. This should win a prize!

    BTW, when I first saw this page, I could just see the top part only of the second photo, and I thought the black shapes were bats! It is Hallowe'en, after all. Then I scrolled further down and saw what they really were...

    BTW, are these all your own photos? They are beautiful.

  3. Amazing photos!

    Dusk in autumn is getting shorter, though it's beautiful, and it makes me feel the preciousness more.

    Sei Shonagon's writing conveys characteristics of each seasons well.
    I can feel drowsy silence in spring and bracing air in winter.
    It is sure that she was an early bird.

  4. Thanks to all of you for the encouraging comments.

    Redrose, I'm glad to know you've come to like Nara more and more. I feel something magical and powerful during the twilight time from day to night.

    Marc, it's interesting that the black shapes of hanging lanterns under the eaves looked like "bats" for your eyes before scrolling down the page and that they reminded you of "Hallowe'en" in that instance. Looks like a timely cultural reaction.

    Three pictures except the top is mine. Click the link, the word "here" under the first photo, to the source, and you'll see a collection of beautiful images of Japanese four seasons.

    Hi, haricot! Dusk lingers long in summer, while darkness falls abruptly in autumn. I particularly become retrospective, though I don't know why.

  5. Hello Yoko

    I read Sei Shonagon's delightful book one winter recently when I had broken my ankle...and then I went on and read the entire Genji tale...that was a mammoth task...poor Genji was indefatigable...
    I liked the Pillow Book revealed the personality of its writer.
    Your photo of the darkening day is wonderfully evocative...

    Happy days

  6. Delwyn,
    you seem to be an extensive reader of Japanese literature and poems.

    As for myself, I read some excerpts from both of the books in Japanese Classical Literature class when I was a student. What I'm reading now is English version of The Pillow Book which is easier than classical Japanese for me to understand, though I know her style and tone. My daughter had a series of comic books of The Tale of Genji.

    Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shkiibu are writers of 11th century. Kagerō Nikki (The Gossamer Years), Izumishikibu Nikki/diary, and Sarashina Nikki are also written by the female writer of the same ancient times. Suppose they were alive now, would they do blogging to write a diary?

  7. Hello Stardust,
    I have no idea how I missed this lovely post. I just had a look at your blog and realized there was a new post I hadn't read. As usual, you entice me to explore further - I will investigate the book Pillow Talk. I believe Sei Shonagon, though she lived in a long-ago time, shares sensibilities with many of us who observe our surroundings closely. Enjoy your lovely fall in Nara - I actually like mist.

  8. Barb,
    Many thanks for your visit and comment.

    "I believe Sei Shonagon, though she lived in a long-ago time, shares sensibilities with many of us who observe our surroundings closely."

    I have the same thoughts with you. It's fun to find how much we share as a woman with her, who lived in much more superstitious and much less scientific world than ours and who was an upper-class career woman working for the imperial court.

  9. Just like with Barb, I have no idea either how I missed this post, I just happened to come by also, because my granddaughter Amanda(21) was visiting and I wanted to show her your lovely blog. I will place you on my sidebar, so it won't happen again!

    Each season and time of day hold my heart for different reasons. The snow quietly falling in the dark of dawn or dust and the awakening birds on a spring morn are special times for me.

  10. Wanda,
    How sweet of you to be attentive to my new posting! The existence of such people really encourages me to be on the lookout for the materials for the next post. I'm always delighted with your nice comment. I might have been editing the post when you or Barb visited my blog to see it.

    I have seen Amanda on your blog; she's so charming. You don't look like a grandma of the 21-year-old at all!

    I've been nodding and smiling while reading especially your last two sentences. I know what you mean after having explored the moments of yours throughout seasons.

  11. I also love the sunset viewing from February Hall. Any time, any day,any season, the sunset fill me with peace. Especially the moment when the sun sets over the mnountains and shines in the most red is exquisitely beautiful.

  12. Snowwhite,
    Thank you for the comment. After I moved to Nara, a sunset over the mountains got familiar to me. Sometimes I miss a sunset in the horizen of the sea as I would see in my hometown Kobe. The sun is swallowed into the ocean with the sunset clouds floating aglow in the sky.

  13. I like the photo from February Hall. Red purple by the far mountain( Mt.Ikoma?) is lovely. I will go to there to see sunset.
    Some of things Sei Shonagon saw,heard or felt are remained in Nara. it's great afresh.

  14. Sarari, have a good time of sunset at Nigatsu-do Hall. I wonder what scene you'll see. Each and every sunset is beautiful, but each sunset sky differs depending on the day's weather condition.

  15. 陰翳濃淡、写真の配置とサイズ、彩りの変化、等等。
    撮影機材は、全く関係無しです !!




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