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As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams: Recollections of a Woman in 11th-Century Japan (Penguin Classics)

As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams: Recollections of a Woman in 11th-Century Japan - Sarashina, Ivan Morris BirdBrian: It's such an honor to meet you, Lady Sarashina! Thank you so much for granting this rare interview.Lady Sarashina: (nods gracefully) Happy to be here, Bird.BirdBrian: I'm just going to offer some biographical data about you up front. You were a lady-in-waiting at the royal court in Kyoto during the Heian Era. We think you were born in the year 1008, but honestly, not much is known about you... even your name. Apparently your writing was lost to obscurity for centuries, and when it was later rediscovered, scholars gave you the posthumous pen name "Lady Sarashina" -referring to the local region Sarashina, where you came from. Lady Sarashina: It's true. I'm fine with the moniker "Lady Sarashina"; it has more character than "Anonymous".BirdBrian: So... this book... some translations call it Lady Sarashina's Diary, but it's not exactly a diary, is it? Lady Sarashina: (laughs) No, I never gave it a title, but it definitely isn't a diary. I hardly mention my day-to-day life at all, except to maybe complain a little about some of the people I work with. This book is more like a loose collection of thoughts and short stories -mostly about my travels.BirdBrian: For as little as is known about you, I was surprised to learn that you were a book reading enthusiast. I loved the passage on pages 46-47: "Oh how happy I was when I came home with all these books in a bag! In the past I had been able to have only an occasional hurried look at fragments of The Tale of Genji and much of it had remained infuritatingly obscure. Now I had it all in front of me and I could sit undisturbed behind my curtain, bent comfortably forward as I took out the books one by one and enjoyed them to my heart's content. I wouldn't have changed places with the Empress herself."Lady Sarashina: (smiles, nodding) Yes- guilty as charged! I love books. I would definitely have been on GoodReads, if we had had such a thing.BirdBrian: So what are your favorite kind of books?Lady Sarashina: Well, the selection a thousand years ago wasn't nearly as broad as today, but I will admit I spend a fair amount of time gushing about The Tale of Genji. I guess that makes me a Romance reader, doesn't it?BirdBrian: I guess so. Genji is by Lady Murasaki, who lived about a generation before you. Japanese Heian-era literature has an impressive lineup of female authors, given the poor status women were accorded back then.Lady Sarashina: Ha, yeah- "Sista's Are Doing It for Themselves", as Annie Lennox sings. Also, my book has an introduction by Professor Morris, which explains that male writers in my day tended to write in the Chinese style, which was considered more scholarly and sophisticated back then, but sounds wholly inaccessable to readers in subsequent generations. The women of my era tended to write in the Japanese vernacular, which readers' tastes have favored over time. BirdBrian: Interesting. I guess readers of any era can pick up on authors trying too hard to be fancy....So besides books, another thing you like to talk about quite a bit is your dreams. I suppose that's why somebody eventually titled this work As I Crossed A Bridge of Dreams, right?Lady Sarashina: (shrugs) I guess so; I wasn't consulted. But it's true that I liked to write down my dreams, and then later try interpreting them.BirdBrian: (nods) The most interesting one to me was when the deceased daughter of the local mayor appeared to you, and revealed she had been reincarnated as your cat. Lady Sarashina: Ha! I know, right? Crazy stuff. I would have never believed it myself, if she hadn't told me in person, in that dream.BirdBrian: And then later the cat died in a housefire.Lady Sarashina: (shaking her head at the tragedy) Burnt to a crisp, the poor dear. She had terrible luck in two lifetimes. I hope she's in a better place now.BirdBrian: In another dream, you discover who it is you are reincarnated from...Lady Sarashina: I do, but let's not give away all the secrets in this interview. I'll leave readers to discover that one on their own.BirdBrian: Fair enough. Getting back to the cat, the tragedy and hardship of everyday survival seem to be an undercurrent in this entire book. Lady Sarashina: Oh, for sure! Well, for one thing, that goes to my Buddhist upbringing. For another, my writing was a catharsis for me, dealing with the loss of my childhood nursemaid, and later the deaths of my sister and my husband.BirdBrian: You wrote some very touching verses after your sister was burried. I just want to share one with my readers: There in the Toribe FieldEven the smoke that rose above the pyreHas vanished in the sky.What traces still remainedTo lead her to my sister's grave?そこToribe分野における薪の上に昇ったとしても煙空に消えている。残っていたトレースは何私の妹の墓に彼女を導くか?Lady Sarahina: Yes. That was about the difficulty a servant of ours had finding the grave. She was taken from us so quickly.BirdBrian: You also write of the loss of your father- not by death, but because for four years he was posted on assignment in a distant part of the country.Lady Sarashina: Yes, during those four years, Dad simply lived too far away, and visiting him would have required me to travel through areas famous for highway robbers and kidnappers. BirdBrian: Your father and husband were both highly-placed civil servants, with responsibilities throughout the provences. Lady Sarashina: Yes, that's why there is so much travel in my writing- trips to visit them. Also, I made several pilgrimages to temples and holy sites. Those trips exposured me to the rugged natural beauty of Japan's countryside. It touched me profoundly. BirdBrian: Japan is a very beautiful country. Is there any particular passage about it you'd like to share here?Lady Sarashina: Well, I'd say"I pushed open my door and looked out. The ridges of the mountains shone dimly in the early light, and the tops of the trees that darkly covered the hillside were veiled with mist. These dense trees lent the cloudy sky a special charm that one would not find in blossom time or in the season of red leaves. On a nearby branch, hototogisu* was singing away..."*hototogisu is a bird known for its cuckoo-like call BirdBrian: Lovely. Do you mind if I close with a few more gratuitous images of natural beauty in Japan?Lady Sarashina: I insist, and thank you for having me.BirdBrian: Are there any closing thoughts you'd like to leave readers with?Lady Sarashina: Buy my book! It's also got some other goodies we haven't mentioned here, like a forbidden romance, proof that I'm a more devout Buddhist than other members of the royal court, and a cool poem about two birds bathing in a puddle.BirdBrian: Awesome. Thanks again for coming.Lady Sarashina: My pleasure, now let's see those images!