A Fragment from Hyōhanki (Taira no Nobunori's Diary) from the entry for twenty-seventh day, seventh month, 1167, attributed to Fujiwara no Sadaie 


Scholar’s Pick 5: Fragment 20


Unno Keisuke 
Associate Professor 
National Institutes for the Humanities National Institute of Japanese Literature, Tokyo, Japan 


This narrow fragment contains an entry from the diary, Hyōhanki 兵範記, by a twelfth-century courtier, Taira no Nobunori 平信範 (1112-1187). It is a section recording an event that happened on the twenty-seventh day of the seventh month, 1167 (Nin’an 2).

In Japan, it was customary for a court official to record one’s experience of courtly events and ceremonies to pass down through his family. For his sons and grandsons, the diary would have functioned as a guide on how to be members of the aristocratic society. These diaries were also lent out to and even copied by other members of the imperial court beyond one’s immediate family as resources for learning the courtly customs.

Amazingly, the original Hyōhanki in Nobunori’s own hand still remains after 800 years. However, this fragment is not by Nobunori, but is actually a copy made by another courtier, Fujiwara no Sadaie 藤原定家 (also known as Teika; 1162-1241). Sadaie is one of the most famous poets in the history of Japanese poetry. His signature style of calligraphy with roundish characters came to be known as the Teika-style or Teika-yō 定家様 and was avidly sought after by later art aficionados.

The content of Fragment 20 concerns the construction of a noble person’s tomb—not exactly suited for displaying in gatherings. Nevertheless, we can imagine this fragment bringing joy to our anonymous collector, who now owned the very hand of Sadaie, the master of ancient poetry, and was connected to him through his calligraphy.

Prev Next