Sei Shonagon was born approximately a thousand years ago (965 is a likely date) and served as lady-in-waiting at the Court of the Japanese Empress during the last decade of the tenth century. Her father was a provincial official, but is best known as a poet and a scholar. It is possible, though unlikely, that Shonagon was briefly married to a government official, by whom she may have had a son. Her life after her Court service came to an end is totally obscure. There is a tradition that she died in lonely poverty: but this is probably an invention of moralists who were shocked by her promiscuity and thought she deserved retribution. Our knowledge of Shonagon's life and character rests almost exclusively on the Pillow Book itself.
Ivan Morris wrote widely on modern and ancient Japan, where he lived for four years, and translated numerous works from both classical and contemporary literature. He was born in London in 1925 and began the study of Japanese language and culture at Harvard University. Having received his B.A. degree, he returned to England and received his doctorate from the School of Oriental and African Studies and afterwards worked in the BBC and the Foreign Office. Dr Morris lived in New York City for many years, where he was a member of the faculty of Columbia University from 1960 to 1973 and chairman of its Department of East Asian languages and Cultures from 1966 to 1969. In 1966 he was elected a Fellow of St Anthony's College, Oxford, and in 1968 the University of London awarded him a D.Litt. He was the author of The World of the Shining Prince, which won the Duff Cooper Award. Ivan Morris died in 1976.