What a 1,000-Year-Old Japanese Writer Taught Me About Gratitude

Finding great beauty in the small

Eric Weiner
Forge
Published in
5 min readNov 23, 2021

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For many years, we’d gather around the Thanksgiving table and engage in a familiar ritual. One by one, we’d answer a simple question: “What are you grateful for?”

When my turn came, I would invariably rattle off the big stuff: family, friends, coffee. Then I moved to Japan. Japan taught me, a person of the book, a head-heavy aficionado of words and the people who use words, how to shut the fuck up for five minutes and just be grateful. For everything. For the big and for the small, especially the small.

My entrée to this world of beautiful small things came in the form of a strange little book, called The Pillow Book. It reads like a private diary because, well, that’s exactly what it is. Its author, Sei Shōnagon, never expected her words to be read by others. The Pillow Book is written with the naked honesty typically reserved for the anonymous and the dying.

As I turned the pages, I was drawn into Shōnagon’s world, seduced by her boldness, her love of details — and how she finds beauty in the most unexpected places. The Pillow Book is a jambalaya of observations large and (mostly) small, “a crazy quilt of vignettes and opinions and anecdotes,” notes Meredith McKinney, who translated The Pillow Book into…

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Eric Weiner
Forge
Writer for

Philosophical Traveler. Recovering Malcontent. Author of four books, including my latest: “The Socrates Express.”