Izumi Shikibu

Encyclopedia of the Literature of Empire - Mary Ellen Snodgrass 2010

Izumi Shikibu

Izumi Shikibu (974-ca. 1033) Japanese poet and diarist

During the Heian period of Japanese history (7941185), Izumi Shikibu recorded events and attitudes at the imperial court of Joto Monin. Born the eldest of several daughters of two families from the gubernatorial class, she married a middle-aged politician, Tachibana no Michisada, the governor of Izumi, the source of her surname, around 996. At age 23, she traveled to the provinces as a companion to her husband. Two years later, she chose to return to the urban capital and conduct affairs with powerful men. Scandal from her open romance with Prince Tametaka, son of Emperor Reizei, ended her marriage and estranged her from her father, Oe no Masamune, the governor of Echizen. After her lover's death the next year at age 25, perhaps from plague, Izumi dallied with his married half brother, Prince Atsumichi, who died in 1007 at age 27, leaving her to raise their son Eikaku.

The following year, Izumi joined Queen Akiko's ladies-in-waiting at Kyoto and began composing confessional and emotional verse in Izumi Shikibu Nikki (Izumi Shikibu Diary, ca. 1008). Her style blends dialogue and mythic allusion with wit and short personal lyrics, of the sort that male and female courtiers exchanged in an ongoing game of flirtation. In competition with MURASAKI SHIKIBU, a more tasteful, discerning court poet, Izumi wrote poetry to please sophisticated readers and literary critics. She wed a general, Fujiwara no Yasumasa, and moved with him to Tango Province, where she mourned her daughter Koshikibu no Naishi, also a poet, who died in 1025 while giving birth to Izumi's grandchild. At her own death, Izumi asked that her dark path be lighted by the moon, a reference to Buddha.


Izumi Shikibu. Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan. Translated by Annie Shepley Omori and Kochi Doi. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1920.

Mulhern, Chieko Irie. Japanese Women Writers: A Bio- critical Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1994.