In 1940, a scholar was going through the holdings of the Imperial Household when a manuscript in the geography section caught his eye. Seeing it titled “Towazugatari,” meaning “Unrequested Tale,” he took it home to inspect it more closely. It soon became clear that the work was not a treatise on geography at all, but a lost masterpiece of Japanese literature. Translated as “The Confessions of Lady Nijo,” the book is an extraordinary evocation of a life governed by ritual, dreams and nostalgia for an idealized past.

Written around 1307, the narrative covers 36 years of Lady Nijo’s life, beginning with her entering the service of retired Emperor Go-Fukusaka at the age of 14 and ending with her travels as a wandering Buddhist nun. Her frank narration offers an unparalleled view of a world utterly different from our own.

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