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Today the term is generally employed for personal diaries, normally intended to remain private or to have a limited circulation amongst friends or relatives.
The word "journal" may be sometimes used for "diary," but generally a diary has (or intends to have) daily entries, whereas journal-writing can be less frequent.
In recent years, however, there is internal evidence in some diaries (e.g.
Pillowbooks of Japanese court ladies and Asian travel journals offer some aspects of this genre of writing, although they rarely consist exclusively of diurnal records.
The scholar Li Ao (9th century AD), for example, kept a diary of his journey through southern China.
The writing of diaries was also often practiced from the 20th century onwards as a conscious act of self-exploration (of greater or lesser sincerity) – examples being the diaries of Carl Jung, Aleister Crowley and Anaïs Nin.
Among important diaries by 20th-century literary figures are those of Franz Kafka, Edmund Wilson and the French writer Paul Léautaud (1872–1956).