by Lesley Downer
Published by Bantam Press
The Ooku, the Women’s Palace at Edo Castle, was home to hundreds of women (three thousand at its pinnacle), but only one man, the shogun. It was a place of enormous luxury and beauty but it was also a prison. Once you entered you would never leave – most especially if you were the shogun’s wife, the midaidokoro.
Nevertheless the women wielded enormous power. Great lords competed to enter their daughters in the palace and petitioners showered the women with extravagant gifts in the hope of obtaining a conduit to the shogun’s ear. There were intrigues, jealousy, murders, even hauntings behind the closed doors of this gilded cage. Women sneaked out to meet their lovers or smuggled a lover in in a trunk, though there were dreadful punishments for those who were caught – crucifixion for the lovers and seppuku for the father of the offending woman, even if he knew nothing of the woman’s offence.
The women who lived here were sworn to secrecy, and even after the palace was closed down most never revealed anything of what went on. But a few agreed to be interviewed.
Lesley Downer will describe the life and luxury and intrigue of the Women’s Palace and talk about some of the scandalous events that went on there and the extraordinary women who managed to exert powerful influence over the country without ever leaving their gilded cage. She will weave her talk around the story of Princess Atsu, the Satsuma girl sent at the age of twenty to be the shogun’s bride. She had a secret mission to accomplish which set her against the shogun’s formidable mother, the most powerful woman in the palace…
The talk will be illustrated with photographs and woodblock prints of the women and their gorgeous kimonos, furnishings and tea and incense ceremony implements.
A video of the event can be found here:
About the contributors
Lesley Downer is a novelist who first went to Japan more than thirty years ago, and her life has revolved around Japan ever since. She is the author of many books on Japan, including Geisha: The Secret History of a Vanishing World, Madame Sadayakko: The Geisha who Seduced the West and a quartet of novels, The Shogun Quartet. Her new novel, The Shogun’s Queen, is a prequel, chronologically the first in the quartet, and was published in November.