The Shogun’s ‘Harem’: Life in the Women’s Palace in Nineteenth Century Japan
The University of Stirling is delighted to welcome author and journalist, Ms Lesley Downer, to Japan Week to deliver a talk on The Shogun’s ‘Harem’: Life in the Women’s Palace in Nineteenth Century Japan.
No westerner ever visited the Women’s Palace or even knew it existed. The women were sworn to secrecy and even after the palace closed down in 1868 very few ever revealed anything of their lives there. At its pinnacle, it was home to three thousand women - far more than the number who populated the Topkapi Harem in Istanbul - but only one man, the shogun, could enter. It was an unimaginably different world, with its beauty, riches, Byzantine social codes and internecine struggles.
The Women’s Palace was a place of enormous luxury and beauty but it was also a prison. Once you entered you would never leave. Yet the women wielded enormous power. There were conspiracies, murders, even hauntings inside 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, hara-kiri for the father of the offending woman, even if he knew nothing of the woman’s offence.
I will tell stories of the life and luxury and intrigue of the Women’s Palace. I will weave my talk around the story of Princess Atsu, the Satsuma girl sent at the age of twenty to be the shogun’s bride. Atsu had a secret mission to accomplish which set her against the shogun’s formidable mother, the most powerful woman in the palace.
She is the heroine of my most recent novel, The Shogun’s Queen.
To illustrate there are photographs and woodblock prints of the women and their gorgeous kimonos, furnishings and tea and incense ceremony implements.
Lesley Downer 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 four novels, The Shogun Quartet: The Last Concubine, The Courtesan and the Samurai, The Samurai’s Daughter and The Shogun’s Queen, a prequel, chronologically the first in the quartet, published November 2016 and in paperback July 2017.
This event is part of the University of Stirling's Japan Week 2018. The event is free to attend and open to all, but places should be booked in advance here.
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