Art & Design

Third Thursday Lecture: The Shogun’s Harem: Life in the Women’s Palace in Nineteenth Century Japan

19 January 2017, Norwich

Lesley Downer


19 January 2017 | 6pm (doors open at 5.30pm)
Norwich Cathedral Hostry, Norwich NR1 4EH

Author Lesley Downer’s new novel, The Shogun’s Queen, is set largely in the shogun’s ‘harem’, the Women’s Palace in Edo Castle 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 populated the Topkapi Harem in Istanbul - but only one man, the shogun, ever entered. One shogun enjoyed the attentions of twenty seven concubines and had fifty three children.


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.


Lesley will tell stories of the life and luxury and intrigue of the Women’s Palace. 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. 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 Lesley’s new 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.


To book your seat, please go to the booking form or email the Sainsbury Institute

19 January 2017, 18:00
Hostry, Norwich Cathedral, Norwich NR1 4EH

Tel: 01603 597507




Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures