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Aooku, the Secret World of the Shogun's Women

"One of the least understood and often maligned aspects of the Tokugawa Shogunate is the Ooku, or 'Great Interior, ' the institution within the shogun's palace, administered by and for the upper-class shogunal women and their attendants who resided there. Long the object of titillation and a favorite subject for off-the-wall fantasy in historical TV and film dramas, the actual daily life, practices, cultural roles, and ultimate missions of these women have remained largely in the dark, except for occasional explosions of scandal. In crystal-clear prose that is a pleasure to read, this new book, however, presents the Ooku in a whole new down-to-earth, practical light. After many years of perusing unexamined Ooku documents generated by these women and their associates, the authors have provided not only an overview of the fifteen generations of Shoguns whose lives were lived in residence with this institution, but how shoguns interacted differently with it. Much like recent research on imperial convents, they find not a huddled herd of oppressed women, but on the contrary, women highly motivated to the preservation of their own particular cultural institution. Most important, they have been able to identify "the culture of secrecy" within the Ooku itself to be an important mechanism for preserving the highest value, 'loyalty, ' that essential value to their overall self-interested mission dedicated to the survival of the Shogunate itself." - Barbara Ruch, Columbia University "The aura of power and prestige of the institution known as the ooku-the complex network of women related to the shogun and their living quarters deep within Edo castle-has been a popular subject of Japanese television dramas and movies. Brushing aside myths and fallacies that have long obscured our understanding, this thoroughly researched book provides an intimate look at the lives of the elite female residents of the shogun's elaborate compound. Drawing information from contemporary diaries and other private memoirs, as well as official records, the book gives detailed descriptions of the physical layout of their living quarters, regulations, customs, and even clothing, enabling us to actually visualize this walled-in world that was off limits for most of Japanese society. It also outlines the complex hierarchy of positions, and by shining a light on specific women, gives readers insight into the various factions within the ooku and the scandals that occasionally occurred. Both positive and negative aspects of life in the "great interior" are represented, and one learns how some of these high-ranking women wielded tremendous social as well as political power, at times influencing the decision-making of the ruling shoguns. In sum, this book is the most accurate overview and characterization of the ooku to date, revealing how it developed and changed during the two and a half centuries of Tokugawa rule. A treasure trove of information, it will be a vital source for scholars and students of Japan studies, as well as women's studies, and for general readers who are interested in learning more about this fascinating women's institution and its significance in Japanese history and culture." - Patricia Fister, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto
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