Living only for the moment, giving all our time to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves; singing songs, drinking sake, caressing each other, just drifting, drifting; never giving a care if we have no money, never sad in our hearts, only like a gourd bobbing up and down on the river’s current; that is what we call ukiyo – the Floating World.
1868: In the Floating World of Japan’s exotic pleasure quarters, sex is for sale and the only forbidden fruit is love.
Hana is just seventeen when her husband leaves for war, leaving her alone and very vulnerable. When enemy soldiers attack her house she flees for her life across the shattered city of Tokyo and takes refuge in the Yoshiwara, its famous pleasure quarter. There she is forced to train as a courtesan.
Yozo, a traveller, adventurer and brilliant swordsman, returns to Japan after four years in the Victorian West to discover that the world he left behind him has been destroyed. He travels north to join his rebel comrades, but is captured during their final battle. Escaping, he makes his way south to the only place where a man is beyond the reach of the law – the Yoshiwara.
There in the Nightless City where three thousand courtesans mingle with geishas and jesters, the battered fugitive meets the beautiful courtesan. But each has a secret so terrible that, once revealed, it will threaten their very lives …
The Last Concubine
‘From long ago
Though I had heard to meet
Could only mean to part
Yet I gave myself to you
Forgetful of the coming dawn.’
How do you fall in love when your society has no word for it? The Last Concubine is an epic love story closely based on historical events, chronicling nineteenth-century Japan’s extraordinary change from a medieval to a modern country. This is the story of a shogun, a princess and the three thousand women of the women’s palace – all of whom really existed – and of the civil war that brought their way of life to an end.
Madame Sadayakko: The Geisha who Seduced the West
‘She is an opium hallucination of the Far East, elegant and fragile like an Utamaro print.’
The extraordinary story of the geisha who was the model for Madame Butterfly. Japan’s first actress, she became an international star in the United States and Europe at the turn of the last century. She danced before Edward Prince of Wales and President McKinley, was painted by Picasso and admired by Rodin and Gide and dined with the last Tsar of Russia. Puccini modelled Cho-cho-san on her, borrowed her music and reshaped his opera after he had seen her.
Geisha, actress, mistress – this is the story of a life lived passionately.
‘When I see the first new moon
Faintly in the dusk
I think of the moth eyebrows
Of a girl I saw only once.’
To research Geisha: The Remarkable Truth Behind the Fiction, Lesley spent six months living among the geisha, shared their lives and slowly but surely felt herself being transformed into one of them.
This is the last record of a dying tradition and the definitive work on geisha, told through stories of historical geisha and the many geisha she befriended.
‘Talking about business – you have to go right to the gates of prison …’
The epic story of Japan’s rise to become one of the most prosperous and technically advanced countries on earth, seen through the lives, loves and rivalries of its most glamorous business dynasty. This is the story of two generations of the Tsutsumi family, famous in Japan as much for their hatred of each other as for their fabled wealth: the roguish father who built the family fortune, the illegitimate son who inherited it and the spurned legitimate son – rebel, poet, one-time communist.
The Brothers was named as one of The New York Times ‘Books of the Year’ 1995.
‘Summer grasses –
All that remains
Of mighty warriors’ dreams.’
In 1689 Japan’s greatest poet, Matsuo Basho, set out on a journey to the country’s remote northern provinces. Three hundred years later Lesley Downer followed in his footsteps. Walking and hitchhiking towards the Sacred Mountains with their legendary priests, she found herself in a world which many Japanese believe vanished centuries ago. On the Narrow Road to the Deep North was filmed by Channel 4 and WNET as ‘Journey to a Lost Japan’ and was the basis for a film by NHK, the Japanese national broadcasting corporation, entitled ‘Journey of the Heart.’ Shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Travel Book of the Year Award 1990.