Author and Journalist

A Gilded Cage

Read A Gilded Cage by Lesley Downer

In the eighteenth century, Edo, much later to become Tokyo, was the largest and most glamorous city in the world. Right in the centre was Edo Castle, home to the shogun and his government. Deep inside that was the ‘inner palace’ or harem, where three thousand women lived and only one man could enter – the shogun. The women had wealth, servants, gorgeous kimonos, just so long as they followed the rules – never leave the palace or take a lover other than the shogun, on pain of banishment or death. In 1714, however, one woman decided to take the risk …

Read her story in A Gilded Cage …!

Episode 1 – ‘A Gilded Cage’

Monday, 25 November, 2013· Last Updated on: Wednesday, 27 November, 2013

in A Gilded Cage

The Court Lady and the Kabuki Actor

Edo (much later to become Tokyo), Japan, 1714

Episode 1 - A Gilded Cage‘Hurry, or we’ll be late!’

Ejima stood, arms outstretched, as her ladies milled around her, touching up her makeup and tugging her over-kimono into place. It was a beautiful garment of red silk with a golden phoenix embroidered across the back and a thick quilted hem that swirled at her feet. They tucked in a last strand of her glossy black hair which was swept up into an elegant loop at the back of her head.

She gazed around the room with its coffered inlaid ceiling, its gold leaf screens painted with birds and flowers and its pale straw matting edged with gold. A wind wafted through, setting the reed blinds swaying, and she strained her ears, imagining she heard the roar of crowds and smelt grilling octopus and incense smoke rising from the temples. But it couldn’t be. The grounds were too huge, the city and its noise and bustle too far away outside the palace walls.

The bush warbler in its cage in a corner of the room chirruped. ‘I’m no more free than you,’ she thought wistfully. She knew she should have been the happiest person on earth. She led a life of splendour, ease and luxury, and even the humblest of her attendants wore kimonos more lavish than people outside the palace could dream of. Yet, for all her wealth and privilege, she too couldn’t spread her wings and fly away. A lifetime of ritual and protocol stretched before her, laid out hour by hour, day by day, month by month, season by season. [click to continue…]

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Episode 2 – ‘A Gilded Cage’

Wednesday, 27 November, 2013· Last Updated on: Wednesday, 27 November, 2013

in A Gilded Cage

Under the wishing treeUnder the wishing tree

‘Ejima, help me! Put me on my horse!’

Ejima laughed as she set the child on his rocking horse, a wonderfully realistic beast with its white mane, embroidered bridle and purple reins. The little boy rocked to and fro, pleated skirts flying, shouting as if he was imagining himself on the battlefield.

Around her ladies knelt in embroidered kimonos, spinning tops and tossing brocade balls for the little boy, huge red parasols shading them all from the sun. Across the landscaped gardens, hidden among trees and groves of bamboo, were the quarters of her friend Gekkoin, the young shogun’s mother and beloved concubine of his father, the sixth shogun.

Everything was here that a woman could ever want. Yet Ejima wasn’t happy.
[click to continue…]


Episode 3 – ‘A Gilded Cage’

29 November 2013
Episode 3 - 'A Gilded Cage'

A secret visit
Ejima knelt, feet tucked under her, on the veranda of the small house behind the forked willow tree, watching boats glide to and fro along the canal in front of her. Birds sang, cocks crowed and smells of wood smoke and of cooking rice and grilling fish drifted in the air.
Shingoro was sitting on the edge of the porch, swinging his legs. He took a puff on his long-stemmed pipe, blew out a cloud of smoke, tapped out the embers and refilled the tiny bowl. […]

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Episode 4 – ‘A Gilded Cage’

2 December 2013
Episode 4 – ‘A Gilded Cage’

Through the side gate
‘The dowager widow is back. She’s demanding to see you.’ The voice of Sakurai, Ejima’s chief maid, echoed through the lavish apartments to the inner chamber where Ejima was lying with her lover, the actor Shingoro.
Ejima gasped and sat up with a start, half-expecting to see the dreaded dowager come sweeping into the room and bear down on the two of them, her face like thunder.[…]

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