Author and Journalist


Tea the Japanese way

25 August 2017
Tea the Japanese way

Princess Konoe lifted the lid of the tiny porcelain tea jar and a fresh sweet scent wafted out. ‘Uji tea,’ she said brightly. ‘The finest in the land. Have you ever tried it?’ Atsu shook her head. ‘An urn of this same tea is sent up to the Great Ruler in Edo every year. All […]

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Lesley Downer speaking on Sadayakko at the Royal Opera House

24 March 2017
Thumbnail image for Lesley Downer speaking on Sadayakko at the Royal Opera House

Click below to watch Lesley speaking on Sadayakko at the Royal Opera House on Tuesday March 14th 2017

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The Japanese Art of Scent

11 September 2016
Heian nobles, noblewomen and a carriage

Fragrance of the orange Flowering at last in June Wafts through the summer night The memory of scented sleeves Of someone long ago Scent has an amazing power to evoke and transport, to bring back a sudden memory of somewhere or someone once loved and long forgotten. The Japanese have always celebrated scent but not […]

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Black Teeth (Ohaguro)

28 July 2016
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‘The tayu knelt next to me, adjusting her skirts. Underneath it all she had a cheeky, elfin face with a tiny nose and pointed chin. How long had she been a tayu, I asked, then gasped when she opened her small mouth to answer. In the chalky-white face with the blood-red lips, her teeth were […]

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Sharp-eyed Hambei the Fisherman and the Invading Aliens

22 July 2016
Thumbnail image for Sharp-eyed Hambei the Fisherman and the Invading Aliens

On a hot steamy summer’s day like the last few here in England, 163 years and 14 days ago, on July 8th 1853, something happened that would entirely change the course of Japanese – and world – history. Read my short story … Sharp-eyed Hambei the Fisherman and the Invading Aliens Sharp-Eyed Hambei is the […]

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Walking in the Japanese hills

13 June 2016
At Kumano Nachi Shrine

Here is a wonderful article with great photographs about walking in the Kumano region. The Kumano Shrines are among the most revered in Japan and for many years women were not allowed in these sacred mountains. Many many years ago I spent time in nearby Shingu and took the waters in the hotspring at Kii-Katsura […]

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Nagoya Castle – Tokugawa splendour

26 November 2014
Tigers at the Tokugawas' castle in Nagoya

Nagoya has many memories for me. I used to live near here, in a little city called Gifu, half an hour away on the local train. In those days Nagoya seemed like a huge industrial city. Many years later, when I was researching my book on Sadayakko (the turn of the last century geisha who […]

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Yokohama and Kamakura …

14 November 2014
Approaching Yokohama

So I watched from my balcony as the great ship glided away from her berth in Tokyo Bay with the Kodo Drummers there on the quay to drum us out … To reposition a little farther up the bay in Yokohama. I’d never realised Yokohama was beautiful! I used to always come here by train […]

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The women’s palace – what it all came to …

7 November 2014
Thumbnail image for The women’s palace – what it all came to …

The poet Basho wrote: Summer grasses – All that remains Of mighty warrior’s dreams Was reminded of this poem when I went back to the women’s palace, the women’s vast palatial residence which formed a huge proportion of Edo Castle, the shogun’s headquarters. (Akin to a harem, the women’s palace housed 3000 women and the […]

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Sailing into Tokyo Bay …

3 November 2014
Sailing into Tokyo Bay …

Had never realised sea travel was so wonderful! Just spent 2 ½ weeks on an enormous ship with twelve decks, like a floating twelve storey luxury hotel, sailing along the coast of Japan. I’d been asked to give lectures while the ship was visiting Japan. Arrived in the port of Otaru in Hokkaido and stood […]

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