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 was the model for Puccini’s Madame Butterfly), I came to Nagoya in search of the fabulous mansion – known locally as Futaba Palace – where she’d lived with her last lover. I found the exact location on a map but all that was there some hundred years later was a car park and some shops. Then after I’d finished the book I was contacted by … Futaba Palace! They’d reconstructed the entire gorgeous mansion from pictures and plans a few metres away from the original location. They asked me to give a talk on Sadayakko there. It’s now a museum dedicated to her memory.
This time of course I arrived by ship. Even Nagoya looks entirely different when seen from the sea. Being in the middle of research for my new novel, set in the women’s palace at the height of the Tokugawa splendour, I wanted to go to Nagoya Castle, where a major and wealthy branch of the family had lived. They still own it and rebuilt it after it was destroyed in World War II and are currently painstakingly recreating and reinstalling the gold leaf frescoes that used to decorate the walls. Here I had the chance to get a glimpse of what it must have been like to live in a Tokugawa palace.
Click on thumbnails to scroll through the gallery. All photographs © Lesley Downer.