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Love at the Crossroads in Old Japan

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Shakespeare famously wrote that the course of true love never did run smooth. But what if the course of true love did not run at all? Welcome to Old Japan, where romance all too often led to disaster. There was no word for ‘love’ in the Japanese language, with the feeling being considered akin to madness, to be avoided at all costs.

While marriage was the social norm, this was always arranged, especially if you were from the higher classes. Love and marriage certainly didn’t go together like a horse and carriage. In fact women often didn’t see their husband’s face until their wedding day. Would they then kiss? Probably not – kissing was an esoteric erotic technique practised by geisha, who had the monopoly on romance.

But in the last half of the nineteenth century, this was all about to change. Would love triumph?

Join critically acclaimed author Lesley Downer for a special pre-Valentine’s Day talk on love in Old Japan. Downer is the author of The Shogun Quartet, a series of four historical novels set in Japan, beginning with the best-selling The Last Concubine, which was shortlisted for the 2009 Romantic Novel of the Year and translated into 30 languages. The prequel to The Last Concubine and the final in the series, The Shogun’s Queen, was published in November 2016.

Based on a true story, it follows the character of Atsu who was sent to marry the shogun and rule over the ooku, the Women’s Palace, a sort of harem of 3,000 women. The book begins in 1853 with the arrival of Commodore Perry and his Black Ships on their mission from the US to open up Japan. This event would transform Atsu’s life, as well as the whole of Japan.

Drawing on this book and her extensive research, Downer will discuss love, romance and the rules of engagement between men and women in Japan at this crucial crossroads.

This fascinating talk will be followed by a drinks reception and a book signing.

Lesley Downer has written extensively on Japan. In addition to fiction, her non-fiction books includes Geisha: The Secret History of a Vanishing World and Madame Sadayakko: The Geisha who Seduced the West. She has lectured at many top institutions in the past, such as The British Museum. Read about the blackening of teeth, a traditional practice of married women and noblemen in Japan, on her blog here.

To book tickets for this event, please click here.

General: £8, Concessions: £6, Members: £4

Asia House Arts Members need to enter their unique membership number when booking online. This can be found on the back of your membership card. Please call 0207 307 5454 if you experience any issues booking tickets.


February 8, 2017
18:45 - 20:00
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