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Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Shogun - Hey Ladies!!!

Image above from 
From the January 1959 edition of The American Club News (Volume 2, No. 1), published by Shadan Hojin Tokyo American Club, let's take a look at the women of the Shogun's court.

While I wish there were some scandalous photos I could share with you, this is more to deal with the levels of Japanese high society, of which there were many back in the pre-1868 days.

This article—a gift from my friend V.G., whom I finally chatted with last week!, was lifted from a column written by Verna Van Zandt back in 1960 for her "The Lure of Japan" column.

She's not perfect (and who is?), but she's still comes up with a pretty damn interesting topic this month, one of which I knew absolutely nothing about.

If there is something grammatical, or spelling related, I'll adjust the copy as I re-type it out, and if an explanation is necessary, I'll squeeze in an (Editor's Note), okay? Obviously that means I haven't really gone through her article yet with a fine tooth come - except for quality of content.  

The main thing to note initially, is that women in Japan—then, as now—did not have a lot of power in Japan... basically there to be the second to the Man. This, of course, is in stark contrast to the earliest days of Japan when it was indeed a matriarchal dynasty. 


During the days of the Tokugawa Era (Editor's Note: The Edo period (江戸時代 Edo jidai), or Tokugawa period (徳川時代 Tokugawa jidai), is the period between 1603 and 1868AD when Japan was under of the military Tokugawa shogunate (shogun)and the country's 300 regional Daimyo (lords) - not the Emperor, who was then merely a showpiece), the ladies of the Shogun's court were called "Dames of the Honorable Interior" and numbered 305 for the Shogun, and the same (305) for his wife.  
There were only 91 in each service who enjoyed the privilege of direct access to the Shogun and his Princess (Editor's Note: The Queen would be the one married to the Emperor).
Highest in rank stood the "Senior Dames", three in number.
They had no special duties but were regarded partly as advisers, partly as teachers of flower arranging (Editor's Note: Ikebana), "incense bearing" and such pastimes.
In the event, however, of the sickness of death of the Princess, it developed upon one of the "Senior Dames" to take her place, temporarily or permanently, and as that might mean a great deal, the rules required these ladies should be taken from the families of the Kyoto Court nobles.
Next to the "Senior Dames" came seven "Elders" and below these were the "Middle Elders" followed by the "Great Entertainers".
All of the above ladies were supposed to be entirely beyond the reach of the Shogun's affections.
Their official duties occupied them exclusively, and they were required to live and die in virgin purity. (Editor's Note: Damnnnnnn...)
But attached to the Shogun's household were eight "Middle Dames" with whom his relations might be of the closest character. (Editor's Note: ... I think that means he could boff them... I think.)
An equal number were attached to the household of his wife, and had the same title. (Editor's Note: ... I think that means she could boff them... I think.)
The Shogun, though absolutely autocratic with regard to his own "Middle Dames", was not at liberty to bestow his affections unceremoniously on any of the ones belonging to his wife's side (Editor's Note: Yes! He could sex up his Middle Dames).
If his fancy strayed in that direction, it was necessary that he should make known the wish to the "Elders" of his own household, who, in turn, communicated with the "Elders" belonging to his wife and these laid the matter before their mistress. (Editor's Note: Van Zandt really did write "laid").
It would, of course, have been most unbecoming that either the wife or her "Elders" should place any obstacle in the way of the Shogun's desires.  (Editor's Note: It's good to be Shogun! You, you and you. And you! No... you get started, and I'll come in a bit later!")
The "Middle Dame" to whom his addresses were thus ceremoniously conveyed, might reject them if she pleased. Naturally, she rarely did as her father's estates might be confiscated, a serious penalty, for these young ladies were daughters of the daimyo and samurai class.
At night, the Shogun was obliged to have two companions (Editor's Note: "Obliged"? He had too? Damn?! Ah me... a guy can dream...). This rule was enforced (Editors Note: "Enforced!") after the er of the fifth Shogun Iyetsuma (1651-1680), who, having received in the ranks of his "Middle Dames" the mistress of an intriguing daimyo, was persuaded by her to attach the vermillion signature to a grant of an immense estate in favor of her secret lover. 
After that incident, which for a moment threatened the ruin of the Tokugawa, it was considered perilous to expose the Shogun to thy secret wiles of a favorite, and his highness had therefore to endure the presence of a second lady charged with reporting to the "Elder Dames" everything that happened in the "honorable bed chamber".
(Editor's Note: I still am unsure if that is kinky or not. But I guess if you were into gagging or choking, it would be reported... still, what was anyone going to do about it? Draw an ukiyo-e? I'm still betting that second would have been order in to join an FFM, and lie about what occurred.)
It appears that the practices and morals of the Court were not among the fairest pictures of Tokugawa times. 
So far as discipline is concerned, the system was very strict. 
The gate leading to the ladies' apartments in the Palace had to be closed by 10 o'clock every evening, after which hour neither ingress nor egress (Editor's Note: And definitely not congress) was permitted.
Even during the daytime, none of the ladies might go out without a passport. 
Three times a year—in January, May and December—they were permitted to visit their homes, but under no other pretext, except in case of the serious illness or death of a parent, was their absence from the Palace tolerated, and every frivolity in the nature of visiting places of amusement was forbidden.
Moreover, on entering the service they were required to swear an oath of 12 articles, one pledging them to serve until death (Editor's Note: I  might have made it so that they served until the Shogun thought them still boff-worthy), and another forbidding them to reveal the smallest detail of Palace life even to their own parents or sisters. (Editor's Note: What, Van Zandt, could they tell their brothers, which is why we know even this much?)
The petty passions that disfigure human nature must have found a wide field for exercise among a community of ladies condemned to such a life, cut off from free intercourse with the outer world or with the other sex, and having few objects of legitimate ambition. 

Van Zedt does do a nice bit of critical philosophizing in the last paragraph, but she applied the modern 1960 western series of scruples against Edo-jidai society.

I'm not saying it's right or wrong—though it is wrong that these women were purchased into sex slavery - but even though these women were from a more noble birth anyway, it would have been 10times better than being born into the farm or peasant-class... wondering where one's next meal might come from.  But agreed... these women didn't even have a chance to pick the guy they could marry... unlike nowadays in Japan where... oh yeah... arranged marriages still occur there and in many other countries.

It does seem archaic in the 20th and 21st centuries, however, but for many it is what it is.

I know plenty of people who wish they were with other people... it is what it is, and was.  

Now... since Japan is still a man's world... I just love the fact that the Shogun could pretty much screw any woman of the court he wanted, but typical Japanese bureaucracy created unnecessary paperwork that had to be filled in before he could do any filling in.

I guess, if we were to get our hands on the Shogun's court documents for any particular Shogun, we could see how many times he strayed across the line to get his sweaty little hands on his wife's eight "Middle Dames"... but of course, that ain't ever going to happen.

I mean, we could even read about every little bit of depravity that occurred or tried to occur. But one in the bed, and one watching? What if the Shogun just wants to have some sake and some pickled daikon and read a good scroll and go to bed? Does he still HAVE to have a woman with him taking notes of when he farted, or how he performed a Dutch Oven on his sleeping partner?

We might never know, but somewhere, in the deepest darkest vaults of Japanese history... the facts have been documented, and knowing Japan, I bet they still exist.

Like his wife said to the Shogun...

Sleep tight,
Andrew Joseph   
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