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Ooku, The Secret World of the Shogun’s Women By Cecilia Segawa Seigle and Linda H. C ...

Chapter :  Introduction
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Ooku, The Secret World of the Shogun’s Women


The “Great Interior”

The institution of the “Great Interior,” or Ōoku, was the residence of the Tokugawa shogun’s wives, concubines, mothers, and daughters, along with their female servants, for close to three hundred years, from about 1600 to 1868. Great Interior also referred to the network of its residents. Run by and for women, yet situated at the virtual apex of the Japanese social order, where the samurai warrior class and its ruling shogun placed themselves, the Ōoku was simultaneously a world hidden from public view by well-guarded walls and the focus of enduring questions about its customs and power.

The Ōoku was built and its rules developed in order to protect and promote the women of the shogunal household and to project the masculine authority of the shogun as head of the premier military family. Samurai attitudes toward and views of women prior to these three centuries, Tokugawa period neo-Confucian ethics, the societal emphasis on female virtue according to Confucian and Buddhist precepts, and women’s own self-evaluations all infused the character of the Ōoku.

The Ōoku as it is known today is also an invention of public imagination and perception. Carol Gluck has proposed that the Edo period (as