The Shogun’s Queen – Lesley Downer : Guest Post “My Haunted Home in Japan”

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The Shogun’s Queen: The Shogun Quartet, Book 1

Published by Bantam Press

Ebook & Hardback : 3 November 2016 | Paperback : 13 July 2017

 

It’s a pleasure to be taking part in the blog tour for The Shogun’s Queen, published by Bantam Press.  I have a copy of this gorgeous looking book to read and will have a review on the blog soon but in the meantime, I’m delighted to welcome Lesley to the blog with a guest post as part of the blog tour celebrations.

Hello, Karen. First, thank you for inviting me to post on your blog today. I much appreciate it!

 

My haunted home in Japan

by Lesley Downer

The world of The Shogun’s Queen was a place where the natural and the supernatural regularly brushed up against each other. This is the way it often feels in Japan. You live side by side with all sorts of beings, some of whom bother you but most of whom just live alongside you so that you come to take the supernatural for granted. I discovered this when I lived in a haunted house in the small city of Kamakura.

Kamakura is to Tokyo as Oxford is to London. It’s exactly an hour away by train. Back in the twelfth century it was the old capital. It’s a beautiful place that rambles across wooded hills, full of mossy old temples and vermilion painted shrines. It’s also a cultural centre. Many poets and artists have made their homes there.

I lived there for three years. I’d already been in Japan for two years and was acclimatised to the culture, the language and the customs.

 

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Lesley with her friend Miyuki in the house in Kamakura many years ago

I lived in a haunted house. No Japanese would live there, which made it very cheap to rent. As is well known, Japanese ghosts have localised interests; they torment their own family members or whoever’s done them harm but they don’t trouble people at random. They don’t bother foreigners. In any case foreigners are so radically different that even the most ferocious of Japanese ghosts would probably be a little in awe of one.

 

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Our home was less grandiferous that this, but this is the general idea

My western friends and I had no fear of Japanese ghosts and lived happily in this large, rambling, rather shabby house.

It was actually a beautiful old house. In Japan you measure rooms by the number of tatami mats which line the floor. Each is 6 foot by 3 foot. An average room in a modern house is 6 mats. In this splendid old house rooms were 10 mats and 12 mats. I had a 10 mat room. There was a tea ceremony hut and a pond with carp in it and a very overgrown garden. I never found out who the landlord was or why he kept the house. Many beautiful old houses were being torn down and replaced by apartment blocks which could be rented out for far more. But for some reason this house remained.

We had a big kitchen looking onto the garden. In those days – the early 80s – Japan was becoming very prosperous. People liked to have the latest fridge, TV and washing machine and to buy a new one every year. There were different days for throwing out different sorts of rubbish – burnable rubbish day, non-burnable rubbish day and big rubbish day. Long before we British started separating our rubbish the Japanese were already doing so.

For us impoverished westerners big rubbish day was a bit of a bonanza. That was when people threw out last year’s TV and washing machine. We had several excellent fridges which were last year’s model. People also threw out beautiful old chests which westerners I knew assiduously collected. To western eyes they were virtually antiques.

Everything was fine until the third summer. That year every one by chance went away at the same time leaving me alone in the house. I had Japanese friends over to stay.

‘Lucky you,’ I said. ‘You can have a room each!’

‘No, thank you,’ they replied. ‘That would be too frightening.’

I’d almost forgotten that the house was supposed to be haunted, added to which Japanese almost never sleep alone. In fact they all slept together in one room with their futon mattresses side by side down the middle of the room, not off to one side as we would place them.

The night after they left was my first on my own in the house. I was lying in my futons on the tatami mats of my room when I heard a distinct sound of banging. It came from the other end of the house, from the far end of a long dark corridor. It sounded like boxes being thrown around. I knew I was all alone. I didn’t feel like going to investigate. I pulled my covers over my head, screwed my eyes tight shut and hoped for the best.

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YUREI (Credit Shinonome Kijin – from The Book of Yokai by Michael Dylan Foster, University of California Press, 2015)

There are many ghosts and monsters in Japan. But in those days I only knew of two kinds – obaké and yurei.

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OBAKE (Credit – Shinonome Kijin – from The Book of Yokai by Michael Dylan Foster, University of California Press, 2015)

An obaké looks like an oiled paper umbrella hopping about on its handle like a single leg, wearing one wooden clog and with a big eye in the middle of the furled umbrella. I thought it was probably one of those. Yurei are much more frightening. They’re the ghosts of women who have been spurned or killed by their lover or husband. If you meet a beautiful woman wearing a long white gown and floating half way up a wall it’s probably because she has no legs. If she starts tearing out her hair and dropping it on the floor in huge clumps and wailing, ‘I resent you, I resent you!’ you can be sure it’s a yurei.

To this day people in Japan know that the dead still make ripples in the lives of the living, particularly those who died too young. At temples and along country roads there are shrines to dead babies. At Obon, the festival of the dead, people dance to welcome back the souls of their parents and grandparents and great grandparents. They all have a good time together and then the people send the ancestors across the water back to the land of the dead in flotillas of little boats with lanterns glowing in them. It’s a happy festival, not a sad one.

As for me, I stayed well clear of the end of the corridor thereafter. And when I came back to Britain Japan was still so alive in my mind that I had to start writing about it. The latest of my novels set in this strange yet familiar world is The Shogun’s Queen.

 

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Lesley in front of the Great Buddha (looking a little scruffy – I was on holiday) many years after the events I describe

About the book:

Only one woman can save her world from barbarian invasion but to do so will mean sacrificing everything she holds dear – love, loyalty and maybe life itself . . .

Japan, and the year is 1853. Growing up among the samurai of the Satsuma Clan, in Japan’s deep south, the fiery, beautiful and headstrong Okatsu has – like all the clan’s women – been encouraged to be bold, taught to wield the halberd, and to ride a horse.

But when she is just seventeen, four black ships appear. Bristling with cannon and manned by strangers who to the Japanese eyes are barbarians, their appearance threatens Japan’s very existence. And turns Okatsu’s world upside down.

Chosen by her feudal lord, she has been given a very special role to play. Given a new name – Princess Atsu – and a new destiny, she is the only one who can save the realm. Her journey takes her to Edo Castle, a place sosecret that it cannot be marked on any map. There, sequestered in the Women’s Palace – home to three thousand women, and where only one man may enter: the shogun – she seems doomed to live out her days. But beneath the palace’s immaculate facade, there are whispers of murders and ghosts. It is here that Atsu must complete her mission and discover one last secret – the secret of the man whose fate is irrevocably linked to hers: the shogun himself . . .

 

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About the author:

Lesley lesley-downerDowner’s mother was Chinese and her father a professor of Chinese. She ended up almost by accident in Japan and became fascinated by the country and its culture and people. It has been an ongoing love affair.
She is the author of The Shogun Quartet, a series of four historical novels set in Japan, beginning with the best-selling The Last Concubine, shortlisted for Romantic Novel of the Year and translated into thirty languages. The Shogun’s Queen, out in November 2016, is a prequel and the last in the series. Her non-fiction includes Geisha: The Secret History of a Vanishing World and Madame Sadayakko: The Geisha who Seduced the West.

 

Author Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon UK | Goodreads

 

 

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