Ōoku: The Inner Chambers (vol. 2) by Fumi Yoshinaga, translated by Akemi Wegmüller
Although the second volume of Ōoku, a recently introduced (in translation) gender-bender series, this latest could definitely read as a stand-alone love story. And quite a unique and memorable one at that!
The series’ premise is that in an alternative history of premodern Edo Japan, the mysterious Redface Pox has wiped out the majority percentage of the male population. Here volume 2 shows how a feisty young woman ascended the throne.
Royal blood provides no protection against the virulent pox, and in 1634, two years into the epidemic, the third Tokugawa shogun, Lord Iemitsu dies. His wet nurse, the all-powerful Lady Kasuga, is not willing to watch the dynasty fall apart without a ruler. She devises an elaborate plan to at least keep the royal bloodline alive by installing Iemitsu’s only known heir – a daughter illegitimately begotten through heinous violence – as his successor, disguising her gender. When Arikoto, the new abbot of the Keiko-in, a Buddhist monastery “four and fifty days” from Edo, arrives at the castle to pay his respects, he becomes an unwitting prisoner of the royal court. The abrupt and gruesome murder before his eyes of one of his acolytes and a courtesan convinces him he has to stay … and renounce his monk’s vows, as well. Will his beautiful gentility and steadfast kindness tame the royal heiress?
A fascinating endnote explains that the character of the male monk Arikoto is actually based on the real-life concubine of the same name of the real-life Iemitsu. In fact, this volume is essentially a gender-bender historical rewrite. The original Arikoto was the abbess (not the abbot) of Keiko-in when Iemitsu decided he had to have her. The real-life Lady Kasuga had Arikoto added to the real-life Ōoku to serve Iemitsu, never mind her otherworldly vows. Eventually, Arikoto took over running the Ōoku when Kasuga died, and is credited with bringing “many courtly refinements” to those inner chambers. Really, you can’t make this stuff up! With Yoshinaga’s deft depictions, lucky readers will certainly enjoy some fabulous history lessons indeed.
For other volumes of this surprising series, click here.
Published: 2009 (United States)
Ōoku © Fumi Yoshinaga
Original Japanese edition published by Hakusensha, Inc.