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  • Japanese: 大奥 (Oo oku)

The Ôoku was the large rear area of the honmaru (main) palace at Edo castle, and was the center of women's residences and activities within the castle. It included the living spaces of the shogun's wives and concubines, their attendants, and other women associated with the castle, and was off-limits to nearly all men, the shogun himself being one of the few exceptions.

When the shogun visited the Ôoku, he passed through a space called the osuku rôka, or "bell hallway," and small bells were rung to announce his coming.[1]


In the 1850s, some one thousand women lived in the Ôoku; of them, some 185 were attendants directly in the shogun's service, while the majority of those remaining were attendants in the service of the shogun's mother, wife, or concubines, or female staff hired by the attendants.[2]

The women of the Ôoku maintained a complex hierarchy amongst themselves. The shogun's primary wife, known as midai-sama or midai-dokoro, was at the top of this hierarchy. Others who had given birth to the shogun's children were one rung below the midai, and were known as oheya (lit. "room") as they were entitled to their own private rooms within the palace.[3] The jorô otoshiyori, or "female Elders," were another group of authority figures within the Ôoku. Below them were some eighteen other ranks or categories of Ôoku women, each of whom enjoyed stipends paid out in a combination of rice and gold.[2] Stipends ranged widely, from four koku a year, up to fifty.[4]


Perhaps the most infamous scandal to strike the Ôoku was the Ejima-Ikushima Affair which took place in 1714. A group of women from the Ôoku left the castle to make a pilgrimage to the Tokugawa clan temple Zôjô-ji, but before returning to the castle, a number of them snuck off to the Yamamura-za kabuki theater, where they socialized with a number of the actors. This scandalous interaction between women associated with the innermost parts of the shogun's castle and actors - who were considered outside of the standard social classes, a marginal and morally dangerous group - led to the exile or execution of a number of the women and actors involved, and the demolition of the Yamamura-za.[5]


  1. Plaques on-site at Shuri castle.[1]
  2. 2.0 2.1 Rebecca Corbett, Cultivating Femininity: Women and Tea Culture in Edo and Meiji Japan, University of Hawaii Press (2018), 118-119.
  3. Cecilia Segawa Seigle, “Tokugawa Tsunayoshi and the Formation of Edo Castle Rituals of Giving,” in Martha Chaiklin (ed.), Mediated by Gifts: Politics and Society in Japan 1350-1850, 135.
  4. Corbett, 121.
  5. Donald Shively, "Bakufu Versus Kabuki," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 18, no. 3/4 (1955), 348-350.