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Ukiyo-e depiction of the Ōoku (by Hashimoto Chikanobu)

The Ōoku (大奥, "great interior") refers to the harem of Edo Castle, the section where the women connected to the reigning shōgun resided. Similar areas in the castles of powerful daimyōs, such as the Satsuma Domain, were also referred to by this term.[1]


Map of the Honmaru enceinte of Edo Castle with the Ōoku area in red

The Ōoku was built inside the Honmaru enceinte of Edo Castle in 1607 by Tokugawa Hidetada,^ who passed a special law for the Ōoku which was completely separated from the outside world. Therefore, noblewomen living in the Ōoku could not leave the castle without permission, and that no women within the Ōoku can have a relationship with man. This system lasted for nearly 200 years.


There were no male adults admitted onto the floor of the Ōoku without the shōgun. The corridor through which the shōgun entered was called Osuzu Rōka (御鈴廊下, large corridor of the bells), derived from the ringing of the suzu bells to announce the entrance of the shōgun. This corridor was the only route which connected the Ōoku to rest of Edo Castle, and it was usually locked.

There is Honmaru (本丸) where Midaidokoro, shōgun's official wife and her children resided (though only Oeyo, wife of Tokugawa Hidetada resided with her children) but the heir must live in there until his coming age and move to Sannomaru. Ninomaru (二の丸) was shōgun's concubines with their children resided and Sannomaru (三の丸) was Oomidaidokoro (the past shōgun's official widow) and the past shōgun's widow concubine who didn't have child also mother of the shogun resided in there. Nagatsubone was senior chamberlain and servants resided, also the heir must live here after coming age until he appointed as shogun. Also there is Nakanomaru (中之丸) where the Noh being played but during reign of third shōgun, this place was resided by his wife, Takatsukasa Takako after she had micarriages for 3 times.

With the last fire that destroyed the Honmaru Palace of Edo Castle and the end of the shogunate with the Meiji reforms, the Ōoku also ceased to exist.


Depiction of ikebana flower arranging at the Ōoku (by Hashimoto Chikanobu)
Women of the Ōoku enjoy cherry blossoms at a hanami. Moku-hanga in the ukiyo-e style (by Toyohara Chikanobu, 1894)

The women's quarters included the shōgun's mother, the official wife (seishitsu), and concubines. Rumored to house several thousand women, including maids and servants at one point, the Ōoku was, as much as any other part of Edo Castle, a focal point of political intrigue for the Tokugawa shogunate.

A lady in the rank of an Otoshiyori (御年寄) or Jōrō Otoshiyori (上臈御年寄) or the senior ladyship held the reins of power in the Ōoku, while attaining the influence equivalent to a Rōjū in Edo Castle.

Notable persons[edit]

  • Kasuga no Tsubone, shōgun Tokugawa Iemitsu's wet nurse. She became the first Jōrō Otoshiyori in 1607, she was recommended by the first Midaidokoro, Oeyo. She managed Ooku with Oeyo from 1607 until Oeyo died in 1626, with Oman no Kata from 1640 until her death in 1643.
  • Oman no Kata, she was the first concubine ever been named as Jōrō Otoshiyori later she acted as adopted mother of two Iemitsu's child; Chiyohime and the fourth shogun Tokugawa Ietsuna. She was a concubine of Tokugawa Iemitsu and retired in March 1657.
  • Yajima no Tsubone, shōgun Tokugawa Ietsuna's wet nurse. She became the third Jōrō Otoshiyori in 1656 after Oman no Kata retired and later was banished from Ōoku in 1675 after Ietsuna discovered that
    • in 1675 she give a poison to Asa no Miya Akiko's powder, which blinded Asa no Miya (it caused her stressed and she died a year later)
    • in 1667 she give a poison to Ofuri no Kata's lipstick, who at that time was pregnant. Ofuri had a miscarriage and soon died. The reason she gave poison to Ofuri was because she wanted her daughter become the only one who give birth to a child by Ietsuna's, but later her daughter also had a miscarriage after falling down the stairs.
  • Lady Emonosuke, she was the second and last concubine that been named as Jōrō Otoshiyori from 1683 until her death in January 1705, she was concubine of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi.
  • Lady Akimoto, she became Jōrō Otoshiyori in 1705 after the death of Lady Emonnosuke, she retired in 1709.
  • Ejima, Jōrō Otoshiyori and the personal ladyship of Gekkoin, mother of seventh shōgun. Held the office from 1709 until 1714. She was expelled from Ōoku in 1714 because of a relationship with a man named Ikushima Shingoro.[citation needed]This tragedy known as Ejima-Ikushima affair.
  • Fujinami, Jōrō Otoshiyori and the personal ladyship of Ten'ei-in, widow of the sixth shogun. In office from 1714
  • Lady Takaoka, Jōrō Otoshiyori of Ōoku during Tokugawa Ieharu's reign. In office from 1765 to 1787.
  • Lady Anekoji (1810–1880), Jōrō Otoshiyori of Ōoku from Tokugawa Ienari's reign until Tokugawa Ieyoshi's reign. In office from 1826 to 1844.
  • Lady Utahashi, wet nurse of Tokugawa Iesada, personal ladyship of Lady Honjuin (mother of Iesada) and Jōrō Otoshiyori of Ōoku during Tokugawa Ieyoshi's Reign. In office from 1844 to 1853.
  • Ikushima the personal ladyship of Tenshoin. She retired from the Ōoku at 1859 and stayed with Muraoka, the senior ladyship of the Konoe family, until her death. She was buried at Satsuma.
  • Niwata Tsuguko from Kyoto who was the personal ladyship of Princess Kazunomiya, Iemochi's wife. She died 1868 at the Ōoku.
  • Takiyama (1805–1876) was the last Jōrō Otoshiyori. She served the previous shōgun, including Tokugawa Iesada and Atsuhime/Tenshōin, Tokugawa Iemochi and Kazunomiya or Seikan'in-no miya, and the last shōgun Tokugawa Yoshinobu. After a new government took over Edo Castle, she moved to Kawaguchi in Saitama Prefecture. Her remains were buried in Shakujo-ji Temple. In office from 1853 to 1867.

In popular culture[edit]

As no painting exists of the interior, ukiyo-e artists such as Hashimoto Chikanobu and Toyohara Chikanobu created a number of prints that depict life as imagined inside.

There were many popular portrayals of the Ōoku.[2]


^ The name and title of "Ōoku" was given by Oeyo, Tokugawa Hidetada's wife
^ Her name before Iemitsu become the third shōgun
^ her name after Iemitsu become the third shōgun


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-10-19. Retrieved 2008-10-09.
  2. ^ ja:大奥に関する作品の一覧

External links[edit]

Media related to Ōoku at Wikimedia Commons

  • The dictionary definition of ōoku at Wiktionary

Coordinates: 35°41′18″N 139°45′16″E / 35.688324°N 139.754389°E / 35.688324; 139.754389