Lesley Downer

Historical Consultant

Lesley Downer is an author, journalist and historian whose passion is Japan. She lived there for more than 15 years, speaks Japanese, and has written some 14 books on the country.

She is also a Geisha expert. Her non-fiction work, Geisha: The Secret History of a Vanishing World, is the definitive work on geisha past and present. To research it she spent six months living among Geisha and found herself little by little, being transformed into one of them. She recorded their memories and studied their history and thus learnt about Townsend Harris, the first American Consul General to Japan, and Okichi, his geisha companion. Their poignant tale, which she tells in her short story, A Geisha for the American Consul, is the inspiration for Northern Ballet’s Geisha.

Townsend Harris also features in her novel, The Shogun’s Queen, the first of The Shogun Quartet, set in the most dramatic period in Japanese history, the mid-nineteenth century. Another novel of the quartet, The Last Concubine, was shortlisted for Romantic Novel of the Year 2009.

Lesley’s non-fiction works include Madame Sadayakko: The Geisha who Seduced the West, the biography of Puccini’s model for Madama Butterfly.

Lesley gives frequent lectures plus TV and radio appearances and is consulted on all matters to do with Japan and geisha. She presented the BBC Two cooking series, A Taste of Japan, lectured on The World, a vast residential ship that circles the globe forever like a modern-day Flying Dutchman, and has lectured in Japan in Japanese. In 2020 she will be appearing on Netflix in Age of the Samurai: Battle for Japan.

She lives in London with her husband, physicist and author Arthur I. Miller, and makes frequent trips to Tokyo and New York.