At heart, this is a tale of identity- many of the characters struggle with having the labels of others placed on them and not being accepted for who they know themselves to be deep inside. The biggest identity explored here is that of gender- Iemitsu or Chie is biologically a woman and identifies as such, but Kasuga and others in the palace force her to adopt a male identity. The stress and grief at being a peg forced into an ill fitting hole eats away at her (understandably so) and projects outwards in the terrible way she treats everyone around her. It culminates in her “punishment” to Arikoto (who did nothing wrong in calling her out) and the other men cross-dressing for her entertainment. She is forced to dress contrary to her identity and takes her pain out by making others do likewise. The breakthrough moment was Arikoto accepting her- not as the shogun, but as a woman, draping the kimono around her affirmed her identity.
Clothing is armor of sorts- it tells the world who you are and how you wish to be identified- in the clothing that is right for you, you feel more powerful, confident and conversely, in the wrong clothing, you feel vulnerable, like a fish out of water. We see this reflected in Chie’s attitude when she finds a space where she can be her true self and wear women’s clothing, her confidence and happiness become obvious. Add to that the healing presence of Arikoto who accepts her for who she is and who she wants to be. However, there is the concerning aspect that it is an abusive relationship in the cycle of punishment and reward that she puts Arikoto through, a cycle which she no doubt learned through the traumas inflicted on her.
I found it ironic how Chie idolized Murasaki from The Tale of Genji, a girl who was taken from her home and groomed by Genji to become an ideal lady for his own pleasure. Her own situation carries a faint echo of Murasaki, though instead of being trained in “womanly arts”, she’s trained to be a shogun.
Arikoto also struggles with his identity on a spiritual level. He finds himself in helping others and similar to Chie, torn from his surroundings and forced into an ill-shaped role, he also despairs in losing that part of himself, which he finds through helping Chie
Something tells me Kasuga isn’t going to like how much sway Arikoto holds over Iemitsu- she can no longer manipulate either him or the shogun at her will, a fearful prospect for someone like her who habitually plays with other people’s lives on the grand chessboard of politics. I’m sure the lack of a child between the couple is something Kasuga will play to her favor, especially given her penchant for drastic measures.