Tomoe Gozen – Female Samurai
A story is told about a formidable 12th-century female samurai warrior named Tomoe Gozen. She is known for her feats of bravery and strength. In the past, it was generally men who were known for engaging in the literally bloody business of going into warfare.
Female samurai warriors like Tomoe Gozen are known in Japan as Onna Bugeisha. She was famous for a lot of things which include being in the midst of a usually male-dominated profession.
This was seen later on more so in life when she married Minamoto No Yoshinaka serving him in the Genpei War (Jisho Juei War).
She has lived during a time when there was great political and social upheaval in feudal Japan. It was the Genpei War that runs the course from 1180 to 1185; this war marks the dramatic end to the aristocracy ushering the age of the Samurai.
She was a force to reckon with. Fighting with her strong bow and long sword she charges enemies on horseback. She was also a highly skilled archer.
These characteristics impress Lord Kiso no Yoshinaka that he appointed her in the position as a leading commander during the Genpei War.
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Battles Fought By Tomoe Gozen
In one of the battles, it is said she has single-handedly safeguard a bridge against multiple attackers. Her feats even bested that of Uchida Iyeyoshi. She killed a lot of samurai warriors in single combat.
She also killed and decapitated him in turn, his name was Iyeyoshi Uchida. She was able to get his head as a trophy and delivered it to Yoshinaka.
One of the most famous battles which she participates in was the Battle of Awazu where her husband, Yoshinaka was defeated by his enemies. She was asked by him to leave to preserve his dignity as a man.
She was actually ordered to go home to Yoshinaka’s province to retell his final battle thus, they both became samurai legends in their own right.
Tomoe Gozen Childhood
Lady Gozen as she was known, was born into an elite upper-class Japanese clan. During the period of her birth women like her were betrothed to samurai which were trained from childhood to perform housewife roles.
She has been given higher education and instructed from childhood to perform a traditional Japanese womanly role to manage estate and servants.
From childhood, Tomoe was trained in the art of defense. Women like her maybe running the household but, behind these palaces and living quarters she knows how to wield the Naginata and other weapons.
Traditional Female Role
Prints made in 1888 depicts Tomoe Gozen seated on a floor playing the koto. This is a traditional musical instrument derived from the Chinese Zheng which is similar to the other instruments similar to the Mongolian yatga.
Koto is about 180 centimeters in length and made from kiri wood. Another panel shows her warrior side which depicts either her allies or enemies.
This particular panel and another one made earlier in the 1100s emphasize the struggle for women’s rights even as early on. The panel shows that men during that period of time were threatened by women’s power and autonomy.
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Tomoe Gozen Persona
She may be strong but, she was also famous for her beauty. She has creamy skin and long hair. She was considered to be endowed with charming facial features.
She braids her long hair before going to battle showing her womanly side. Some compared her for being a warrior that is worth more than a thousand men. Her fighting skills are said to be better than Yoshinaka’s warriors.
She was strong enough to cut off an enemy’s head. There is a mystery that surrounds Tomoe which is part of what makes her an intriguing character.
Recent DNA testing made from archeological digging on Samurai battlegrounds produces an astounding female presence. From the 105 bodies tested on one battle mound, 35 of these came from that of female warriors who fought bravely.
Her bones have been said to be included from this digging. This clearly exhibits how she fought like a man while maintaining her femininity. She exhibited both qualities of grace and strength needed for the battles that she fought.
She has learned how to perfect the art of balancing both personas. For those right now who believe in women empowerment, this female Samurai warrior clearly is worthy of emulation.
Onna Bugeisha Weaponry
Onna Bugeisha was trained to use the Naginata which was an iconic weapon of the period. Still, there is another weapon favored by this female warrior which is ko-naginata.
This specific weapon is smaller than those used by its male counterpart. Another weapon is that of the Kaiken dagger. This is a double-edged blade that has a length of up to 10 inches.
Daggers like these were used in small confined spaces to make it easier for female warriors like Tomoe Gozen to move in a limited space. These weapons helped a women warrior like Lady Gozen to protect her family in times of war and unrest.
The Tale of the Heike
In the epic chronicle of the Genpei Wars, there were different versions of her role in the Battle of Awazu Another story relates that she wants to avenge Yoshinaka by killing his enemies.
After doing so, she took her lord’s head and drown herself in the sea to end her life. In one version of this tale, Lady Gozen is said to be defeated by Wada Yoshimori forcing her to be his concubine. Other versions say that she had become a nun.
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Other Versions of the Tale
She carried Yoshinaka’s head so that his enemies cannot make his head their ‘trophy’. Still another version states how Lady Gozen is said to have fought bravely with Yoshinaka’s troops however, they were still outnumbered.
During this particular defeat, Yoshinaka told Tomoe Gozen to run because he was ashamed to die with a woman. Yoshinaka chooses to die with his foster brother instead.
Different versions of the tale include being attacked by Wada Yoshimori, an enemy soldier. Having lost his samurai sword, Wada used a pine trunk like the club to attack Lady Gozen. She was overpowered and as a consequence became his concubine.
From this union was formed a son named Asahina Yoshihide who was killed when another clan (Hojo family) destroyed the Wada family. Having lost her son, she became a nun until she was ninety-one years old.
Tomoe Gozen: Iconic Samurai Warrior
As early as the 15th century, a Noh plays simply titled Tomoe. In the 18th century, Tomoe Gozen has become an icon as seen in a Kabuki play entitled Tomoe, as well as 18th century Kabuki, Play known as Onna Shibaraku.
Colorful stories have been told about here passing on to each generation a legend that produces such popular fantasy series entitled The Tomoe Gozen Saga by Jessica Salmonson. In this series, the main character was depicted loosely on the real Tomoe. She is aptly played as a powerful heroine.
She is the inspiration for the anime character that is said to be worth a thousand soldiers. This character can face the demon and gods. She is known for being proficient in crowd combat.
She is endowed with her grief over her lover that resembles the sun. This symbolizes her feelings for Yoshinaka. For those who love tattoos, sporting a Tomoe Gozen designed tattoo could be worn on Halloween night. Novels were written about her which reveals interesting facts about her.
Other sources end her story stating that she has retired in a temple as a nun. While others say that she had committed seppuku, a form of disembowelment.
This was said to be her graceful exit to avoid the disgrace of being captured by her enemies just like the samurai warriors of Japan.
She is considered as one of the best martial arts specialist of her day. No wonder Tomoe Gozen’s fame and formidable skill as a warrior spread out even through time.
Lady Gozen was depicted as an archer who lived in the late Heian or early Kamakura periods. She is the beloved concubine of a famous general named Kiso no Yoshinaka which as a title of Sei-I Taishogun.
In this anime version, she was a brave woman who is known for her military achievements. This anime version has a gentle smile but, this is a contradiction since she has a savage nature.
She is a mixture of calmness. She has a clear view of what life and death are all about much like the real Tomoe Gozen. In the frontline, she does not hesitate to fight and kill her enemies.
Source of Inspiration
Tomoe Gozen’s story has inspired a lot of people not just those from Japan. She has inspired artists and writers for centuries. Paintings were made about her showing her long flowing hair and silk wrap flowing behind her.
The painting clearly depicts her katana sword that has fallen to the ground. Tomoe Gozen is also depicted in woodcut print art. Tomoe Gozen is a perfect example of Japanese female warriors at their finest. She left behind a legacy that will always be remembered both now and future history.
Image Source: 蔀関月筆 [Public domain]