History’s Forgotten Female Samurai Warriors

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Even though most of the fearsome, katana-wielding Samurai warriors in television, print, and in film are men, the truth is that there were some who were women.

Also, they were just as skilled at combat, self-defense, and use of weapons as their male counterparts, says Japan Times.

The women samurai warriors were trained in the use of the pole-mounted naginata, as well as in the knife-fighting art of tantojutsu, and would have been able to use a dagger called the kaiken, as well. They were also held to the same standard, and expected to perform same duties as the men they would have likely fought alongside.

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Portraits de femmes samouraïs onna-bugeishas, fin du XIXème siècle. Ces femmes étaient issues de la haute société et de la classe des bushis (la classe supérieure de ceux qui combattent). Elles étaient formées aux armes dans le but de défendre leur foyer, leur famille et le nom de leur clan. Elles apprenaient à manier le naginata, le katana, l’arc et le tanto (poignard). Certaines femmes samouraïs deviendront des icônes comme l’impératrice Jingù qui organisa l’invasion de la Corée en 200 lorsque son mari, l’empereur Chūai, fût tué au combat. C’était le 14ème empereur du Japon. Ces femmes sont des exemples de lutte, car elles n’étaient en général pas destinées à se battre. C’est grâce à ces femmes guerrières qu’au XIIIème siècle elles commencèrent à recevoir des droits égaux avec les hommes par rapport à la distribution de l’héritage familial, qui avant était réservé à leurs frères. Durant l’époque Edo (1600-1868) elles furent malheureusement reléguées au rang de simple femme de maison. Elles n’étaient plus autorisées à voyager seules, et beaucoup ont adopté une relation de soumission avec leur mari samouraï tel un seigneur et son vassal : « Les époux et les épouses ne dormaient même plus ensemble. Le mari allait retrouver sa femme pour faire l'amour et retournait après dans sa chambre » (extrait du livre Les Femmes guerrières du Japon : la période Edo, une paix renforcée). La dernière femme samouraï, Nakano Takeko (première photo), forma une unité de 3000 combattants pour partir affronter plus de 20 000 soldats impériaux du clan Ōgaki. #japon #onnabugeisha #femmesamourai #katana #naginata #periodeedo #honneur #japanesestyle #bushi #bushido

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One of them was named Tomoe Gozen, who is remembered for her loyalty and courage in the 1184 Battle of Awazu:

“Tomoe was especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair, and charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors.”

Another, Hangaku Gozen, commanded 3,000 warriors against an army of 10,000, and is described as “fearless as a man and beautiful as a flower.”

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Historical Warrior women 🗡️⚔️♀️ #boudica #queenboudica #queenoftheiceni #joanofarc #jeannedarc #tomoegozen #onnabugeisha #femalewarrior #celticwoman #samuraiwoman

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Still more, most unnamed, used their considerable skills to protect their homes and villages rather than going to battle. Known as the onna bugeisha, they would have needed to have been skilled in defending against invaders on horseback, among other things, and literature tells tales of ornate armor and long weapons worn by women up until the Sengoki period (15th-17th century).

At the beginning of the 17th century, the status of women in Japanese society shifted along wit the spread of a more firm social peace. The onna bugeisha began to turn over their weapons and to stay home, assuming the equally – if differently – challenging roles of wife and mother.

Interestingly, even in a world where women were supposed to be passive, obedient, and bound to the home, schools were opened with the aim of teaching the art of the naginata to women as a method of moral training.

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When she was a child life had happened to her and all she could do was be a victim. Now that she was older she had a choice. So she chose to be her own champion – a noble, brave, warrior Queen. Are you embracing your power? Warrior Women: Nakano Takeko, the Last Female Samurai Warrior Nakano Takeko was born in Edo (modern day Tokyo), and was the daughter of an Aizu official. At the time, Samurai women were trained in martial arts so they could protect the estates from bandits. Nakano began her training when she was six years old, and she quickly showed aptitude for both martial arts and academics. Her favorite stories as a child were of Tomoe Gozen, a Samurai woman who’d fought and died 600 years before Nakanos’s birth. Nakano spent five years as the adopted daughter of her martials arts teacher, Akaoka Daisuke. She specialized in the use of the naginata, a bladed polearm, and became a skilled instructor. Nakano left him and returned to live with her family at age 16 after he attempted to arrange a marriage for her to his nephew. During the Battle of Aizu, Nakano formed an unofficial unit of 20 women armed with naginata, including her mother and sister. Due to the gender restrictions of the era, women were not allowed to officially fight in the army. This unit she created was retroactively named the Women’s Army. Nakano led the charge against Imperial Japanese Army troops. The should have been immediately shot down. The Emperor’s Samurai were armed with rifles, however It was given to take the women alive. That was a mistake. The Imperial Japanese Army was stunned at the women’s ferocity, and none fought harder than Takeko. Nakano killed five enemy opponents before taking a fatal bullet to the chest. Rather than let the enemy capture her head as a trophy, she asked her sister to cut it off and have it buried. It was taken to #HōkaiTemple, located in what is know today as #Aizubange, #Fukushima, where it was buried under a pine tree. Rest in comments .. #womenwarriors #truestory💯 #warriorQueen. #womensrights #womenempoweringwomenphotographers #femalesamuraiwarrior

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In the late 19th century, another legendary onna bugeisha entered the scene. Her name was Nakano Takeko, and she led an all-female group of warriors known as the Jōshitai, who are commemorated every year during the annual Aizu Autumn Festival. She was fatally shot in battle, but instead of allowing herself to be captured, she asked her sister to cut off her head and bury it.