This week, we’ll be tackling an oft-requested topic; women warriors in the samurai class. Contrary to what you might think, women were actually very active in the roughly 800 years that make up the dominant time of the samurai class. Today, we’ll be discussing just a few of them and learning about their accomplishments during Japan’s war-torn past.
Listen to the episode
Women Warriors in Japan: The Role of Arms-Bearing Women in Japanese History
McCullough, Hellen Craig, trans.
The Tale of the Heike.
A History of Japan, vol. I and II (Prehistory-1334, 1334-1615)
Images (Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation)
A Meiji period depiction of Empress Jingu, leading Japanese troops in Korea during the 200s AD.
The European-style portrait on this 1881 one yen banknote is supposed to be Empress Jingu — she was a popular figure in the Meiji Period, though her martial aspects were downplayed somewhat.
A female member of the samurai class practicing with weapons. Generally speaking, women are associated with the naginata, a bladed polearm — the theory being that it made up for the shorter reach of most women compared to men. However, women are described using a wide variety of weapons throughout Japanese history.
Tomoe Gozen in action. Note the decapitated corpse beneath her.
Hangaku Gozen, as depicted in a print by Edo-period artist Yoshitoshi. Her armor is probably not accurate to the period (being based off Edo era designs rather than Kamakura-era ones).
Nakano Takeko. This picture was taken only a few months before her death.