Friday, August 2, 2013

Friday Art & History Feature - Tomoe Gozen

Tomoe Gozen by Yuhime (
When people think of Samurai warriors, they usually think of men. However, the wives and daughters of male samurai were also considered samurai. All of them adhered to the samurai values and principles, such as obedience, self-control, strength and loyalty, and learned enough self defense to be able to defend their home and family when the husbands were away fighting. In fact, a samurai woman had the responsibility to protect her home.

There were, however, a few samurai women in Japanese history who distinguished themselves as fighters and warriors on the battlefield. One such extraordinary woman was called Tomoe Gozen.

Tomoe Gozen

Tomoe Gozen by Yoshitoshi 1880, Library of Congress Prints Collection
Tomoe Gozen lived in the 12th century Japan and was a concubine of Minamoto no Yoshinaka, a late Heian Period general. According to some tales, she was one of his main captains and he often used her in battles.

"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." - The Tale of the Heike

It's believed that she have fought in, the Genpai War (1180–1185), alongside Yoshinaka, and survived it. During that time, she is said to have taken at least one enemy head. However, Yoshinaka's forced were heavily outnumbered and eventually defeated. Yoshinaka sent Tomoe away before committing suicide.

Following her escape,Tomoe supposedly gave up the sword. According to some tales and legends, she was defeated by Wada Yoshimori, who was so smitten with her that she became his wife. After his death, she probably became a nun in Echizen.

While it is not hundred percent clear if Tomoe was a real historical figure, some manuscripts point to the fact that she was. She is an example of a true samurai woman, brave and loyal and ready to stand up to her enemies.

Tomoe Gozen with Uchida Ieyoshi and Hatakeyama no Shigetada. Woodblock print by Yōshū Chikanobu, 1899


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