The depiction of Samurai warriors is usually male-oriented but female warriors also existed. Known as Onna-bugeisha, these women fought and perform the same duties as their male counterparts.
They are as powerful, deadly, capable, courageous, just, and fearsome too. These female warriors trained the same way men did. They trained to use weapons and martial arts before the Samurai class began.
Onna-bugeisha were trained to use a weapon designed for them to give them better balance while fighting in combat. These women warriors belonged to the noble class. They are well educated in different fields such as Science, Mathematics, Arts, etc.
Most have featured the heroic stories of male Samurai warriors. But, not many people know the existence of Onna- bugeisha and their heroic stories and journey. This article will feature the top 5 female Samurai warriors and their journey.
Yamakawa Futaba: The Educator
Yamakawa Futaba is an educator in Japan during the Meiji period. She worked at the Tokyo Women’s Normal School, now Ochanomizu University. Her advocacy towards the importance of women and education made her land on this list.
Futaba was a trained fighter. Born in Aizu, Japan, she belonged to the noble class of Samurai warriors. As a female warrior, she took part in the defense of Tsurunga castle. She fought against the Emperor’s army during the Boshin war. It was the Boshin war where the increase of female fighters has gone up. Many have seen the fighting spirit of Japan’s women Samurai class.
The Tsurunga castle played an important role during this time. It was one of the last fortress of the Shogun’s allies against the Meiji Emperor’s forces.
Tsurunga Castle was the last fortresses of the Shogun’s allies. The castle actually held out against a massive force of the Meiji Emperor for a month. After the siege, the Aizu lost. There had been mass suicides that took place.
Yamakawa Futaba survived and became an educator. She grew concerned of girls and their education. After the war, she lead the movement demanding improved education for women in Japan.
Because of her efforts, Yamakawa Futaba got promoted to a Kotokan or higher-grade officer. Yamakawa also received an award with the title of Jugoi or Junior grade of the 5th Court rank.
Nakano Takeko: The Defender
Nakano Takeko was born in Edo (now Tokyo). She was the daughter of an Aizu official. Nakano belonged to a family of Samurai, and their loyalty was to the ruling of the Tokugawa Shogunate. She began her thorough training when she was 6 years old in the field of martial and literary arts. Nakano was an intelligent kid. She loved the stories of Tomoe Gozen, a famous female samurai warrior.
Adopted by her mentor Akaoka Daisuke, she lived with him for 5 years. During that time, she trained in martial arts and was specializing Ittō-ryū, a one-sword fighting. She specialized in the use of Naginata and became a skilled instructor afterwards.
Takeko left Daisuke and went back to her family in Aizu when he tried to arrange a marriage for her to his nephew in 1868.
It was during this time the Boshin war erupted. It was the fight between the Tokugawa shogunate and supporters of the Imperial Court. The battle of Aizu began and Nakano Takeko showed her courage against the imperial army.
From a Bride-to-be to a Warrior to Lead
Nakano Takeko is a trained Samurai warrior. She took part in defending their territory. During this battle, women did what they usually do. They cook, tend to the wounded, make bullets, and more. But as days passed by, they realized that they had to do something more.
Nakano Takeko formed and led a troop of women warriors called the Aizu Jōshitai. This unofficial unit consists of 20 women armed with Naginata. Even Nakano’s mother and sister was a member. This small unit is a group of female warriors who fought in the battle independently. During that time, they don’t allow women to join and fight in the army
Aizu Jōshitai took part in the counter-attack against the Imperial army. The Imperial army did not expect the courage and fierceness of these female warriors. Unfortunately while fighting, Nakano took a fatal shot to her chest by her opponents
Takeko got afraid that her enemy might take her head as a trophy. As she lay dying, Nakano asked her sister Yuko to decapitate her and bury her head.
Unfortunately, the Shogunate forces lost to the Imperial army. Nakano’s sister buried her head under a tree at the Hōkai-ji temple.
Nakano Takeko’s legacy is very much alive until now. In fact, they built a monument in Hōkai-ji temple in her honour. Every year, a group of young girls takes part in the procession during the annual Aizu Autumn Festival. This is to commemorate and honour the heroic acts of Nakano and her group of women warriors.
Hangaku Gozen: The Skillful Archer
The lady who is “fearless as a man and beautiful as a flower”, Lady Hangaku is famous for her leadership, discipline, bravery, and skills in bow and arrow.
Hangaku Gozen also known as Hangaku Itazaki is a female Samurai. She lived at the end of Heian and the beginning of the Kamakura periods. She is the daughter of a warrior named Jō Sukekuni. The Jō were warriors and allies to the Taira clan.
They are famous for their political and military power. This made them very influential in Echigo no Kuni (now Niigata Prefecture). It is safe to say that the Jō family is very well off.
Hangaku, the youngest of the three children, grew up in Sangyōji Castle in the present-day Nakajo town. Lady Hangaku received a good education and training in warfares. Even as a kid, she showed her gift of talent in both skills.
The Lady in the Tower
While growing up, Lady Hangaku’s skills in warrior arts are very impressive. She was skillful with weapons such as sword, spears, and bow and arrow. She was also competent and responsible enough to manage the affairs in the castle.
The Jo clan lost most of their power. After their defeat in the Genpai wars. In 1201, Hangaku Gozen joined her nephew Jo Sukemori and her uncle in the Kennin Rebellion. She became an important part of their defense at Torisaka Castle.
Lady Hangaku raised and commanded 3,000 soldiers to defend the fort at Torisakayama. She fought against an army of 10,000 soldiers from the Hōjō clan.
While dressed as a boy, Lady Hangaku stood on the tower of the castle as she strikes the one that came close to attack her. She attacked the enemies using her arrows which pierced in either their chests or heads.
Lady Hangaku got wounded and an arrow pierced her thigh. Eventually, enemies found this as an opportunity and capture her right away. Unfortunately, she became a prisoner of war to the Shogun Minamoto Yoriiye in Kamakura.
Sentenced to perform Seppuku, lady Hangaku met Asari Yoshitō. Asari later became her husband after he received a permission to marry lady Hangaku.
Hangaku Gozen has appeared in Azuma Kagami, a Japanese historical chronicle. Over the years, Hangaku Gozen’s story appeared in different artworks and plays as well. She is most recognized as a fearless warrior with a bow & arrow in hand.
Tomoe Gozen: The Archetypal Lady Samurai Warrior
Tomoe Gozen was the most famous Onna-musha in Japanese history. Onna-musha are women who engaged in offensive battles. She was famous for her bravery as a lady Samurai. In fact, she was a warrior of formidable skill.
Tomoe Gozen is a lady with a very lovely and attractive face. She had long black hair and fair complexion. But do not be fooled! Despite her beauty lies hidden a fearless warrior and a great rider.
Lady Tomoe was a famous swordsman, a skilled rider, and a superb archer. Her weapon of choice was long sword and bow and arrow. Impressed of her skills as an archer and a warrior, Lord Yoshinoka appointed Tomoe Gozen as his leading commander in Genpei war.
Tomoe Gozen served and fought alongside her Daimyo and rumoured husband Minamoto no Yoshinoka against the Taira clan.
A Female Badass Icon?
What made Tomoe Gozen a badass warrior is her unmatched skills in warfare. She lead a thousand armies of Lord Kiso no Yoshinaka to victory during the battle of Tonamiyama.
During the battle of Uchide no Hama, Tomoe Gozen lead 300 armies of Lord Yoshinaka into a suicide mission. She fought against the 6,000 armies of the Taira clan and went back as one of the only 5 survivors.
After this incident, Tomoe disappeared and people started speculating. Some would say she remarried, some said she became a nun. True or not, Tomoe Gozen’s mark in the history will forever be engraved.
For centuries, Tomoe Gozen became an icon; an icon of women empowerment. She became a symbol of courage and bravery of women as warriors. Tomoe Gozen is a symbol of a fearless woman that fights for what she believes in. Tomoe Gozen has not just conquered the literature, the manga and video games. She conquered the hearts of many too.
Empress Jingu: The Legendary Lady Samurai
Jingū tennō or Empress Jingū was one of the first female Samurai. She ruled after the death of her husband Emperor Chūai.
She has organized and lead a conquest of Korea. After the death of her husband, Empress Jingū conquered the Korean kingdom of Silla. She did this while pregnant to her son, the future Emperor Ōjin.
Legend has it that Empress Jingū had a pair of divine jewelry that gave her the power to control the tides. These divine jewels have ensured her victorious conquest of Korea. Because of these, she conquered Korea without shedding a single drop of blood.
Legend also states that her son, Ōjin, was in her womb for 3 years and was born upon her arrival in Japan. In addition, many regarded Empress Jingū as a living goddess and the mother of the deity Hachiman.
Most of the stories about Empress Jingū have been awesome. But, there are insufficient records available about her reign and existence in Japan. Many are unsure if the legends are true or not. Regardless of the validity of the stories, there is no doubt that she has inspired many. Her story of triumph represents the strength of every woman in this society.
And there you have it. The 5 most popular lady Samurai that captured the hearts of many. The badass women that shaped the history of Japan.