Female warrior in 12th century Japan: Tomoe Gozen and art
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
Twelfth-century Japan witnessed new power dynamics with the ending of the Heian Period (794-1185). However, for female warriors, including Tomoe Gozen, it highlights the military prowess of women in distant history. Therefore, female warriors – including Tomoe Gozen – would become depicted in Japanese art for their military skills in the art form of ukiyo-e.
Tomoe Gozen is depicted strongly for her loyalty and virtue through the prism of art during the Edo Period. Hence, long before the Edo Period (1603 and was replaced by the Meiji Restoration 1868) began, she was portrayed fondly in literature and folklore.
The Toshidama Gallery says, “Tomoe was an onna-bugeisha, a type of female warrior, although it is misleading to call them female samurai. Prior to the late Edo period it was common for women to fight alongside men in battle and in the defence of communities. This role is greatly at odds with contemporary positions of women in Japanese society and does not chime with western ideas of compliant Japanese females.”
Female warriors were common long before Tomoe Gozen. However, her historical significance and steadfastness won her deep admiration long after she passed away from this earth.
Females were taught various aspects of the art of war. Hence, weapons were matched appropriately before training began concerning body weight, height, the structure of each person, and speed. Weapons used relates to naginata and kaiken (dual purpose). Therefore, females were taught the fighting art of tantojutsu – which concerns various systems of knife fighting.
The Walters Art Museum – in the art piece above – says, “The beautiful and courageous Tomoe Gozen triumphantly rears back on her horse after severing the head of her enemy Morishige. As the warrior-mistress of the Genji leader Yoshinaka, she had fought many battles at his side, but this one, at Uji River (1184), was to be her last. It is said that following Yoshinaka’s death Tomoe became a nun.”
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