Japanese Female Warrior and Art: Tomoe Gozen and the Onna-Bugeisha

Japanese Female Warrior and Art: Tomoe Gozen and the Onna-Bugeisha

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times


Tomoe Gozen is a famous female warrior in Japan who highlights the reality that women played various roles in Japanese society, outside the subservient model often portrayed. Indeed, even before the emergence of the samurai, females had learnt to use military weapons and techniques in order to protect communities. Therefore, Tomoe Gozen is one of the most famous female warriors to emerge long before the Edo period began.

Japanese females were taught with specific weapons that were deemed suitable for body weight, height structure, and speed. These weapons notably apply to naginata and kaiken (dual purpose), and the fighting art of tantojutsu based on varied systems in knife fighting.


The Toshidama Gallery highlights the reality of the onna-bugeisha and the role of female warriors in old Japan. This esteemed source 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.”

In the world of Japanese woodblock prints, the images of Tomoe Gozen and other female warriors become potent images. This equally applies to historical realities, even if some stories are fused inside Japanese folklore, and because of the attractiveness of the subject material.


Tomoe Gozen was deeply loyal to Minamoto no Yoshinaka and helped this famous warrior in the twelfth century. War in this period was often a culmination of conflicts between the Minamoto and Taira. This was based on both rival dynasties desiring to control the main centers of power. However, true to history, internal intrigues within the Minamoto meant that Yoritomo believed that Yoshinaka was dangerous based on his alleged power grab.

The Daily Telegraph says “During one battle she was reported to have defended a bridge against dozens of attackers single-handedly and in another story she killed warriors one after another and then killed their leader, decapitating him and presenting his head to Yoshinaka.”


In 1184 the battle of Awazu led to the demise of Yoshinaka based on intrigues related to power concentration. It is known that Tomoe Gozen killed at least one combative by taking his head in this battle. However, once Yoshinaka understood the fate that awaited him then he told Tomoe Gozen to flee at once.

Tomoe Gozen remains famous in contemporary Japan based on the fascinating nature of her life.





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