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Onna Bugeisha: Japanese Female Warrior

02/17/2020 0 By teeartdepartment

It’s time to restore a truth. Westerners tend to imagine feudal Japan as a conservative society of strong patriarchal pressures. Whether it is in its family principles or in its hierarchical relations, it is true. However, it is important to bring to the front of the stage some extremely influential female figures that have existed. Apart from female divinities in Shintoism, like Amaterasu, the great goddess of the sun, there is also, in a more down-to-earth domain: Onna-Bugeisha, the japanese female warrior.

Onna-bugeisha has no connection with the geisha. Onna-bugeisha practices the art of combat, with intensive learning of combat weapons and their uses.

Onna Bugeisha: the Japanese Female Warrior

Birth of Onna-Bugeisha

Even before the creation of the samurai class, Japanese warriors and women were trained in the use of weapons. These trainings ensured the protection of communities that lacked male fighters during the second century of our era. It was at this time that the first Onna-Bugeisha came into being, and this lasted until the Edo period (1600-1868). Neo-Confucian philosophy and peace in Japan definitively reduced the status of onna-bugeisha.

Weapons and Martial Arts

The first japanese female warrior practiced the equestrian archery in an incredible way. Nevertheless, the warrior symbol of samurai women was most often represented by another weapon. It was the equivalent to the katana for the samurai men: the Naginata.

An iconic weapon of this period, the naginata version used by women warriors was known as the “ko-naginata”. It is a bit smaller than the “o-naginata” used by men.

Weapon of the Onna Bugeisha: the Naginata

She also used the kaiken, a small sword that is highly similar to a knife or a dagger.

In terms of technique, samurai women mastered Tantôjutsu, a martial art to which they were trained from a very young age and that still exists today.

Famous Onna-Bugeisha

Hōjō Masako

Hōjō Masako (1156- 1225) was the daughter of Hōjō no Maki and Hōjō Tokimasa, samurai and leader of the Hōjō clan, a very influential samurai clan. After a childhood of man’s education, Masako became more involved in family affairs and politics. Minamoto No Yoritomo’s wife, First Shogun (the title designating the military leader of Japan), she continued to demand in the payor’s business that her death at 69 years.

Notable positions:

  • Member of the Council of Regents (before her eldest son became second shogun).
  • Negotiator with the imperial court before the succession of her second son as third Shogun.

Jingū Kōgō

Jingū Kōgō (169 – 269) was Empress-consort of Emperor Chūai (Fourteenth Emperor of Japan). The Female Warrior was named regent at the death of her husband in 209. She staid until the accession to the throne of her son, in 269. According to the legend reported by Kojiki (book of legends), the Onna Bugeisha Jingu led an army just after the death of her husband to conquer the Three Kingdoms of Korea. With the help of the magical jewels of the god Ryujin, she returned victorious three years later and gave birth to Ojin. Strangely, she would have been pregnant with Ojin for the whole duration of the campaign. Most historians reject the legend of Jingu, her reign having been invented to explain the interregnum from 200 to 270.

Onna Bugeisha: Jingū Kōgō
Jingū Kōgō

Tomoe Gozen

Tomoe Gozen fought with her lover Minamoto no Yoshinaka during the war of Gempei. This civil war (1180-1185) owes its name to the contraction of the names of two clans that foughted: Minamoto or Gen and Taira or Hei. Her exploits were reported in the great war novel, the Heike Monogatari. Although many women at the time knew how to handle the naginata, Gozen was famous for her high-level as a samurai. Highly respected by the men, she was one of Yoshinaka’s chief captains during the war, and led her troops into battle.

Tomoe Gozen
Tomoe Gozen

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