Tomoe Gozen - The Story of a Samurai Warrior

One of the most emblematic and striking figures of Japanese culture are the samurai. Fearless and brave warriors, having the katana as their main weapon. They are always portrayed in movies, games, anime and manga. Right here on the site, we already have several articles about samurai such as Itsuo Okada and Yasuke.

Whenever we hear about samurai, we immediately think of a male figure. And indeed, in most societies in the past, including the Japanese, it was men who became fighters and fought in wars. But, there are many records throughout history of women who managed to stand out in male-dominated environments.

In the feudal Japan of the samurai, there were women warriors, one of the best known being the Tomoe Gozen (巴御前). It was even common for women in feudal Japan to receive martial training. Many were even trained to use swords and bows and arrows. But, this training was primarily defensive in nature, aimed at protecting their homes in case an enemy attacked.

Tomoe gozen - the story of the samurai warrior

But Tomoe Gozen, unlike most women of her time, focused her skills for offensive use, battling on the front lines. Let's get to know a little more about this fearless character.

The Legend of Tomoe Gozen

Tomoe Gozen was a Japanese warrior who lived around 1157 to 1247. And, it was during the Genpei War that Tomoe Gozen stood out and gained fame as a warrior. She was also skilled in the art of naguinata (長刀) where you learned to manipulate a weapon that is basically similar to a spear, but with a curved blade at the end.

Interesting that Tomoe is only mentioned in a late 12th century tale called The Tale of the Heike. Other than this work, there are no other written records of Tomoe's life. This leads some to treat this warrior as a fictional character.

Such a work describes Tomoe in such a way.” She was beautiful, had long black hair and fair skin. Furthermore, she was a fearless rider, which neither the fiercest nor the toughest horse could dismay. With such skill he handled the sword and the reverence that was a match for a thousand warriors, and suitable for meeting god or devil…”

Tomoe gozen - the story of the samurai warrior

She was very skilled with both swords, bow and arrow and naguinata, as well as being a complete fighter. About two years after starting her career as a warrior, she was already leading armies with more than 1000 men.

Tomoe was portrayed in the work as a subordinate of a great samurai named Minamoto Yoshinaka. Some speculate that both were married or had some sort of romantic relationship. Yoshinaka was a powerful general and in 1192 he became the feudal ruler of Japan.

the battle of awazu

Some tried to reclaim Yoshinaka's power, but along with his army that Tomoe was a part of, it was defended. But everything changed at the battle of Awazu, where Minamoto Yoshinaka was challenged by one of his cousins named Minamoto Yoshitsune.

Yoshitsune's army was vastly outnumbered, which put Tomoe and his fellow soldiers at a disadvantage. This leads to the defeat of Tomoe's husband. From there are several “endings” to this story.

Tomoe gozen - the story of the samurai warrior

Some say that Yoshinaka orders Tomoe to flee the battlefield, as it would be somewhat shameful to die with a woman. Tomoe, even not wanting to run away, ends up following her husband's request. But before fleeing, she decapitates one of the enemy warriors and goes to the eastern provinces.

Others say that she died with her husband in that battle, refusing to abandon him. Others still say that she survived this battle and even married one of her rivals. And still some claim that he kept himself alive, but decided to change his life, becoming a nun.

Regardless of the end of this story, Tomoe is still seen and recognized as a brave, strong and brave woman. Leaving a beautiful legacy, which women can do a lot, even in a totally unfavorable environment.

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