A Woman to Know: Tomoe Gozen

She was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. — The Tale of the Heike

(image via Wikimedia Commons)


We don't know much about Tomoe's early life in 12th century Japan: she could've married her husband as a child, or lived as the palace's lead concubine, or worked quietly in court as another nameless female attendant. And we also don't know much about Tomoe's later life: some accounts report she died on the battlefield, and others write she lived a long life in reclusion, as a nun in the country. Some say she never existed at all.

But in history's retelling of the bloody Genpei War, Tomoe's name is written everywhere. As one of a few onna-bugeisha, the female samurai warriors, she rode into battle brandishing a long, curved blade. Engravings from the era show her riding a white horse into battle, decapitating her enemies. According to "The Tale of Heike," the general treasured her skills, distinguished even from the men: "Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain ... she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors."

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