The Fascinating Story of Japan’s Forgotten Female Samurai

No matter how interested or uninterested in Japan’s history you may be, you’ve probably heard about their legendary warriors, the samurai. However, even though there are numerous well-documented instances of male samurai, the stories of Japan’s female samurai, known as onna-bugeisha, often remain hidden in the shadows of history. But we decided to change that in today’s article! So, let’s explore the lives and legacies of these forgotten heroines who defied gender norms and fought with unparalleled courage on the battlefield.

Origins of the Onna-Bugeisha

The tradition of female warriors in Japan dates back centuries, with onna-bugeishas being part of their military as early as the feudal era. While the samurai code, or Bushido, emphasized loyalty, honor, and martial prowess, it was not exclusively reserved for men. Women of noble birth were trained in the art of combat and equipped to defend their homes and families in times of war. However, unlike their male counterparts, who underwent rigorous training from a young age, the path to becoming an onna-bugeisha was often unconventional.

While some women received formal martial training from family members, others honed their skills through practical experience on the battlefield. Regardless of their background, onna-bugeisha were skilled in various combat techniques, including archery, swordsmanship, and horseback riding. And boy — did they know how to fight. These female warriors displayed unwavering bravery and resilience in the face of adversity. Their presence on the battlefield not only earned them respect among their male counterparts, but also helped change history.

Legendary Onna-Bugeisha

Throughout Japan’s history, numerous female samurai have achieved legendary status. One such example is Tomoe Gozen, a skilled archer and swordswoman. She fought alongside her husband, Minamoto no Yoshinaka, in the late 12th century. One of Tomoe Gozen’s most legendary fights was during the Battle of Awazu in 1184. Despite being outnumbered and surrounded by enemy forces, Tomoe Gozen fought valiantly alongside her husband, cutting down numerous enemies with her skillful swordsmanship.

Another notable onna-bugeisha is Nakano Takeko, who fought during the Boshin War of the 19th century. Her most famous fight occurred during the Battle of Aizu-Wakamatsu in October 1868. This battle was a desperate last try by the defenders of Wakamatsu Castle against the superior forces of the Imperial army. Takeko showed her skills, wielding her naginata—a traditional Japanese polearm with a curved blade—with deadly precision. Sadly, she sustained life threatening injuries. Takeko refused to retreat, fighting ferociously until her last breath.


Remember Japan’s Forgotten Female Samurai

Despite their contributions to Japan’s military history, the stories of onna-bugeisha have often been overshadowed by those of their male counterparts. And isn’t that something we hear all too often? However, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel — in recent years, efforts have been made to recognize and celebrate their legacy. From historical novels and films, to art shows and other types of celebrations. Onna-bugeisha are increasingly portrayed as symbols of strength, resilience, and female empowerment. And honestly, we couldn’t be happier to see this. Because through their courage and sacrifice, these remarkable women paved the way for future generations to challenge convention and embrace their inner warrior.

Kanita is a wanderlust-fueled traveler with an inclination for unraveling the mysteries of history, the paranormal, and the bizarre world of medicine. As a true crime buff, Kanita's nights are often spent delving into the depths of chilling mysteries. Yet, it's not just the paranormal that captivates her—her background in medicine fuels a fascination with the weird and wonderful world of medical oddities, from twisted historical practices to the myths and legends that shroud the field. From exploring haunted locales to uncovering the strange and morbid tales of medical history, Kanita is your guide to the unconventional, the unexplained, and the downright eerie.

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