Medieval Bushido Babes In Armor
Until the Edo era, samurai and bushi wives were held to a warrior ideal that included domestic duties (head of household, mother of bushido-trained children) as well as martial duties (defense of the family lands in times of war, or accompanying their husbands into battle).
Women samurai were skilled in use of
The bow provided long range effect, with the naginata used against close ranging samurai on horseback. The naginata provided good interpersonal distance in hand-to-hand combat, diminishing a male attacker's physical advantage of weight and strength.
Samurai women were expected to carry their kaiken with them at all times. Its intended use was not for combat, but for the commission of jigai (seppuku being reserved for men). If the kaiken had to be used in a fight, the approved assault tactic was to brace the weapon against the abdomen (pointy side out), and to run at the enemy, stabbing him with the full force and inertia of the collision. Because of the danger of being captured alive, raped, displayed as a captive, or otherwise dishonoring the family, suicide in the context of battle was considered honorable.
Tomoe (Gozen is simply the traditional suffix used for a wife of a samurai) was a general in the troops of Kiso Yoshinaka, her husband Minamoto Yoritomo's first attack force. She is described in the Heike Monogatari as exceptionally strong and hauntingly beautiful, with the ivory complexion of a noblewoman. The Heike Monogatari also reports that she fought not with a naginata, but with the traditional samurai katana. Her final act on the field of battle became the subject of many plays and poems: on the verge of defeat, Yoshinaka ordered her to retreat, stating "It would be a disgrace to have it said that Lord Kiso was accompanied by a woman in his final battle." Instead, she rode directly into a group of the enemy, singling out the strongest.
She matched his horse's stride, reached over, whacked off his head with her katana and threw it away. Legend has it that she then fought with, lost to, and was taken captive by Wada Yoshimori, with whom she would later have a son named Asahina, who would in turn become a famous warrior of the Kamakura era.
Although she has been a popular subject in painting and literature in Japanese culture for hundreds of years (often depicted taming wild horses), Tomoe has never been conclusively established as a genuine historical figure.
Masako, a.k.a. Hojo Masako
Known as the Ama Shogun, "the general in nun's habit." It was traditional for samurai women to become Buddhist nuns after the death of their husbands, but Masako became both a Buddhist nun and a prominent politician in the early Hojo regency. From her new position as a Buddhist nun, she successfully bullied the samurai class into standing by the shogunate.
Hangaku, a.k.a Hangaku Gozen, a.k.a Itagaki
Hangaku was the daughter of a prominent bushi family in Echigo province, and was renowned for her strength and accuracy with the bow and arrow. She supported her nephew against the shogunate by helping him to defend the beseiged Tossaka Castle. She put on a suit of men's armor, and took to one of the castle turrets as an archer. After being wounded in both legs by spears and arrows, she was captured and taken before the Shogun Yoriie.
Described as a rare and dignified beauty, she immediately attracted the attentions of Lord Yoshito Asari of the Kai Genji family. The two were married, and she spent the rest of her life in Kai Koku (now Yamanashi Prefecture) as his wife. It is said that she died defending Torizakayama Castle against an army of 10,000 with only 3000 soldiers of her own.
Over the centuries to come...
The practice of using daughters as pawns in politically strategic marriages and the influence of neo-Confucian philosophy gradually combined to reduce the female samurai to a barely remembered historicism from the Heike Monogatari . The bushi ideal of wife, woman, warrior was gradually replaced by the more socially prevalent ideal of quiet passive obedience. This ideal peaked during the socially prescriptive Edo period, by which time the naginata had become a largely decorative object in the woman's dowry, and a mere symbol of her willingness to sacrifice herself to her husband's will.
This state of affairs was not intractable - but the revitalization of the naginata and of the woman as martial artist in Japan is another story...
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