Art and Cultural Impact of Tomoe Gozen: Female Warrior
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
The Japanese legendary female warrior, Tomoe Gozen, is a prime example that the compliant image of females in old Japan and throughout the Tokugawa Period isn’t all that it appears. Indeed, the field of art equally breaks down the rigidity of stratification because many individuals rose above alleged expectations. Therefore, the traditional noble virtues associated with the samurai, in regards to their respective retainers – and grand tales of Japanese folklore – is blended in the life of Tomoe.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, it wasn’t rare for Japanese ladies to be trained in certain areas of the art of war. Yet, for Tomoe, unlike the usual role, her actions are famous based on being offensive in nature. In other words, the norm for many ladies who belonged to the samurai class was being trained in the defensive area of the art of war. This notably applies to the twelve to the nineteenth centuries, prior to the Meiji Restoration of 1868.
Samurai females, titled onna bugeisha, were trained in several key areas because of the need to protect themselves during periods of enemy attacks. Hence, females were trained to use the sword, the flexibility of the bow and arrow, and the naginata. Therefore, females played an important role during times of enemy attacks because all hands were needed to defend homes and respective communities.
Modern Tokyo Times said in a past article, “Japanese females were taught with specific weapons that were deemed suitable for body weight, height structure, and speed. These weapons notably apply to naginata and kaiken (dual purpose), and the fighting art of tantojutsu based on varied systems in knife fighting.”
Tomoe, unlike females trained in defensive areas of war, was part of the warrior class that utilized offensive war against enemies. Of course, some individuals question if Tomoe belongs to the world of literary because little is known about this individual outside of The Tale of the Heike. However, the same can be said about famous male warriors in history and other international historical people in relation to culture, faith, and other fields.
The esteemed Toshidama Gallery says more pragmatically, “Tomoe was an onna-bugeisha, a type of female warrior, although it is misleading to call them female samurai. Prior to the late Edo period it was common for women to fight alongside men in battle and in the defence of communities. This role is greatly at odds with contemporary positions of women in Japanese society and does not chime with western ideas of compliant Japanese females.”
Often the focus outside Japan is the gender of Tomoe that appeals. Yet, in Japanese art, folklore, history, and mythology, the loyalty angle of Tomoe became elevated along with the female angle. After all, Tomoe was deeply loyal to Minamoto no Yoshinaka. In other words, Tomoe belongs to the endless conflict between the dynasties of Minamoto and Taira – along with intrigues within these two camps. Indeed, the demise of Yoshinaka is based on Yoritomo fearing an alleged internal power grab. Therefore, the fate of Yoshinaka culminated in the Battle of Awazu in 1184, whereby he told Tomoe to flee before his own demise occurred.
Irrespective of the truth, which in all honesty will never be known because of the passages of time, the intriguing reality is that Tomoe highlights the importance of females in the defensive art of war in Japan. Of course, the literary angle wasn’t based on this but the bigger picture is always more illuminating because it shatters many myths in relation to female roles in society.
Modern Tokyo News is part of the Modern Tokyo Times group
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