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Tomoe Gozen

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  • Japanese: 巴御前 (Tomoe Gozen)

Tomoe Gozen[1] provides one of the few examples of a true woman warrior in early to early modern Japanese history, though some have questioned whether she truly lived, or was merely a fictional figure invented in the Heike Monogatari. While countless other women were at times forced to take up arms (in defense of their castle, for example), Tomoe is described as a consummate warrior.

Though scholarship for the most part concurs that Tomoe is most likely a purely fictional character, she is nevertheless described in some sources as the daughter of Nakahara no Kanetô (the husband of Minamoto no Yoshinaka's wetnurse), and sister to Imai Kanehira, alongside whom she fights at the battle of Awazu.[2]

According to some sources, she was married to Kiso (Minamoto) Yoshinaka (though the Heike Monogatari describes her as a female attendant[3], and other sources describe her as a consort, or even a prostitute[2]), who rose against the Taira and in 1184 took Kyoto after winning the Battle of Kurikara. With the Taira forced into the western provinces, Yoshinaka began insinuating that it was he should carry the mantle of leadership of the Minamoto clan - a suggestion that prompted attacks by Minamoto no Yoritomo. Fleeing after a major defeat, Yoshinaka, along with Tomoe, faced warriors allied with Yoritomo at Awazu, a desperate fight in which Tomoe took at least one head, that of Onda Hachirô Moroshige.

The Heike Monogatari describes Tomoe accordingly:

Heike Monogatari

"...Tomoe was especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair, and charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors."[4]

The Heike Monogatari goes on to say that Tomoe was one of the last five of Yoshinaka's warriors standing at the tail end of the Battle of Awazu, and that Yoshinaka, knowing that death was near, urged her to flee. Though reluctant, she rushed a Minamoto warrior named Onda no Hachirô Moroshige, cut his head off, and then fled for the eastern provinces.

Some have written that Tomoe in fact died in battle with her husband, while others assert that she survived and became a nun.

She is among the most popular and widely known female figures in Japanese history/legend, and appears as the lead in at least one kabuki play, Onna Shibaraku.[5]

Notes

  1. Note that "gozen" is not a name, but rather a term of address that is often translated as "Lady," e.g. "Lady Tomoe."
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Tomoe Gozen." Asahi Nihon rekishi jinbutsu jiten (朝日日本歴史人物事典, "Asahi Encyclopedia of Japanese Historical Figures"). Asahi Shimbun-sha. Accessed via Kotobank.jp, 22 February 2011.
  3. 便所
  4. Helen Craig McCullough, Tale of the Heike, Stanford University Press (1990), pg. 291
  5. "Onna Shibaraku." Kabuki21.com. Accessed 22 February 2011.

References

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