Tomoe Gozen in a drawing by Shitomi Kangetsu (1747–1797).

Tomoe Gozen was an extraordinary and rare female Japanese warrior who fought in offensive battles.

Tomoe Gozen lived during a period of great instability in Japan. The Genpei War had laid waste to the country and the age of the samurai had begun. We do not know exactly when she was born, but we do have accounts of her military career and love life. She was the lover of Lord Kiso no Yoshinaka, most likely one of his concubines, although in some accounts she is described as his wife or female attendant. The same Lord Kiso no Yoshinaka was so impressed with her skills as a warrior that he made her his leading commander in the Genpei War.

Tomoe Gozen fought in many battles during the war. She led her men in both victory and defeat. In 1184 at the Battle of Uchide no Hama, she rode with 300 men against 6,000 Taira cavalry. Only five of Lord Kiso no Yoshinaka’s men survived, including Tomoe Gozen. Unfortunately, once their forces won against the Taira, a battle for leadership began internally. Lord Kiso no Yoshinaka was a forerunner, supported by Tomoe Gozen. But another contender, Minamoto no Yoritomo, became the victor.

Lord Kiso no Yoshinaka ordered Tomoe Gozen to quit the field. Reluctant to leave him, she wanted one last battle to restore her honor. She rode towards thirty warriors, chose the strongest looking, and promptly beheaded him.

The rest of Tomoe Gozen’s life is unknown. There are many theories, including one that she was captured and became Minamoto’s concubine. Another is that she became a Buddhist monk. Regardless, she was considered a great warrior.

Get the LatestJoin our monthly newsletter

Sign up to hear about upcoming exhibits, projects + more!

Pin It on Pinterest