Bebe Taian: Tomoe Gozen, a Tale of the Sword

November 5, 2010

Tomoe Gozen, a Tale of the Sword

I found an interesting blog today! It is 'Kodougu no Sekai', about Japanese sword fittings.

I'll be honest and say up front that while I love interesting metal works, especially ones like tsuba, I know absolutely nothing about them. Nothing at all about collecting them or metalsmithing techniques. It was such a lovely surprise to find a well-written blog by a collector! And in English, too! <3

Quick reference:
Katana - long sword, typical "samurai sword"
Wakazashi - medium-length sword for closer combat
Tanto - the shortest sword, a dagger

Katana are the swords samurai once used. They often carried two swords, and probably a tanto as well. Women did not usually carry a sword, but may have had a tanto depending on person or profession. Women were not expected to fight, but considering the lives some have led, suicide was not a morally reprehensible option. People generally understood that as there is life, there will also be death. While sad, it was often an understandable situation. That does not mean that there are not famous female warriors, however!

Perhaps you have not heard the legend of Tomoe Gozen.

During the Genpei War of 1180-1185, there was an exceptional onna bugeisha (literally, warrior-arts female)- a rare female practitioner of bushido, the way of the warrior. A concubine of Yoshinaka, Tomoe Gozen was said to be exceptionally beautiful, with porcelain skin and long black hair, and was exceptionally skilled in combat. A better archer than most men, her bravery and ability made her terrifying. Supposedly, she could ride unbroken horses without issue, handle sword or longbow with equal skill, and could stare down gods and demons alike.

When Yoshinaka was at war, Tomoe was his first captain. On the front lines, she performed more acts of valor than any other. After his battle with the Heiki clan Yoshinaka set out to become the head of the Minamoto clan. His cousin, Yoritomo, had other ideas; he sent his two brothers to kill Yoshinaka. This brought on the Battle of Awazu in February of 1184, where Yoritomos' and Yoshinakas' soldiers fought for hours. Tomoe Gozen is said to have taken the heads of Uchida Ieyoshi and Honda no Moroshige before Yoshinaka was defeated.

After this, no one really knows what happened to Tomoe.

Some people say that she was defeated by Wada Yoshimori and instead of being killed, she was taken for a wife. Some say she escaped battle and became a nun. Some say she never even existed- outside of "The Tale of the Heiki", there is little evidence of her existence. Although, the grave of another of Yoshinaka's concubines, Yamabuki Gozen, has been found. "The Tale of the Heiki" is said to be mostly true.

Today you may see Tomoe Gozen being portrayed by geiko (geisha) during Jidai Matsuri, the Festival of Ages, where famous characters from across history are portrayed during the parade. She is often seen wearing armor and a crown, carrying a naginata (a pole weapon) and riding a horse. She is always played by a beautiful woman.

First photo from Coolido's Flickr - please be sure to visit him and see his many wonderful photos and scans!

The second photo is "Tomoe Gozen with Uchida Ieyoshi and Hatakeyama no Shigetada", Chikanobu, 1899.

1 comment:

  1. First time I heard Tomoe Gozen was from Samurai Deeper Kyo manga. This is her depicted in the manga
    Can't say a lot about her in Samurai Deeper Kyo since it will become a spoiler ^^;;. But she was indeed a brave, loyal and valiant female warrior.