Onna-Bugeisha: Female Samurai Warriors of Feudal Japan, 1800s
Onna-bugeisha was a type of female warrior belonging to the Japanese nobility. Samurai clans trained their daughters in the art of combat to either defend their homes when husbands went to war or for battle.
Many women engaged in battle, commonly alongside samurai men. Battle scene forensic have shown that up to 30% of remains are female. History seldom mention these heroines.
Long before the emergence of the renowned samurai class, Japanese fighters were highly trained to wield a sword and spear. Women learned to use naginata, kaiken, and the art of tanto Jutsu in battle. Such training ensured protection in communities that lacked male fighters.
One such woman, later known as Empress Jingu (c. 169-269 AD), used her skills to inspire economic and social change. She was legendarily recognized as the onna bugeisha who led an invasion of Korea in 200 AD after her husband Emperor Chūai, the fourteenth emperor of Japan, was slain in battle.
Despite controversies surrounding her existence and her accomplishments, she was an example of the onna bugeisha in its entirety. In 1881, Empress Jingū became the first woman to be featured on a Japanese banknote. Designed to stop counterfeiting, her image was printed on oblong pape.
Other famous onna bugeisha were Tomoe Gozen, Nakano Takeko, and Hōjō Masako.
In contrast to the katana used universally by their male samurai counterparts, the most popular weapon-of-choice of onna-bugeishas are the naginata, which is a versatile, conventional polearm with a curved blade at the tip.
Through its use by many legendary samurai women, the naginata has been propelled as the iconic image of a woman warrior. During the Edo Period, many schools focusing on the use of the naginata were created and perpetuated its association with women.
Besides naginata, ranged weaponry such as bows and arrows would also be used by onna-bugeishas, as the traditional masculine advantages like physical strength counted much less in ranged warfare.