Tomoe Gozen

A Japanese, butt-kicking beauty that liked to take heads as trophies.

(curtain pulls up and shows Zach sitting behind a desk and Anna Komemne sitting on a brown chair two chairs away from Zach. There’s a live studio audience.)
Zach – Thank you all for being here. With me as always is my co-host, Anna Komemne, famous Byzantine historian and today we have a special guest.
Anna- Aren’t all our guests special? I mean, that is why we have them here.
Zach – Yes, but this one is even more special-er. Today we have a woman who fought and survived the Genpei War in the late 12th century. She was concubine to the warlord, Minamoto no Yoshinaka. I welcome to our studio, TOMOE GOZEN!!
(audience claps)
(A Japanese woman wearing full samurai armor walks onto stage. She sits down on an ugly chair beside Zach’s desk.)
Zach – Thank you for coming. I’m so glad you can make it.
Tomoe – (bows slightly) It is honor to be here.
Zach – So, tell me Tomoe, doesn’t your name, “Gozen” mean something?
Tomoe – Yes, it is title of honor. As concubine and general of my late husband’s army, I had much importance.
Zach – Wow. That is impressive. Was it common for women to learn to fight?
Tomoe – Learn to fight, yes, go out to war and lead troops, no. Many noble women learned Naginata, a long curved spear. Sometimes they call it “Woman’s spear,” but many used it, even Sohei Monks. Women kept spear above doorways of houses to protect home when men gone away.

Awesome and very effective against mounted enemies or while mounted. Similar to a European Halbred.

Zach – I see a lot of pictures show you with a naginata.
Tomoe – Yes, but I didn’t use one. I use large two handed sword, like a Nodachi.

It's not the size of the sword that counts....okay, maybe it is.

Zach – I wonder why that is. The “Tale of Heike” clearly says you carried a big freaking sword. Here, let me read what it says about you.
“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.”
Anna – Sounds like most people just follow the tradition of women using the naginata instead of actually reading. Typical. I bet the artists were men.
Tomoe – I don’t know. Maybe they like naginata better?
Zach – So, you were a samurai, right?
Anna – What kind of question was that? Look at her. She looks like a friggin’ samurai. Did I just say “friggin’?” I’ve been hanging out with you too long.
Tomoe – Actually, it’s pretty good question. For most of history, Samurai no called Samurai. They called “Bushi” which means “warrior.” At first, bushi just military soldiers. But they slowly gained power over time. They became a noble class. By time I was born, I was born into Samurai class.
Zach – Also, the Genpei war in which you fought in was responsible for the Samurai gaining permanent power over the government. After the war you guys made the emperor a figure head for over six hundred years until the Meiji Restoration.
Tomoe – Yes, the war was fought by clans trying to take over government. The Taira and Minamoto clans. Minamoto was weakened by rebellion so Taira started war, but ended up loosing. Serves them right.
Zach – So, did you guys have the code of Bushido? (notice the word “Bushi” in there? “Do” = way “Bushi”= warrior. Bushido = way of the warrior.)
Tomoe – No, Bushido did not come until much later. Until time of Tokugawa I think. We had honor, but not systematized like code of Bushido. Our code of honor had more to do with taking heads as trophies.
Anna – Sounds barbaric.
Zach – Well, going back to the Tale of Heike, it tells about you taking someone’s head. I’ll read it for you.
Tomoe – Good, I don’t read English.
Zach – “Reluctant to flee, Tomoe rode with the others until she could resist no longer. Then she pulled up. “Ah! If only I could find a worthy foe! I would fight a last battle for his Lordship to watch!” She thought.
As she sat there, thirty riders came into view, led by Onda no Hachiro Moroshige, a man renowned in Musashi Provence for his great strength. Tomoe galloped into their midst, rode up along side Moroshige, seized him in a powerful grip, pulled him down against the pommel of her saddle, held him motionless, twisted his head off and threw it away. “
Anna – Goodness!
Tomoe – (laughs) I didn’t actually twist head off. I cut it off.
Anna – That does make a bit more sense.
Tomoe – They like to exaggerate.
Zach – But still, you pulled the guy down and cut off his head. Exaggerated or not, that’s still pretty awesome.
Tomoe – Also, the weapon we used was not sword, yes we use sword, but it a back up weapon. Last resort. We use mostly bow and staff. I was exception because I like sword.
Zach – You were a lot of exceptions apparently.
Anna – So, how were you treated as a leader, being a woman?
Tomoe – Well, the Taira clan would never have allowed me to be an officer. They are…how do you say, elitist? They snobbish. They spend too much time writing poetry and letters. Our Genji clan was much more…rustic and simple.
Zach – Can you tell us a story from the war? Something interesting?
Tomoe – Well, I was in disguise at the Battle of Uji Bridge, a Sohei monk named Tajima defended a bridge against the Taira clan. He stood on bridge with his mighty Naginata and the Taira clan shot arrows at him. He used his naginata to cut arrows out of sky. They kept shooting at him but he kept knocking arrows out of sky. He earned the nickname, the “Arrow Cutter.”

Arrow Cutter in action!

Zach – Wow. That guy was pretty studly. Also, not very peaceful for a Buddhist monk.
Tomoe – Sohei monks were not pacifists. They were like Germany’s Tuetonic Knights or Knights Templar. Warrior monks.
Zach – So, tell me about this armor your wearing. It’s a bit bulkier than I’m used to seeing.
Tomoe – This is called O-yoroi, or Great Armor. It is symbol of status. It is big and heavy. Lesser Bushi or Samurai used the lighter Do-maru armor and the foot soldiers used simple, lighter versions of Do-maru.

A blinged up O-yoroi set of armor.

Zach- Why did they eventually get rid of the O-yoroi?
Tomoe – O-yoroi was used mostly for being on horse. When Samurai begin to fight on foot, they switch to lighter armor.
Anna – I notice that your armor is made from many small metal plates sewn together. This is what we Romans call “lamellar.”
Tomoe – Yes, is similar in function, but not in appearance.
Zach – After the Genpei war, history sort of looses track of you. Most think you retired to a monastery.
Tomoe – Eventually, yes. But after battle, I wandered Japan. I found a young girl who is annoying and we had many adventures. It seemed almost once a week we come to town where they need help and we solve their problems.
Zach – Like certain TV shows…never mind.
Tomoe – What?
Zach – Nothing. In the TV show, Riverworld, which is awesome, we see a depiction of you wearing home made bamboo armor and wielding two swords.
Tomoe – I never use two swords. That style was developed by Miyamoto Musashi, many hundreds years later. I mostly use bow but sometimes my no-dachi.
Zach – So, the times you lived in, samurai were pretty different than what we mostly see in movies.
Tomoe – Yes, correct, but I did watch 13 Assassins. I love movie. Lots of fighting. Most samurai movies come from time after unification of Japan, after warring states period when Samurai spend as much time writing poems and arranging flowers as fighting. Instead of flower arranging, we presented severed heads to our lords.
Anna – I imagine that was a festive time for all the children.
Tomoe – Yes! My niece loved it.
Anna- (shakes head.)
Zach – Well, that’s all we have time for today. If you have questions, leave a comment and I promise that Tomoe will answer them.
Tomoe – I would love to.
Anna – What’s up for next time, Zach?
Zach – I think our next guest will be Joan D’Arc and I believe she has some weapon demonstrations for us.
Anna – Friggin’ awesome.

Zach – As we depart, I must add that Tomoe Gozen is still revered in Japan today.

This was taken at a festival in Japan.

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9 comments on “Tomoe Gozen

  1. skaramine says:

    I agree with Anna – friggin’ awesome.

  2. Glenda says:

    It amazes me how brave some women are. How did they become so brave. I would call her a Pansie. Funny how the name for the toughest flower ever grown, is used to describe weak, fearful, delicate people. I call her a pansie, cause she was beautiful, but tough, brave, and strong. Way cool post.

  3. Glenda says:

    By the way, Pasies are the only flower, that will bloom all winter, even under a layer of ice.

  4. Bonaparte says:

    LOL! I wonder who would win in a fight, Tomoe or Mulan! Ha! None could beat a true Frenchman (much less a Corisican!) but it would still be an entertaining fight. I will start collecting bets.

  5. Countess Matilda of Tuscany says:

    You’re as classy as always, Bonaparte. (though, that would be an interesting battle.) I’m glad to see I have sisters that share my view of the world. Tomoe, perhaps one day we can cross blades and we can teach each other some new techniques, or “moves” as Zach calls them.

  6. Hua Mulan says:

    Let’s not joke about such things. I know I could take Tomoe.

  7. eugene says:

    I wonder which would win in a straight up battle Mohawk or Samurai both from the 18th century.

    • zacharyhill says:

      I’d have to go with the samurai on this if its a straight up fight. If its in the woods and the Mohawk has a musket, then yeah. But a Mohawk had a life to live, a family to take care of, food to get. A samurai dedicated his life to the art of the sword. (theoretically of course.) A large advantage goes to whichever side trains more. (Still, that’s a battle I’d like to see!)

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