For our closure in this particular series, I have chosen something that I not only know a few things about professionally–and certainly personally–but something that is culturally über specific. Anyone in the industrial world will tell you pretty quickly: the Japanese have some pretty weird gender shit goin’ on. Some folks are into it. Some aren’t.
From dudes who can’t even make their own sandwich, to women who have to wear [awesome] uniforms just to work in an office. Dudes don’t have to do that. I mean, they have their usual black suit, white shirt, black tie get-up…but it ain’t anything like the shit they make the ladies wear. There’s global fanfare when a woman gets elected anywhere in politics. The world became keenly aware of the “fact” that Japanese folks were becoming asexual.
But history–even recent history–gives us a very different foundation upon which we may build our perceptions… set the Way Way Back Machine to Ancient Japan.
From the earliest records, the women of Yamato were involved in nearly all aspects of Japanese warriorship. Long before the establishment of the Warrior Class (which we now know unanimously as Samurai), women learned the tactics and usage of weapons such as the naginata, the yari, and various knives (such as the kaiken), as well as many forms of hand-to-hand combat.
The Sun Goddess Amaterasu is the supreme deity of the Japanese Pantheon. The Red Sun on the Japanese flag represents her. The Imperial Line of Succession in Japan is mythologically descended from her. The deities Izanami and Izanagi–male and female, respectively–were also of primary importance in Japanese religion, and were both equal in stature, power, and combative prowess.
The nearly mythological Empress Jingu is said to have led the 200 AD conquest of Korea “without shedding a drop of blood.” (This would hold perfectly true to the statement I made in the last installment regarding women being historically tied to a different kind of warfare than men and male deities have always been tied to.) Jingu is history’s first example of what otaku call the onna-bugeisha (or “woman warrior”). Another semi-legendary figure is the Empress of Yamatai, Himiko. She is referenced in Ancient Chinese court documents, and was one part ruler, one part priestess, one part warrior.
I will cover the major players of this lady warrior game as we move forward, but I would also like to note here that even as late as our official occupation of the Japanese Home Islands, women were trained in close quarters combat, and they were expected to fight to the death to defend their communities from the Americans. (In a later article, I’ll teach you guys about the all female Hime Yuri (Princess Lily) “units” of the Battle of Okinawa. Jeeesus.) While men were learning how to fight modern warfare–and being sent off to it–women were literally turning plow shears into blades for naginata, and making damn sure they were not going to go down without a fight. In fact, there is an entire ryuha (training discipline) that specializes in naginata, and did not generally accept men into their ranks. There are sub-curricula involving jujutsu and small blade stuff.
As we’ll run through this sub-series in an “order of appearance” type format, let’s start out with one of my favorite Japanese warriors ever: Tomoe Gozen.
Tomoe (Gozen was her title; means “lady” or “dame”) was a Kamakura Period (late 12th Century) warrior who fought in the Genpei War (the first big Japanese Civil War). She was hand-picked to be a commander, and was sent alone on several missions. She was known for her prowess as an archer, a swordswoman, mounted or on foot. She was known to be one of the best horse-breakers in the empire, and was known also for her ability to ride in the high-angle Japanese mountains to assault objectives that were considered protected or impregnable.
During the Genpei War, she is counted as accomplishing more deeds of valor than any other warrior in the Empire. In battle she was particularly feared, and rode a horse while carrying an oversized sword (so motherfuckers would notice her *and seek her out*). She personally ranks at the top of the decapitated-high-ranking-opponents list, and escaped capture more than once.
Guess I could also note that she was noted as being very beautiful, too. (Not that it mattered, she was cuttin’ fools. We’ll get into hot infiltrator ninja chick stuff later.) When her master was defeated and awaited his suicide, he commanded Tomoe to GTFO of Dodge, and save herself. There is no accepted record of her death.
Another frequently mentioned femme fatale in this genre is Hangaku Gozen (she was also known as Itagaki). She was a contemporary of Tomoe Gozen, but she was runnin’ around further north, up the West Coast–in Echigo. Her family lost its power after the Genpei War. After the war, she commanded an army of 3,000 soldiers defending a position against 10,000 soldiers from the Hojo Clan.
She heroically defended her position until she was wounded by an arrow. After that, the defenses collapsed. She was eventually taken to Kamakura and presented to the Shogūn. She then married a noble, stayed in the area, and lived happily ever after.
She was said to have been fearless, deadly, and “beautiful as a flower”…
Thus ends the first part of this sub-series. We’ll continue with Medieval Japan in the next installment.
Featured image of Tomoe Gozen courtesy of www.wittyfeed.com
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