Today I Learned: Japanese Female Samurai warriors.


In High School I went through a little bit of a Japan phase. Nothing crazy, but I watched a bit of anime, read some Japanese history, and dabbled a little with learning the language from a friend who was fluent. So when reader Sam sent me a link about famous female Samurai, I was surprised that I had never even heard that there had been such a thing. I am now duly aware, and it seemed like an interesting tangent to share.

From The Vintage News:

“Onna-bugeisha  was a type of female warrior belonging to the Japanese nobility. Many women engaged in battle, commonly alongside samurai men. They were members of the bushi(samurai) class in feudal Japan and were trained in the use of weapons to protect their household, family, and honour in times of war. Significant icons such as Tomoe Gozen, Nakano Takeko, and Hōjō Masako are famous examples of onna bugeisha.

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.”

The post contains several vintage photographs of the onna bugeisha as well as historical accounts of them in battle.


Obviously, these portraits are at the extreme tail-end of the Samurai tradition. The women are frequently seen holding the iconic katana, while traditionally female warriors favored bows and pole arms, the latter to counteract the male warriors size and strength.

“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. The weapon is mainly favoured for its length, which can compensate for the strength and body size advantage of male opponents. Moreover, the naginata has a niche right between the katana and the yari, which is rather effective in close quarter melee when the opponent is kept at bay, and is also relatively efficient against cavalry. 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.”

I found this article to be quite interesting, and hope you enjoy.

Have a great day folks.



  1. samuraichatter says:

    The topic of female warriors is always a thorny one. While I am sure that at some point in time a Japanese woman picked up a weapon and used it – I highly doubt the practice was widespread.

    Even in the article, it mentions that some of the women warrior figures might not have even existed; common sense says of the ones that did their stories were embellished. I would bet that the photographs and paintings of woman with armor and/or weapons were made in part to showcase the wealth/status of the family to whom the woman belonged. These weapons functioned almost like regalia in that they were only possessed by a few in Japan. Japan was and is a highly patriarchal and stratified society – and one that practiced arms control.

    I find it interesting that Onna-bugeisha preferred, or were strongly associated with, the naginata. In European art, history, and mythology female warriors are often depicted with axes verses swords. The explanation I have heard, believe, and chuckle at is that swords and spears are phallic in nature. In more practical terms, hand and a half weapons like the katana take the most training to wield correctly.

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Today I Learned: Japanese Female Samurai warriors.

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