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Exhibit Catalog to the Morris County Historical Society's "Out of the Closet" Exhibition

Tomoe Gozen: The Female Samurai

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Yoshitoshi
Tomoe Gozen Defeating Uchida Saburo
From the Series: Famous Fights Between Brave Men (Eimei kumiuchi zoroi)
Circa 1862
Woodblock print
9 x 13 1/2 in.
 
 
Found in the Collection.

Tomoe Gozen: The Female Samurai
 

Tomoe Gozen (Gozen being an honorific title) was a female samurai – one of the very rare examples of her kind - living in the 12th – 13th century AD. She was married to Kiso (Minamoto) Yoshinaka, a man who rebelled against the Taira clan. In 1184 the couple took Kyoto after winning the Battle of Kurikawa. With the Taira forced into exile in the Western Provinces, Yoshinaka made it known that he desired to become the leader of the Minamoto clan - a suggestion that prompted an attack by Minamoto Yoritomo. Yoshinaka and Tomoe faced Yoritomo's warriors at Awazu; it is said that Tomoe took at least one head during this battle.

 

The Heike Monogatari says the following of Tomoe…

 

"…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 preformed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors."
(Tale of the Heike, translated by McCullough, pg. 291)

 

The Heike Monogatari goes on to say that Tomoe was one of the last five of Kiso’s army standing at the tail end of the Battle of Awazu, and that Yoshinaka, knowing that the end was near, urged her to retreat. Although reluctant, she decapitated a Minamoto warrior named Onda no Hachiro Moroshige, and then fled for the eastern provinces. Some have written that Tomoe died in battle with her husband, while others assert that she survived and became a nun.
 
 
"Tomoe Gozen Defeating Uchida Saburo" by Yoshitoshi
 
This print of Tomoe Gozen fighting her enemy is part of a category of Ukiyo-e prints called musha-e. Musha-e depicts battle scenes and heroic armored warriors, and includes illustrated novels, historical scenes, and war/battle scenes. Here she defeats Uchida Saburo at what was to be her final battle - the Battle of Awazu. The fact that she is shown triumphant over her enemy here, just moments before her supposed death, raises Tomoe up to a perpetually victorious status - while she may have retreated or died in the end, pictures like this will always show her triumphant over her enemy, and therefore make her a legend.