Tomoe Gozen 巴御前- onna bugeisha
Tomoe Gozen was a female samurai during the Genpei War of 1180–1185 CE. Though female warriors were not uncommon in Japan at the time, Tomoe is one of very few female samurai, highly trained and skilled in horseback riding, archery, sword fighting and she was also greatly skilled in the use of the naginata, which is a long staff with a curved blade at one end. Tomoe Gozen beheaded many enemies with naginata, because she didn’t believe in staying behind in battles, she was always at the fore front of any battle line.
She was a senior captain under general Minamoto no Yoshinaka, and either his attendant or consort as well, depending on the source. Her surname is not known, as Gozen is simply a title, somewhat like “Lady.”
The earliest written source regarding Tomoe Gozen is from the 14th century Japanese classic, The Tale of the Heike, which in turn is derived from oral tradition. This source describes her as almost supernaturally strong, very beautiful, and surpassing her male colleagues in skill and bravery.
The Heike Monogatari goes on to say that Tomoe was one of the last five of Yoshinaka’s warriors standing at the tail end of the Battle of Awazu, and that Yoshinaka, knowing that death was near, urged her to flee. Though reluctant, she rushed a Minamoto warrior named Onda no Hachirô Moroshige, cut his head off, and then fled for the eastern provinces.
Some have written that Tomoe in fact died in battle with her husband, while others assert that she survived and became a nun.
She is among the most popular and widely known female figures in Japanese history/legend, and appears as the lead in at least one kabuki play, Onna Shibaraku