Tomoe Gozen


Matcha, straight. Never really developed a taste for coffee.

Hey there. I’m Tomoe Gozen, samurai. Yep, that’s right—a female samurai. Surprised to hear there actually were female samurai? I don’t blame you. After all, women generally held a low status in feudal Japan, and samurai ranked high in the social class of the system.

Turns out, we female warriors weren’t all that uncommon in that era. Sure, most women of the samurai class received martial training for the purpose of defending our homes and families in case of an enemy attack. But some, like me, fought alongside the men in battle when needed. We were known as onna-musha, or woman warriors. Gozen is not a name, by the way. It’s an honorific title, usually translated in English to “Lady”.

We learned the arts of the sword and bow, but our weapon of choice was the naginata, a polearm with a curved blade at its tip. These babies were exceptionally effective in close combat, and the length gave us an edge against bigger, stronger male opponents. We followed the same samurai code of conduct as the men, trained just as hard, and fought with equal ferocity.

I myself was a samurai of a Minamoto general, leading up to a thousand warriors at a time. And not only that, it’s said I was worth a thousand warriors myself in combat. Hey, don’t take it from me, take it from the Heike Monogatari, the 12th-century epic account of the struggle between the Taira and Minamoto clans:

…she was a fearless rider whom neither the fiercest horse nor the roughest ground could dismay, and so dexterously did she handle sword and bow that she was a match for a thousand warriors, and fit to meet either god or devil.

And there you have it. Match for a thousand warriors. Fit to meet either god or devil. I’m not going to argue with that kind of praise. I was a badass fighter who had men shaking in their armor when they heard I was there. Once, I even decapitated an enemy on my horse’s saddle. I was that hardcore.

You’d be hard pressed to find someone in Japan who’s never heard my name. But, well…here’s the catch. The Heike Monogatari is the only written work I was recoded in during my time. There’s not any sound historical evidence that I was ever a real person rather than one of the epic’s embellishments. I guess that’s why I’ve shifted into folklore territory. However, I’m far from being forgotten. My life has been featured in a novel trilogy of the 1980s by author Jessica Amanda Salmonson. I show up each year in the Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages) in Kyoto. I’ve appeared in anime, video games, online games, and even as a character in the 2010 Syfy series Riverworld.

My fame remains stronger than ever. So rather than wallow in an existential crisis on whether I’m real or not, I’ve decided to embrace my status as representative of a generation of awesome female warriors who continue to inspire. That’s real enough for me.