Historical Figures

Tomoe Gozen, mythical samurai

Lady Tomoe or Tomoe Gozen (1161?-1247?) is a female Japanese samurai whose story has become such popular legend that the truth often mixes with the myth.

The Gempei War

Famous for her skills in horseback riding, archery, and kenjutsu (the art of samurai swordsmanship), Tomoe Gozen accompanies her husband, General Minamoto no Yoshinaka, to the battlefields. Together, they fought during the Gempei War, a civil war in ancient Japan (1180 – 1185) which saw the confrontation of two clans, the Minamoto and the Taira, during a succession dispute for the imperial throne. A warrior novel, the Heike Monogatari , describes their exploits. Respected by men, Tomoe is one of her husband's captains and leads his troops into battle.

In battle

Yoshinaka pushes the Taira back into the western provinces and seeks to gain control of the Minamoto clan. In reaction, the chief of the clan, Minamoto no Yoritomo, sends his troops to him. On February 21, 1184, the two armies clashed at the Battle of Awazu. Yoshinaka's men are vastly outnumbered, and before dying, the general orders Tomoe Gozen to flee, not wishing to die with a woman.

The sequel differs depending on the version:according to some, Tomoe kills Uchida Ieyoshi, an enemy samurai, then flees, taking her husband's head. For others, she stays with her husband and dies with him. Subsequently, she gave up arms and some say she became a Buddhist nun.

The story of Tomoe Gozen, a well-known heroine in Japan, has spread through popular culture to become a legend. In contemporary popular culture, his character appears in several films, video games and manga.