July 23, 2022

Female warrior class of Japan

I would like to touch on the female warrior class of Japan. Before reading the information I present here take into consideration the following. Much speculation and skepticism relate to certain mentions and aspects of the history relating to female warriors across cultures.

Two things to take into consideration.

  • The male warrior can be very vain and egotistical. History was written by the male warrior to reflect the strength and magnificence of the male warrior.
  • The second is a rule as old as the mountains, history is always written by the victor. 

This means that magnificent exploits and achievements of female warriors were mostly written out of history or in many cases fact were turned to fiction in an attempt to belittle the female warrior. 

Note that most of the female warrior images available today are of kabuki theatre and warrior re-enactments with very little reference to the real warriors.

Please enjoy the below information.

The earliest mention of the female warrior class in Japan dates back to 150-250 BC with the mention of Empress Jingu. ”Empress Jingū (神功皇后, Jingū-kōgō) was a legendary Japanese empress who ruled as a regent following her husband's death in 200 AD”

At the time there was no real descriptive word for a female warrior because there was no need and most of the descriptive words were conceived by later generations. I have taken the most basic description from history and indicated the role associated with it. 

The primary female warrior classes. 

Onna Bugeisha - Defensive 

The term Onna Bugeisha was used in a time long before the samurai class was established. These female warriors were mostly from the noble class. They were trained in martial arts and weapons use. These female warriors protected the household and family when the male warriors went to war or needed to travel.

Onna Musha - Offensive

The term Onna Musha was used for female warriors who fought alongside the male warriors on the battlefield and in some cases formed their own group that was an effective part of battlefield strategies. Such an example would have been the Joshitai (girls army) during the Bushin War led by Nakano Takeko. 

Another reference is research that shows women did fight in battles, with DNA remains from the site of the Battle of Senbon Matsubaru in 1580 showing that 35 out of 105 bodies were female.

Besshikime (“other-style women”) - Bodyguards 

The Basshikime were bodyguards but not in the modern sense of the word. These female warriors were highly trained in self defense, manipulation, misdirection and disguise. These warriors guarded residents of the Daimyo like their wifes or harems. They were normally hidden between the concubines, courtesans and servants These female bodyguards would look soft, weak and unassuming to an outside observer. There is little mention of this bodyguard in history but their role was a crucial one. 

geisha kunoichi female warrior
Geisha / Kunoichi female warrior

Kunoichi - Spies, messengers, assassin

The Kunoichi is a term generally used for female ninja.

A certain kind of Kunoichi was girls that would have been trained and groomed into positions as geisha, priestesses and Shinto shrine maidens. They were trained to be information gatherers, messengers and assassins. A person to mention here would be Mochizuki Chiyome. She was a poet and noble woman who gathered and trained a group of females to be of service to the Takeda clan. 

There is also mention of Kunoichi being made in the Mansenshukai along with another lesser known  term: “This point is of interest, as the term Kunoichi has become famous in the Western world, yet Tajikara has remained unknown.”

With my research it becomes clear that the female warrior played a much more important role as a warrior than history brings to light. 

Most of the female warriors across history were made out to be fictitious characters or people with heavily exaggerated stories. In some cases these female warriors were active in history and then suddenly disappeared from the records.

There is much more information with details of each further research is recommended. 

Thank you for reading!

Article written by Yuhkimaru Musashi
Yuhkimaru of the Musashi clan is avid student of survival skills and martial arts used during the era of the Samurai. Yuhkimaru aims to use his writing skills and knowledge of human psychology to further the ideals of the Musashi clan and share it with the world. Wisdom from the past carry much weight towards the application of the clan principles for use in modern times. "To insure the security of a bright future through education for all the people of the world is my dream." (Yuhkimaru)