Something like this:
|Look! A samurai!|
|Yep, that's a samurai.|
Far fewer people realize that, on occasion, samurai warriors also looked like this:
|Onna-bugeisha, the female Japanese warrior|
During (and since) the medieval era, the Japanese term for these female samurai warriors is onna-bugeisha (女武芸者). It translates roughly to "woman warrior."
The term "female samurai" isn't exactly correct, because all women born to samurai families were considered samurai--whether or not they wore swords and rode into battle like a man. Women in samurai households were usually literate and received at least minimal training in hand to hand combat, often with the naginata, a type of Japanese halberd.
(Unlike European halberds, which were normally used by men, the naginata was normally considered most suitable for use by women and monks.)
Samurai women were expected to watch over the family income, accounts, and household when their fathers or husbands went to war, duties which often included managing ledgers and--when necessary--defending the home against thieves or invaders. These were NOT the "shrinking violets" many people imagine when they consider medieval Japanese wives!
Most onna-bugeisha lived as women--wearing women's clothes and acting as wives, daughters, and sisters except when danger required them to take up arms to defend their homes and families.
|Tomoe Gozen on horseback|
|Tomoe Gozen, center, fighting in the Genpei War|
|Portrait of Nakano Takeko|
My fondness for onna-bugeisha carries over into my fiction. The first Shinobi Mystery, Claws of the Cat, featured a female samurai warrior named Akechi Yoshiko, who lives (and acts) more like a samurai man than a woman. Yoshiko makes a return appearance in my upcoming release, Flask of the Drunken Master (Minotaur, July 2015)--and I promise, she hasn't abandoned her warrior's ways.
One reason I set my books in Japan is the host of intriguing, surprising--and realistic--characters who populated that medieval world. I love exploring their stories, and sharing them with readers who might or might not realize that such people--though fictionalized in my stories--also existed in medieval Japan.
The onna-bugeisha was only one...I'll share some others in weeks to come....
--Susan (who wishes she could walk around wearing swords).