Samurai Women, 1184-1877, Stephen Turnbull

Samurai Women, 1184-1877, Stephen Turnbull

Warrior 151

The Samurai warrior is one of the best known figures in military history, but the role of women in Samurai warfare is far less familiar. Turnbull's book focuses on those comparatively unknown figures, tracing the role of women on the Japanese battlefield over a period of seven centuries.

The book starts with an overview of the changing role of women in Japanese warfare and politics. Here it becomes clear that most documented examples of women in warfare came during sieges, often when a senior samurai's wife was left in charge of a besieged fortress. The brutal battles against the self governing leagues, or ikki, saw the most direct involvement in battle, with entire communities fighting to survive. We then move on to look at the equipment used by female warriors and its depiction in contemporary and later art. Next comes an series of examples of the tangled relationships that marriage could create and the deadly results that could follow.

The largest chapter, with 24 out of the 64 pages, looks at individual examples of samurai women. We start with Tomoe Gozen, the companion of a famous samurai who is recorded as having fought on the battlefield in 1184 with some success. A series of examples are provided from then until Sekigahara, just over 400 years later. This is followed by the long peace of the Tokugawa period, but fighting samurai women made one final appearance in Japanese history, taking part in the rebellion against the Meiji Restoration of 1868, which saw the last of the Tokugawa shoguns hand power over to the Emperor Meiji.

This is a fascinating (if somewhat gloomy, given the gruesome end to many of the stories included) study of an unfamiliar aspect of Japanese history.

Introduction - the Elusive Samurai Women
Women in Samurai History
Appearance, Equipment and Dress
The Samurai Woman in Peace and War
The Samurai Woman on the Battlefield
Museums and Memorials
Bibliography and Further Reading

Author: Stephen Turnbull
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 64
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2010

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