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During the Genpei War of 1180-1185, there was an exceptional onna bugeisha (literally, warrior-arts female)- a rare female practitioner of bushido, the way of the warrior. A concubine of Yoshinaka, Tomoe Gozen was said to be exceptionally beautiful, with porcelain skin and long black hair, and was exceptionally skilled in combat. A better archer than most men, her bravery and ability made her terrifying. Supposedly, she could ride unbroken horses without issue, handle sword or longbow with equal skill, and could stare down gods and demons alike.
When Yoshinaka was at war, Tomoe was his first captain. On the front lines, she performed more acts of valor than any other. After his battle with the Heiki clan Yoshinaka set out to become the head of the Minamoto clan. His cousin, Yoritomo, had other ideas; he sent his two brothers to kill Yoshinaka. This brought on the Battle of Awazu in February of 1184, where Yoritomos’ and Yoshinakas’ soldiers fought for hours. Tomoe Gozen is said to have taken the heads of Uchida Ieyoshi and Honda no Moroshige before Yoshinaka was defeated.
After this, no one really knows what happened to Tomoe.
Some people say that she was defeated by Wada Yoshimori and instead of being killed, she was taken for a wife. Some say she escaped battle and became a nun. Some say she never even existed- outside of “The Tale of the Heiki”, there is little evidence of her existence. Although, the grave of another of Yoshinaka’s concubines, Yamabuki Gozen, has been found. “The Tale of the Heiki” is said to be mostly true.
Today you may see Tomoe Gozen being portrayed by geiko (geisha) during Jidai Matsuri, the Festival of Ages, where famous characters from across history are portrayed during the parade. She is often seen wearing armor and a crown, carrying a naginata (a pole weapon) and riding a horse. She is always played by a beautiful woman.