The Female Warriors of Ancient Japan

In the early feudal period, the Buke was the elite Japanese military class. The Buke women fought fiercely to defend their homes while their samurai husbands were at war.

It was not out of the ordinary for women to become samurais and warriors. These women were known as the onna-bugeisha and were expected to show: loyalty, bravery, and take on the duty of revenge if their husband or Daimyo was killed. 


Write the above heading on a new page in your book and then answer the following questions in complete sentences:

1. What was known as the Buke in Medieval feudal Japan?

2. What was expected of the women warriors during this era in Japan?

Since her warrior husband was often absent, the samurai wife also had important duties at home. Her responsibility was the food and all the household supplies. She oversaw the harvesting of crops, managed all the servants, and took over all financial business. 

In matters which concerned the well-being of the family, her advice was sought and her opinions respected. She also had to provide a proper education of her children, especially through instilling in them, a strong sense of duty, courage and physical strength.

3. List the duties that were expected of a Samurai wife in her home?


     4. Who was Hojo Masa-ko and why is she referred to as "Mother Shogun"?

During wartime, women sometimes had to defend their homes. Buke women were trained to pierce an attacker's chest or throat with a kansashi, the long pins used primarily to keep a woman's hair in place.
It took considerable strength and skill for these women to battle invaders while wearing the cumbersome double layers of silk kimono and traditional straw sandals.      (http://www.woa.tv/articles/hi_samurai.html )


Trained in weaponry, women also carried a dagger in their sleeves or sashes and could throw with deadly aim. The naginata, a long, curved sword, was considered the weapon most suitable for women. Japanese girls today continue the ancient art of naginatajutsu as they learn how to wield the naginata.

Sometimes women joined men in battle, actually fighting along side them or encouraging the troops. And, like their husbands, women were expected to commit suicide, also known as hara-kiri, if the family was dishonoured in any way. For this they would use a kansashi. Some women used suicide as a form of protest against injustice, as in the case of one woman who killed herself when her husband mistreated her.

Wood-block carved print of a samurai woman in battle.

5. What is this object seen on the left. List three possible uses this object could have had for Buke women during medieval feudal Japan?

6. What is a naginata? Find a small image (painting or drawing) of a woman wearing traditional Japanese dress and wielding
(using) a naginata, and paste it in your book.

7. For what reasons might a Buke woman in feudal Japan commit hara-kiri?

Over time the independent samurai woman was replaced by a different image, to be humble, obedient, self-controlled and above all subservient to men. Respecting one's husband and family and bearing a male child became this ideal woman's most important tasks. By the later feudal ages, the laws changed which made it impossible for daughters to inherit property. 

After the 15th century, the Buddhist and Confucius teachings of the "Three Obediences" reinforced women’s lesser status in society. "A woman has no way of independence through life. When she is young, she obeys her father; when she is married, she obeys her husband; when she is widowed, she obeys her son."
(Text source:Lost/unknown!)

8. How did the role of samurai women change in the later feudal ages? How were they expected to behave and what was considered their most important task or function?
Briefly quote from the Buddhist and Confucius teachings in your answer.

 9. From the above site find out what is a kaiken, another secret weapon that Japanese samurai women carried.

10. From the ancient historical account called The Tale of Heike, describe the appearance and skills of the famous female samurai Tomoe Gozen.
                                         Or draw some cartoons that tell the tale of the samurai Tomoe Gozen.