Date of birth and death unknown

巴御前 Tomoe Gozen

A Female Warlord Who Ran Through the Battlefield And Burned Up Her Life

It Is Unknown If She Actually Existed.  A Female Warrior Shrouded in Mystery, Who Left Behind Many Legends

Tomoe Gozen is known as a woman who distinguished herself in battles.  Nevertheless, she appears only in military tales such as “The Tale of the Heike” and does not appear in historical records.  Therefore, it is not certain whether she really existed.  In this article, we will discuss Tomoe Gozen based on the information found in the tales.

Her Origins And Meeting Her Future Husband Minamoto no Yoshinaka

Her date of birth is unknown, but it is said that she was about three years younger than her husband Minamoto no Yoshinaka (Kiso no Yoshinaka) who was born in 1154.  Tomoe Gozen’s encounter with Yoshinaka was when they were both very young.  Yoshinaka’s father was at odds with his brother in a family power struggle, and was later killed by his brother’s son.  They attempted to kill young Yoshinaka as well but he was saved by his father’s servants and hidden by Tomoe Gozen’s father.  That is how he became Tomoe’s father’s adopted son, and how Tomoe Gozen and Yoshinaka grew up together after the birth of Tomoe Gozen.  They later would become husband and wife, but they met as siblings.  She ran around the mountains with him and other siblings and was as strong as a boy.  It is said that she also rode rough horses and was skilled with swords and bows, and was their martial arts training partner.  It may seem unusual for women to be engaged in martial arts at this time, but in the area where they lived, women sometimes received combat training so that they could fight on the front lines.  Tomoe Gozen and Yoshinaka spent their days together, and before long their relationship deepened from that of siblings to that of lovers.

Characteristics of Tomoe Gozen From “The Tale of the Heike”

In “The Tale of the Heike,” she is described as a very beautiful woman with pale skin, long hair, and a perfect appearance.  And it is said that Yoshinaka was also handsome.  He would have been attracted to her not only for her beautiful appearance, but also for her strength and boldness, and above all, he would have trusted her as a warrior.  Although they are known as a married couple, she was technically not his official wife.  Yoshinaka was forced into a political marriage and married her sister instead who gave birth to a son with him in 1173.  So then Tomoe Gozen became his mistress, and that is why she is called Tomoe Gozen.

Her Activities on the Battlefield

The Hogen Rebellion in July 1156 and the Heiji Rebellion in December 1159 weakened the power of the Minamoto clan.  In 1180, when the Minamoto clan asked for reinforcements, Yoshinaka decided to raise an army and enter the battle.  He won the battle and his army expanded.  Tomoe Gozen then went to the battlefield with his army.  It is written that he was always accompanied by a beautiful female warrior in bright armor.  According to “The Genpei Jōsuiki,” her first battle was in 1181, and she was praised for her unparalleled strength, and ability to fight a multitude of enemies single-handedly.  On May 11, 1183, Yoshinaka defeated an army of 100,000 Taira warriors at the Battle of Kurikara.  She participated in this battle as a general and led one of her own troops to fight.  She was a beautiful but fearsome female warrior, who ran across the battlefield and defeated the enemy and is said that she had also captured the enemy’s head and showed it to Yoshinaka.  His army won the subsequent Battle of Shinohara, and they marched toward Kyoto, which was then the capital of Japan and home to the emperor.

Yoshinaka’s Battle with the Imperial Court

In July 1183, Yoshinaka’s army was about to reach the capital of Kyoto.  On November 19, 1183, his army won a crushing victory at the siege of Hōjūjidono, which ousted all the nobles and court nobles of the Emperor’s faction and put him in control of the Imperial Court.  He appointed himself Barbarian-Warring Shogun.  On January 20, 1184, however, a new battle broke out to overthrow him after he violently imprisoned the emperor, but few warriors followed him.

Yoshinaka’s Last Days and Tomoe Gozen

Nevertheless, the vassals who shared his fate, as well as Tomoe Gozen, stood with him.  Even though they were at a clear disadvantage in the battle, Tomoe Gozen stood up for Yoshinaka, and without a single fearful step in the face of a huge army, she pushed forward and defeated the enemy.  According to “The Tale of the Heike,” the enemy, astonished by her great strength, asked his vassal, “Who is that woman?”  She was so strong that even the enemy generals were overwhelmed by her strength, and she fought with great vigor.  However, her vassals were struck down one after another by the enemies.  By the time his army reached the shores of Lake Biwa, there were only seven survivors, including Yoshinaka, Tomoe Gozen, and his brother.  Yoshinaka, who saw the end of their lives, said, “It would be a shame if it is said that a woman was by my side until the time of my death.  Run away wherever you want,” he said, pushing Tomoe Gozen away.  It was his wish that she should survive.  But she shook her head and begged him to let her be with him to the end.  Then he said to her, “Survive and let us go down.  That is your last task.”  She had no choice but to accept his wishes and leave him.  They then fought back against their pursuers and were all killed.  Yoshinaka was 31 years old, and only four years had passed from the time he first raised his army to the time of his death.

Tomoe Gozen After Yoshinaka’s Death

There are various theories about what happened to Tomoe Gozen after his death.  After fleeing to her hometown of Shinano, she was captured and taken to Kamakura, where she was sentenced to death.  However, an enemy soldier, Yoshimori Wada, who had heard of her strength, pleaded for her rescue, saying, “I want a child with such a strong woman,” and took her as his wife (Incidentally, it is not known for certain, but one theory says that Yoshinaka’s second and third sons were her sons).  Here is my personal favorite theory: There was a beautiful nun who visited Yoshinaka’s grave at Gichū-ji Temple in Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture, where Yoshinaka lived his final moments.  She never gave her name, but it is said that she was the one who was known as Tomoe Gozen.