Tomoe Gozen (1157?–1247), pronounced [tomo.e], was a late twelfth-century female samurai warrior (onna bugeisha), known for her bravery and strength. She is believed to have fought in and survived the Genpei War (1180–1185).
She was also the concubine of Minamoto no Yoshinaka.
According to one historical account,
|“||Tomoe was especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair, and charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors.
— The Tale of the Heike
After defeating the Taira and driving them into the western provinces, Minamoto no Yoshinaka (Tomoe’s master) took Kyoto and desired to be the leader of the Minamoto clan. His cousin Yoritomo was prompted to crush Yoshinaka, and sent his brothers Yoshitsune and Noriyori to kill him. Yoshinaka fought Yoritomo’s forces at the Battle of Awazu on February 21, 1184, where Tomoe Gozen purportedly took at least one head of the enemy. Although Yoshinaka’s troops fought bravely, they were outnumbered and overwhelmed. When Yoshinaka was defeated there, with only a few of his soldiers standing, he told Tomoe Gozen to flee because he wanted to die with his foster brother Imai no Shiro Kanehira and he said that he would be ashamed if he died with a woman.
Tomoe Gozen with Uchida Ieyoshi and Hatakeyama no Shigetada. Woodblock print by Yōshū Chikanobu, 1899
There are varied accounts of what followed. At Battle of Awazu in 1184, she is known for beheading Honda no Moroshige of Musashi. She is also known for having killed Uchida Ieyoshi and for escaping capture by Hatakeyama Shigetada.
After the battle, according to Heike Monogatari she gave up the sword. It is also said that she was defeated by Wada Yoshimori and became his wife. After Wada died, she was said to have become a nun in Echizen. These different stories are what give the story of Tomoe Gozen its intrigue. She was never proven to have been a historical figure so she could also be an invention of the author of Heike Monogatari. However, the grave of Yoshinaka’s other female attendant Yamabuki Gozen does exist and most of the incidents in The Tale of the Heike are believed by historians to be true.