Tomoe Gozen (fl. c. 12th c.)

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Tomoe Gozen (fl. c. 12th c.)

Japan's legendary woman warrior, said to have been both beautiful and valiant, who displayed military prowess equal to that of any man during the Taira-Minamoto war (1180–1185). Pronunciation: Toemow-eh Go-zen. Flourished around the 12th century in Japan.

It is likely that Tomoe Gozen lived, but her story is more the stuff of romantic legend, having been recorded in war chronicles like Heike Monogatari (The Tale of the Heike), which were compiled from ballads sung by medieval traveling storytellers. Tomoe's story is linked with that of Kiso Yoshinaka, commander of the Minamoto forces in the clan wars of 1180–1185, who was described in the war chronicles as a "wild barbarian." Tomoe, his concubine, accompanied Yoshinaka into battle and was said to have personally commanded a force of 1,000 warriors. She was with him when he had to flee from his previous allies, who accused him of treachery and abuse of power, which appears to have been the case. Yoshinaka pleaded with Tomoe to leave him and thus spare her own life. She refused to flee, however, until she had taken the head of an enemy warrior to prove her military prowess. This she did, overpowering a great warrior in hand-to-hand combat. Yoshinaka committed suicide and Tomoe escaped. The chronicles say that Tomoe, who was then 28, became a Buddhist nun.


Tyler, Royall. "Tomoe: the Woman Warrior," in Heroic with Grace: Legendary Women of Japan. Chieko Mulhern, ed. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1991, pp. 129–150.

Linda L. Johnson , Professor of History, Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota