Below Samurai Warrior from the Total War: Shogun 2
determination and bravery that belies their gender, and when the ultimate sacrifice is called for, they go willingly to their deaths as bravely as any male samurai.
Other women achieve fame by employing their skills in the martial arts to seek revenge for a murdered relative; others seek mere survival and, when combined with the exploits of women whose role in warfare was of a more indirect nature, the female contribution to samurai history is revealed to be a considerable one.
The reasons for female participation in battles may be summarised as follows: by and large, female involvement in conflict was of a defensive nature. Thus, apart from one or two ambiguous examples, there are no records of women being recruited to serve in armies or ordered to fight, neither do there appear to be any authentic examples of all-women armies.
The usual scenario was that of a defended castle where the commander was absent and the responsibility for defence had to be assumed by his wife. In nearly all such cases, the castellans’ wives’ roles involved actual fighting as well as administrative duties, which suggests that women of the samurai class were highly trained in the martial arts to prepare them for exactly such an emergency. Invariably, this role was played either by the wife of the daimyo (the feudal lord) or one of his most senior retainers to whom the control of a subsidiary castle had been entrusted.
Recent archaeological evidence confirms a wider female involvement in battle than is implied by written accounts alone. This conclusion is based on the recent excavation of three battlefield head-mounds. In one case, the Battle of Senbon Matsubaru between Takeda Katsuyori and Hojo Ujinao in 1580, DNA tests on 105 bodies revealed that 35 of them were female. Two excavations elsewhere produced similar results. None was a siege situation, so the tentative conclusion must be that women fought in armies even though their involvement was seldom recorded. Of those we know, the defence of Suemori castle in 1584 by the commander’s wife is as glorious an episode of samurai bravery as can be found anywhere.
During the Sengoku Period, the rule by the samurai class was sometimes severely challenged by the armies mounted by lower-class self-governing communities called ikki or leagues. The most powerful one was based on a shared adherence to the True Pure Land sect of Buddhism as the ‘Single-minded League or ‘Ikko-ikki’.
Although often erroneously referred to as warrior monks, the warriors were not ordained priests but samurai of modest means, townspeople, or farmers. They were among the first organised military forces in Japan to embrace the new technology of firearms, and held out against Oda Nobunaga for ten years from their fortified cathedral of Ishiyama Honganji, built where Osaka castle now stands.
By comparison with the way he treated the armies of defeated samurai lords, Nobunaga was ruthless in his destruction of these contemptible rabble, and mass slaughter was carried out on several occasions. Curiously, the final surrender of Ishiyama Honganji was a negotiated settlement, and this generosity went some way towards ensuring that no religious armies would ever again rise to challenge samurai dominance.
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