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You fight like a girl!

Discussion in 'Lounge' started by TADATSUGU, Feb 10, 2015.

  1. TADATSUGU Guest

    female samurai.jpg

    No apologies for posting this cutie.
    Despite having read almost everywhere that women in feudal Japan only occaisionally became embroiled in the battlefield I have recently found a number of references to "women samurai" (O.K. more accurately, onna bugeisha) which all offer the same comment, but little else;-

    "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".

    Now to me, the conclusion expressed in the last sentence is astounding. It proposes that it could have been commonplace for one third of a "Samurai" fighting force to be women!:eek:.
    I know onna bugeisha are well documented, and defence of the home and castles was expected of them, but this goes against any previous thinking on massed battlefield actions.

    Does anyone have any further information about these findings or know of any links to more in-depth accounts of this research. The fact that all the references I've found just repeat the above information parrot fashion makes me skeptical. But if the evidence is genuine it opens up a can of worms about suppression of the true nature of Samurai battles, maybe by the Tokogawa Shogunate?

    Footnote, please don't take the photo posted above as evidence - clue? - it's a photo!:LOL:
  2. sd0324 PlanetFigure Supporter

    She looks most beautiful, and formidable at the same time.

    Steve Deyo
  3. Uruk-Hai PlanetFigure Supporter

    That would make a great bust.
    Its my observation that societys and cultures that does not embrace the Abrahamic religions does not hold back women?

    Janne Nilsson
    ChaosCossack likes this.
  4. TADATSUGU Guest

    I hesitated to suggest someone make a bust as it lacks authenticity (or does it? that's partially the reason for my post). But to put everyone straight I believe this is part of a package of 19th century photographs of Samurai dress taken by a westerner photographer in Japan. The girl used is probably an actress or more likely a geisha in costume. Even though, it does suggest that the e idea of a woman in 16th century style armour was not considered ridiculous by whoever provided the costumes when it was taken.
  5. akaryu PlanetFigure Supporter

    David, Japanese history books on the sengoku jidai make no mention of this and considering the social position/role of women in Japanese medieval society it seems rather improbable to me, but then who knows, most Japanese history books are written by men! Have you asked your question on the Samurai Archives forum, maybe someone can shed a light on this?
    TADATSUGU likes this.
  6. Helm A Fixture

    I would say it's unlikely that an army would have been commonly 1/3 comprised of women and nobody mentioned it, interestingly the photo does not appear to show her with swords, which does suggest it's a "dress up" photo rather than an actual warrior woman
  7. TADATSUGU Guest

    I had a look Akaryu, I always find navigating SA forums difficult but found no references to this recent research on a simple word search.
    Helm, it's precisely because it does seems unlikely, that I wanted to find more diect links to the DNA research to check it out. Maybe it's just a case of Chinese whispers but I think it's worth looking for, considering the implications of it being true.
    I'm assuming you missed my second post above - dress up? definately.
  8. Helm A Fixture

    I read your post I was just adding my view
  9. Uruk-Hai PlanetFigure Supporter

    Ok, just for the record, Japanese history is not really my speciality even if I used to hold a brown belt.

    I was merely associating to the women and their position in prechristian Europe such as with the Germanic tribes, the Celts and of course Scandinavia. And it sure seems I was quick to jump to conclusions.

    Janne Nilsson
    TADATSUGU likes this.
  10. TADATSUGU Guest

    Don't beat yourself up Janne. Women in Japan were always treated in high regard, just in a different way to the west. Men were by far the dominant sex, but maintaining and defending the home had always been a part of a womans responsibility when the men were away from the home or castles. There are many accounts of women fighting on occaision, organising or inspiring household defense during seiges as late as the 1860s and they were trained in martial arts. Its just that it has always been considered that they were unlikely to be on a battlefield except for a few isolated cases. The " new research" casts doubt on this.
    I agree with many here who consider it unlikely, because that is what has always been written. Imagine being told that a grave of hundreds of female Norman Knights had been found near Battle/Hastings! Of course it would be subjected to ridicule. But DNA is DNA!.
    Unfortunatly, the reports I have found seem to have simply accepted that this new evidence is valid without giving any details to back them up. They could be utter tosh! But equally, I also find it equally difficult to accept that repectable scientists (if that is who carried out the survey) would dismiss such "accepted knowledge" without having good cause to do so. If three battlefield sites have been excavated (and I simply just don't know if they have), exhuming that number of bodies can't have been possible without offical backing and if it is a Japanese project, I doubt they would reveal such conclusions lightly, especially in light of the respect the Japanese have for their Samurai heritage.
    Blind Pew and Uruk-Hai like this.
  11. Joe55 A Fixture

    An interesting photo that definitely warrants further research.

    I do see what appears to be a sword handle to the left of the helmet and about belly level on the girl.

  12. Uruk-Hai PlanetFigure Supporter

    Thanks for sorting it out, David.

    Janne Nilsson
  13. tomifune A Fixture

    Your photograph with the attached paragraph has been used here and there all over the web. The paragraph about Senbon Matsubaru is from Stephen Turnbulls book, Samurai Women, 1184-1877. It was coupled with the photo obviously from the Meiji Restoration and I have seen it used even in things like Answer.com's : 10 things you never knew about Samurai.
    I tried to find some info about this battle but my Takeda family history only goes to the death of Shingen. If the date is correct, Katsuyori was on the run during this time from Nobunaga after Nagashino. He was chased through Shinano and Kai provinces even being turned away from his own Generals castles. With the families existence at stake, would women be used for defense? Probably, just my opinion, as everything happens in desperate times.
    My question would be the total number of combatants in the battle. If there were thousands involved, well then even the 105 would be small.
    I don't believe it was a large battle though because when Katsuyori committed hari-kari 2 years later he only had 300 left with him.
    As far as the posed photo, here is a good source for women combatants in the Meiji Restoration.


    TADATSUGU likes this.
  14. tomifune A Fixture


    She could straighten out my katana any day.:eek::D

    Gaudin, ChaosCossack and TADATSUGU like this.
  15. Tubby-Nuts2 A Fixture

    David, what do you mean!.. ?? 'Fight like a Girl'.:whistle:


    TADATSUGU and tomifune like this.
  16. TADATSUGU Guest

    Thank you Bob. You have put a whole new light on this for me by identifying the quote. (And thanks for the very informative reference link:D).
    I'm not very academic with regard to Japanese history. Most of the books I have are aimed at armour and weapons rather than history, and mainly used for model research.
    I have the Turnbull book but have not read it yet! Having now checked it out, I am very skeptical. I have nothing against S Turnbull myself, except that he seems to have the monopoly on writing Japanese history books in Britain, but the Samurai Archive seem to have a big problem with his reliability.
    His Samurai Women was published in 2010, which means the research he is referring to is older than I expected, (and guess what? - no sources quoted).
    I know Katsuyori was abandoned by his generals at the end, but this was not untill 1582. I assume he was still trying to put up an organised fight in 1580.
    What you say makes good sense, and I did say that defense of castle actions by women are accepted as having been relatively well documented. However If you look again, (at what I will now call the Turnbull quote), he says the actions being investigated were not seiges.
    I think you may have misread the point of the figures being quoted. He says that 35 out of 105 heads per mound turned out to be female. That's a third of the combatants(?), wherever they excavated, infering that the same result would have been found anywhere else at that site (suggested by his comment as a pitched battlefield site). This is a massive ratio for something that is generally unknown in Japanese history (or anywhere else)!
    I don't know about head-burial rituals or conventions enough to question Turnbull, but I would assume that the scientists involved in the research would.
    Turnbull has been critised heavily by Samurai Archivers for clearly repeating older sources without questioning them, and for making glaring assumptions that can be disproved, so I don't give much credence to this "throw away" quote anymore.
    What puzzles me is why does no one else other than Turnbull seem to know anything about this research?

    P.S. Some people following this thread seem intent on trying to justify or rationising the photo I posted. I never intended the photo to be taken as authentic, I just thought she was damned cute!
    tomifune and akaryu like this.
  17. tomifune A Fixture

    Ok, what to address first.......
    The reason I made the point about the total was because the DNA statement says bodies , not heads, so it just hit me that if it was a skirmish, there would not be a burial mound at all. Burial mounds tell me there was a major battle and therefore the amount of women found would be more insignificant. Huh??? lol Anyway, the fun is conjecturing with the small evidence available.
    Stephen Turnbull is the only one that I know of that has consistently had boots on the ground in Japan while writing. Medieval Japanese history is not as popular worldwide as others. Is he wrong sometimes? Probably. But not as often as someone who checks archives online andrants at someone else. There is a lot of documentation in private hands in Japan and only available to those they trust.
    I got into a row a few years ago online with someone about Stephen Hayes and Ninjutsu. After going back and forth, turns out he was only repeating something he heard from someone else. Sounds like the miniature hobby:)
    Anyway, I felt kind of sorry for Katsuyori. His only misdeed was not being his father. Recent writings are putting less emphasis on the matchlocks for the victory at Nagashino and more on the left flank attack and Oda's overall strategy.
    Karlosfandango and sd0324 like this.
  18. TADATSUGU Guest

    Bob. The quote does say head mound's. Does this make a significant difference? Am I right in assuming heads were taken as "proof" trophies and therefore buried by the trophy takers? could this be why a lot of female heads were buried together?
    The problem with only being able to find Stephen Turnbull books is that there is no one to compare his accounts with.
    Katsuyori's only misdeed was to have not been very successful. Considering the opposition, that's not too bad.
    As for photos taken in the late 19th century, they look impressive and show how items looked when worn but I don't think we can trust them as reliable. I'm sure there were experts then as now. but how widespread or available to westerners was that knowledge generally? I'm sure Edo and early Meji period artificers were as skilled in armour production as Sengoku armourers and I've seen many genuine armours that mix older styles such as Kamakura with Momoyama period kabuto. A minefield!
    tomifune likes this.
  19. akaryu PlanetFigure Supporter

    Might be a little of topic, but certainly of interest for any non-Japanese speaking students of the sengoku jidai is this publication of the O-uma-jirushi with comments in English https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/xavid/o-umajirushi-17th-century-samurai-heraldry. Should be something to look forward to, I would think.
    As for the earlier comments on Turnbull, the man is not a military historian and he gets an awfull lot of flak from the "academics" on SA Forum, but IMO he has at least the merit of having kindled interest in the samurai, at a time when no one in the West was looking. For anyone reading Nihongo and wanting to steer away both from the dry scholarly output of some US universities and the samurai-pop of Mr Turnbull, there are the lovely illustrated books of Sasama-Sensei and the whole range of Gakken's Rekishi Gunzô to enjoy.
    Just a few thoughts of an old soldier;-))
    tomifune likes this.
  20. akaryu PlanetFigure Supporter

    And allowing me to continue ranting, when I started taking figurines earnestly, my first info on samurai were the instruction sheets of Ray Lamb's unsurpassed 90mm samurai figurines, so Turnbull flaws and all was an eye-opener in an era without internet and few Japanese speaking people in the neighbourhood! When I volunteered for a year in Japan to study the language and some kenjutsu, my CO was convinced he had a nutcase on his hands. But of course that's all an old man's raving and now we have the web and are all experts ;-)))
    tomifune likes this.

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