Nakano Takeko: The Last of the Onna-Bugeishas

Nakano Takeko: The Last of the Onna-Bugeishas

A figure of the Boshin War, Nakano Takeko led an army of women fighters, known as the Joshitai, against the emperor’s forces. The Boshin War, a Japanese civil war that began in January 1868 and ended in May 1869, was a series of battles that led to the overthrow of the Tokugawa shogunate and the restoration of the Imperial rule in Japan.

Born into a family of the Aizu clan, Takeko was born in Edo, the firstborn daughter of Nakano Heinai, a samurai official of Aizu. Her mother was Nakano Kōko, daughter of Oinuma Kinai, a samurai of Toda of the Ashikaga domain.

The Onna-Bugeisha were a group of women as skilled in combat as their male counterparts. Empress Jingu, a legendary Japanese empress who ruled as a regent following her husband’s death around 200 A.D. was one of the first female warriors in the history of Japan. Jingu is said to have personally organized and conducted a battle that resulted in the conquest of Korea. 

Japanese women of samurai class were expected to train in the use of weapons and could even become a jito, land steward appointed by the central military government. Most would use their skills to defend the home and family, especially in times of war.

Takeko spent five years as the adopted daughter of her martials arts teacher, Akaoka Daisuke, but left after he attempted to arrange a marriage for her.

During the Battle of Aizu of 1868, her weapon of choice was the naginata,  a cross between a sword and a spear. It was a versatile, conventional polearm with a curved blade at the tip. Through its use by many legendary samurai women, the naginata has become the iconic armament of the woman warrior.

Nakano Takeko died in the ensuing battle, suffering a bullet wound to her chest. She requested her sister cut off her head so that her body would not be taken as enemy trophy.

Nakano Takeko is widely considered to be the last great female samurai warrior, and the Battle of Aizu is considered the last stand of the Onna-Bugeisha. The group fought against 20,000 Imperial Japanese army soldiers.

During the Meiji Restoration, the okugawa shogun (great general) who ruled Japan during the feudal period lost his power, and the emperor was restored. Samurai women saw the end of their class.


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