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Tomoe Gozen, the famous female samurai (1157-1247?)

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Print of an actor portraying Tomoe Gozen

Actor portrays Tomoe Gozen, the female samurai

Library of Congress Prints and Photos Collection

This print of a kabuki actor portraying Tomoe Gozen, the famous twelfth-century samurai woman of Japan, shows her in a very martial pose. Tomoe is decked out in full (and very ornate) armor, and she rides a lovely dapple-gray horse. Behind her, the rising sun symbolizes Japanese imperial might.

The Tokugawa shogunate banned females from appearing on the kabuki stage in 1629, because the plays were becoming too erotic even for relatively open-minded Japan. Instead, attractive young men played the female roles. This all-male style of kabuki is called yaro kabuki, meaning "young man kabuki."

The switch to all-male casts did not have the desired effect of reducing eroticism in kabuki. In fact, the young actors were often available as prostitutes for customers of either gender; they were considered models of feminine beauty, and were highly sought-after.

See three more images of Tomoe Gozen and learn about her life, and peruse prints and photos of other Japanese samurai women.

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