Women’s History #4

If you are a fan of foreign films then I bet you have watched the Japanese classics about the samurai….all the main characters were male but during the upheavals on the island there were so much more than dudes running around sword fighting and cutting off heads.

The year is 1868 and the Onna-Bugeisha are participants in the great Meiji restoration.

Her formerly snow-white clothes were stained red. She had cropped her long hair and tied it into a knot above her head. Her hands held a heavy halberd. Kawahara Asako had just killed her mother-in-law and young daughter to prevent them from falling into the enemy’s hands. Drenched in their blood, she marched onto the battlefield, ready to die defending her home.

Kawahara fought in the Battle of Aizu, named for a region in the northern part of Japan. It was one of the deadliest conflicts of the Boshin War, the civil conflict that shook Japan from 1868 to 1869. It saw the Imperial forces of Emperor Meiji face the Tokugawa shogunate, the military regime that had governed Japan since 1603. The shogunate, to which the Aizu were allied, wanted to preserve Japan’s insularity, its traditional way of life, and curtail Western influences. The emperor, on the other hand, was spearheading the country’s transformation into a modern nation-state in a revolution from above.

The Meiji Restoration ended Japan’s seclusion policy and opened the country up to foreign powers, hastening change in almost all areas of life. But fundamental societal transformations rarely go smoothly. At stake was nothing less than the very soul and future of Japan.

When the imperial forces invaded the Aizu region in 1868, they did so to cement their control of Japan. That October, the emperor’s troops, outnumbering the shogunate soldiers and in possession of better supplies, made quick progress in taking settlements. After sustaining heavy losses, the Aizu population was ordered to barricade themselves in nearby Tsuruga Castle.

Onna-Bugeisha, the Female Samurai Warriors of Feudal Japan

I have always been amazed at the samurai dedication to Bushido, the code of the warrior, where honor and duty are paramount something we Americans should learn and hold dear.

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