In this bit we’ll follow the closing days of Feudal Japan and the death of the traditional Japanese warrior–fems specifically.
In the mid-1800s, Commodore Matthew C. Perry appeared in Tokyo Bay in his “Black Ships” to open the isolationist Japanese Empire to American interests. This suave move consisted mainly of him sailing along the Japanese coast shooting shit up with his canons (they didn’t have SEALs back then). The Japanese gov opened the gates, and this precipitated an almost fundamental collapse of everything Japan had known.
The internal politics at the time were polarized around the stagnant Shogunate and an Imperial throne that was trying to grow a pair. This all flared up and culminated in what we have all come to know as The Last Samurai. (Dear god…) No, really it was known as the Bakumatsu Jidai, or the ‘Closing of the Curtain Period’. (The shit that happens in “The Last Samurai” happened later.)
As the Throne and the Shogunate vied for an edge over each other, the Bakumatsu Jidai culminated in the Boshin War. This civil war saw Shogunate forces and Imperial forces–and individual swordsmen and assassins!–facing off for overall dominance of the Japanese Empire.
The ranks of troops, swordsmen, and assassins included women, on both sides. The most famous of which is Nakano Takeko, of the Aizu Clan.
The Aizu Clan was loyal to the Tokugawa–the Shogunate. And they were a dominant political and military force on northern Honshu (the main island). Takeko was born a few years before the Black Ships came, in 1847. She was *thoroughly* trained in martial arts, mathematics, and literature (Japanese, as well as Classical Chinese). (When I say “thoroughly” here, I mean she had attained the highest license possible in her particular school; and was considered by her teacher to have achieved the highest possible level of application and understanding of all aspects of that ryuha. So…literally a certified BAMF.)
She had never even been to her homeland in the Aizu Domain until 1868, when she showed up to start cutting off heads in that domain’s defense against Imperial forces. Once there, the Clan honchos put her in charge of a small, independent and irregular force of about 20 other Lady Killers–which included her own sister, Yūko. That team was attached to (but again independent of) a larger force of about 3,000 foot soldiers and Samurai who were holding hard against an oncoming force of some 20,000. In professional circles, this is usually termed “a shitshow.”
Takeko used a naginata in this particular battle. During the battle–having no real place in the decision making process or order of battle–her team just basically cut its way around the dipshits who were lucky enough to get close enough. And after slicing and dicing through a pile of Imperial forces and penetrating pretty far into the Imperial lines, she took a gunshot to the chest. Her breastplate stopped the round from killing her more quickly, though she was fatally wounded.
In absolutely standard Japanese Warrior Woman fashion, before Imperial forces could reach her she ordered her sister to cut off her head (she wasn’t dead yet), flee the field, and bury it so no one could take it as a trophy…
^Read that shit again.
That’s the kind of hardline shit that you could expect from just about any swordsman of the time who had a name. The entire period is peppered with this kind of insane stuff. But Takeko’s name hits high on the list because of the extra bullshit she had to contend with. She had been adopted by her sensei when she was young, so she could avoid most of the tedium and concentrate on important stuff (like cuttin’ shit). To this day, every fall she and her team are remembered in the Aizu Autumn Festival.
To follow: Ninjas and Suicide Squads. Stay tuned.