Japan’s Naginata Weapon Was Geared Toward Women—or Was It?


Whereas the katana sword tends to be related to male samurai of Japan, a particular weapon referred to as the naginata has been historically related to girls and feminine fighters often known as onna-bugeisha. Why is the naginata so strongly related to girls—and is it true that the weapon was designed with girls in thoughts?  

The naginata is a curved sword mounted on a pole. It’s recorded as having been utilized by warrior monks circa 750 A.D. It first rose to prevalence in the course of the Kamakura interval from 1192 to 1333, a feudal period that may properly be thought of a Renaissance interval for Japan’s warrior class. The naginata had a number of tactical benefits which made it standard on the battlefield. As a polearm, it lent warriors a for much longer attain. Its single-edged blade was slim however heavy, which allowed wielders to govern gravity to launch onerous and lethal strikes. It proved supreme for combating on horseback. It additionally proved its price masterfully in opposition to famed katana blades—a talented practitioner of naginatajutsu, or the artwork of naginata wielding, may successfully dispatch a number of samurai swordsmen with just a few well-placed sweeps of the arm.

This lethal polearm was not designed particularly for girls. Why then did it turn out to be identified over time as a “lady’s weapon”? The naginata proved its price as a super weapon for feminine self-defense in the course of the Warring States interval, often known as the Sengoku Jidai, in accordance with an article printed by Ellis Amdur within the Journal of Asian Martial Arts entitled, “The Position of Arms-Bearing Girls in Japanese Historical past.”

Throughout a time when raiding and pillaging have been frequent, noblewomen have been usually left in control of guarding their households whereas males have been away at warfare. The naginata—with its lengthy attain and highly effective blade that might so simply be spun into movement—enabled girls to defend themselves at shut quarters. In response to Amdur: “A powerful, lithe lady armed with a naginata may preserve all however one of the best warriors at a distance, the place all some great benefits of energy, weight or sword counted for much less.”

A Japanese woodblock print from the Edo interval showcases a girl utilizing a naginata. She is described as “filial” and the illustration seems in a sequence referred to as “Tales of Dutifulness and Loyalty in Revenge.” (The British Museum)

Attributable to its size and weight, the naginata didn’t require any extreme lunging, leaping or weight shifting to make use of successfully. A well-balanced weapon, it could possibly be used to nice impact with minimal and understated actions. It may thus be spun with lethal effectivity by a girl carrying a restrictive kimono. This made it a robust however simple weapon for a lady at house to seize in self-defense—maybe like a medieval melee equal of a shotgun.

A number of tales handed into legend of the wives of Japanese noblemen wielding the naginata to fend off intruders. In a single well-known occasion, an aristocratic lady, married to a sure Mimura Kotoku, is claimed to have drawn her naginata in opposition to an enemy normal invading her husband’s fort. Though the intruder refused to duel along with her and pejoratively referred to as her a “demon” for her ferocity, she allegedly killed his bodyguards and compelled him to withdraw. Girls bearing the naginata have been idealized on woodblock prints. Whereas the normal position of girls in feudal Japanese society largely barred them from turning into full-fledged warriors, feminine fighters utilizing the naginata have been perceived to be performing with obligation and loyalty in protection of their properties and honor.

Thus, over time, the naginata got here to represent feminine advantage in Japan. It was displayed in samurai properties and was even given to brides as marriage ceremony presents. Seen as a worthy pursuit for girls, naginatajutsu turned a well-liked martial arts type for ladies and all-female colleges started to flourish.

“What the sword was to a person—a weapon embodying his soul—the halberd-like naginata was to a girl,” wrote Michael Hoffman in The Japan Instances.

Arguably essentially the most well-known lady to make use of the naginata in battle was Nakano Takeko, who gathered a troop of feminine fighters to assist defend her area from imperial troops in the course of the Battle of Aizu in 1868. Takeko’s all-female unit is claimed to have benefited from the ingredient of shock, since their enemies hesitated to assault as soon as they realized they have been going through girls. Boldly main her group, Takeko turned well-known for wielding her naginata with lethal precision in opposition to an amazing power of imperial troops. After killing a number of troopers she was mortally wounded by a gunshot. With grim resolve as she lay dying, Takeko requested her sister to behead her in order that her head wouldn’t be taken by the enemy as a trophy. Her sister complied along with her needs, and her head was taken to a neighborhood temple for burial.

Different girls current in the course of the siege shared Takeko’s steely spirit. A demise poem written by one of many girls who defended Aizu fort throughout the identical battle reads: “Every time I die and am reborn into the world I want to return as a stalwart warrior.” Takeko has been honored as a hero, with a memorial standing on the spot the place she fell in battle. A statue of her poised able to strike along with her naginata stands in Fukushima, Japan.

Whereas the naginata was not designed particularly for girls, the weapon will eternally stay most related to girls all through historical past who bravely took benefit of its sturdy and sleek design.

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