• Shona McCarthy

Jidai Matsuri/Tomoe Gozen 時代祭

(A video I found on Youtube which prominently features Tomoe Gozen in the title image.)

When I first visited Kyoto, one of the events I was most interested in was the Jidai Matsuri. 

The reasons for this were manifold. The Jidai Matsuri is a very long parade which winds it's way from the Kyoto Imperial Palace grounds, through some of Kyoto's main roads and ends it's way at the Heian Jingu Shrine.  It runs every year on the 22nd of October.

The most notable thing about this parade is the historic dress. As the name's meaning would suggest, the Jidai Matsuri is a festival of ages: a journey through both space and time. Each period of Japanese history is meticulously represented by local geisha and people of note.They dress as important historical figures and so many images come out of the festival each year that are spectacular and peculiar.   

The most iconic image that comes from this each year is that of Tomoe Gozen, said to be Japan's answer to Mulan. It isn't hard to find guides that will tell you to see the Jidai Matsuri, nor is it hard to find images of beautiful women dressed as the lady. 

So, I'll deviate and explain a little more about who Tomoe Gozen was. As it is, most people don't know that in feudal Japan there was a type of female samurai warriors called "Onna Bugeisha" or "Onna Musha", depending on the function they performed. Of these, Tomoe Gozen was probably the most famous. 

Many stories are told of her great bravery, beauty, loyalty and relentlessness, though it is hard to know whether these stories are truth or legend. 

The best known of these would be the Heike Monogatari, a telling of the Genpei War. This war is comparable to the Battle of Hastings in terms of its significance in Japanese history.  

In this battle she is said to have been the best of Minamoto Yoshinaka's warriors. At the end, she was one of only 7 to survive and remain. 

It is said that with only the help of a horse and four other warriors, Tomoe was able to mow down hundreds of enemy soldiers. She remained with her general even after he told her to retreat. Then, when the battle was almost over, she decapitated a man with her bare hands.  

Nonetheless, her side was overwhelmed by the enemy. It is said that she may have been captured as a concubine, or she may have escaped and become a Buddhist nun. But the truth can't be known with certainty. 

It isn't even known for certain that she existed. Yet, she takes pride of place as one of the most memorable figures in the Jidai Matsuri. 

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