A type of female warrior belonging to the Japanese upper class. They are sometimes mistakenly referred to as female samurai, although this is an oversimplification. Onna bugeisha were very important people in ancient Japan. Significant icons such as Empress Jingu, Tomoe Gozen, Nakano Takeko, and Hōjō Masako were all onna bugeisha who came to have a significant impact on Japan.
Nonetheless, for thousands of years, certain upper class Japanese women have learned martial skills and participated in fighting.
Between the 12th and 19th centuries, many women of the samurai class learned how to handle the sword and the naginata (a blade on a long staff) primarily to defend themselves and their homes. In the event that their castle was overrun by enemy warriors, the women were expected to fight to the end and die with honor, weapons in hand.
Some young women were such skilled fighters that they rode out to war beside the men, rather than sitting at home and waiting for war to come to them.
In 1964, LIFE photographer Michael Rougier chronicled Japanese youth in rebellion, and came away with an intimate, unsettling portrait of a generation willfully hurtling toward oblivion.
(Photo: Michael Rougier—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Modestly attired Japanese women wade into water to bathe, October 1928.Photograph by Kiyoshi Sakamoto, National Geographic
Hiroshima, August 6, 1945; Nagasaki, August 9, 1945.
In time I came to an open space where the houses had been removed to make a fire lane. Through the dim light I could make out ahead of me the hazy outlines of the Communications Bureau’s big concrete building, and beyond it the hospital. My spirits rose because I knew that now someone would find me; and if I should die, at least my body would be found. I paused to rest.
Gradually things around me came into focus. There were the shadowy forms of people, some of whom looked like walking ghosts. Others moved as though in pain, like scarecrows, their arms held out from their bodies with forearms and hands dangling. These people puzzled me until I suddenly realized that they had been burned and were holding their arms out to prevent the painful friction of raw surfaces rubbing together. A naked woman carrying a naked baby came into view. I averted my gaze. Perhaps they had been in the bath. But then I saw a naked man, and it occurred to me that, like myself, some strange thing had deprived them of their clothes. An old woman lay near me with an expression of suffering on her face; but she made no sound. Indeed, one thing was common to everyone I saw - complete silence.
Japanese rockabillies dance away a Sunday afternoon in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park.
Mod culture in Japan
Atomic bomb bursts over Nagasaki, August, 9, 1945