Onna Bugeisha‏

With their husbands in combat almost continuously, the 16th century onna bugeisha or samurai women provided for the defence of their homes and children, but they were anything but docile and traditional.

For instance, their wartime roles included washing and preparing the decapitated bloody heads of the enemy, which were presented to the victorious generals. And like their samurai husbands, personal honour was paramount for samurai women. They carried small daggers and were always prepared to die to maintain their honour and family name.

After Tokugawa Ieyasu had unified Japan, however, the Shogun who ruled between 1603 and 1605, the role of women changed. Their samurai husbands, no longer fighting wars, became bureaucrats. In turn, women became more domestic and were also now encouraged to supervise their children’s education and manage the household.

From then on, life for Japanese women became more restricted. Travel became highly difficult for samurai women during the years of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1600-1868). Forbidden from travelling alone, they were required to carry travel permits, and were from then on usually accompanied by a man. Therefore, ironically, peace impoverished the role of women in Japanese society from the 17th century onwards.

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