Nakano Takeko, 1847-1868: Last of the Samurai

Seems as good a time as any to check the record on women in foxholes again.

The evidence is not surprisingly thin and anecdotal for all the obvious reasons, but there are some interesting characters. Such as Nakano Takeko.

She was born in a part of Aizu  known for martial prowess into a family of Samurai.  Their loyalty was to the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate.

In 1866, the Meiji Imperial family tired of being figure heads and they had supporters willing to fight to bring them back to power. (There was also irritation that the shogunate had permitted  foreign intruders  Commodore Perry and his crew – among which number was my wife’s great-great grandfather. A story for another time).  War broke out.  The Boshin War.  The Imperials were fewer, but they had more modern weapons. 

The Shogun surrendered in May of 1868.  His underlings did not give up so easily. Some  holed up in the northern parts of the country.  Aizu, as it happened, leading to the battle of Aizu, which was effectively a siege of the Aizu-Wakamatsu Castle.   In general the woman did what women traditionally do during sieges – cook, tend the wounded, make bullets, douse unexploded enemy cannon balls – but as days went by, a small group called the Aizu Joshitai  gathered behind Nakano to do what had to be done.

The Imperials were ordered to hold their fire so they could take the women alive.  Bad idea.  The women were armed with the naginata, a kind of Japanese glaive.  She made short work of about five or so of her opponents before they decided on a tactical change.

She got a bullet in her chest. The story goes that as she lay dying, she asked her sister to cut her head off so the enemy couldn’t take it as a trophy.  The head was buried beneath a tree at Hokaiji Temple.

Some of the story was told by Dr William Willis, a British doctor working for the Imperials.

As to the siege – it failed soon after.  Officially, 1868 saw the Meiji restoration, an end of the shogunate and the end of the Samurai.

Tom Cruise had nothing to do with it.

13 thoughts on “Nakano Takeko, 1847-1868: Last of the Samurai

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