There are, in fact, more than a few historical references to female samurai — or at least women actively fighting, even if they didn’t technically count as “samurai” — in Japanese history.
Though some of these accounts are held to be exaggerated, later literary embellishments, or completely fictional to begin with.
The extent to which she ever actually existed is somewhat controversial, though. There is, for example, an entire section to devoted to her historicity on the Japanese Wikipedia article not found on the English version.
Which isn’t exactly shocking, it’s generally a bad idea to take the sort of historical epic literature that The Tale of the Heike is at face value in general. And that’s equally true regardless of where in the world it was written.
Nevertheless, Tomoe is a famous figure in Japanese folklore one way or the other.
That being said, there are verifiable accounts of women in combat and positions of leadership throughout Japanese history — Ii Naotora and Tachibana Ginchyio, for example, both inherited leadership of their clans.
Anyway, here’s Tomoe (she’s the one in the middle, if that’s not clear at a glance) at the battle of Awazu:
I bring this up as context for today’s scene, to demonstrate that the presence of female samurai wasn’t particularly implausible in real life, and is even less implausible in a Fantasy world that doesn’t have even to cleave exactly to real-world history to begin with.
All this is to say, they have female samurai in Yamatai.
The last time Tsuru and Tsubame had tried to dress Kat up in clothes from Yamatai, they’d jumped her and dragged her off to stick her into something called a kimono — a garment, in Amara’s words, ‘relentlessly elegant’, though in Kat’s opinion an experience not unlike getting wrapped up in a carpet and topped off with a ribbon.
It was awful.
Today’s costume is definitely an improvement.
As eagerly explained to her by Tsuru and Tsubame, the warriors of Yamatai are called samurai — something like knights in Realmgard. The twins insisted that Kat should have the opportunity to try on the samurai armour that once belonged to Kokoro’s older sister. Though, the way Kat sees it, they’re doing this more for their own benefit than for hers.
Kat had been reluctant to try on the armour — and not because of her previous unpleasant experiences with the twins trying to dress her up. The armour is a family heirloom that strikes her as priceless and important and not particularly well-suited to flights of frivolity like playing Dress-Up.
But Kokoro had no objections to letting Kat try on her sister’s armour, so Kat had once again allowed herself to be dragged off by Tsuru and Tsubame.
Kat steps through the door, clad in the heirloom samurai armour.
“My my, Katherine!” Amara exclaims. “You look so striking! So handsome! The lacing! The patterning on the sleeves!”
“Stop calling me handsome!” Kat protests. “That’s just a nice way of saying I look like a dude!”
“Well, it’s true, Katherine,” Amara notes.
“It’s true that I look like a dude? What the heck, Amara?”
Amara sighs. “You know that’s not what I mean, Katherine. It’s true that you look utterly striking and impressive in that armour.”
“You could have just said that,” Kat mutters. She pouts. “I do not look like a dude.”
Amara tries to soothe her friend. “Of course you don’t, Katherine. No one has suggested otherwise,” she says. “Besides, I’ll have you know that Miss Tsuru and Miss Tsubame have told me that many of Yamatai’s warrior women are famous for their grace and beauty.”
Tsuru nods. “The stories say that Lady Ayane was a beautiful woman snow white skin, long, black hair,” she explains.
Tsubame nods along with her sister. “And that she was more than a match for any mortal or demon she crossed paths with,” she adds.
“See, Katherine?” Amara offers. “You can be beautiful and, to — ahem — put it in your words kick butts and take names.”
Kokoro takes a step towards Kat.
“Well?” she asks, gently adjusting several of the straps and laces.
“I think it fits alright,” Kat notes. “But, uh, my back’s a little itchy. It’s driving me crazy.”
“Would you like to try the sword?” Kokoro asks. She reaches for her husband’s sword and hands it to Kat.
Kat is reluctant to take it into her hands. Even she knows how important swords are to the warriors of Yamatai.
“Try it,” Kokoro urges. “He’d be honoured to see his sword in the hands of such a strong, brave young woman.”
Dunstana’s eyes go wide in amazement as she stares at the armour.
“I want one.”
If you’re wondering about that “pizza not included” line in the headline, the joke steams from the fact that there’s an anime from the late 80s/early 90s called Samurai Pizza Cats. In brief, the studio (incidentally, Saban, the good people behind Power Rangers) that was localising the original anime, called, Kyatto Ninden Teyandee, either got badly-translated scripts of the original episode or were given absolute freedom to adapt the show as they saw fit (Wikipedia says the former, Tv Tropes the latter). Either way, they basically went out of their way to make the dub as madcap and ridiculous as possible.
TV Tropes describes the series as: “Kyatto Ninden Teyandee, the Abridged Series“, which is pretty much 1200% accurate — and actually a little scary given that it was dubbed 20-some years before Abridges Serieses were even a thing.
There’s no particular reference here other than the reference itself. Basically, I when I wrote “Samurai Kat”, the word that immediately leapt to mind was “Pizza”, leading to me to want to make the joke…
Once again, follow along via WordPress, social media, or my email list. And come back tomorrow for another day of writing every day in August and the last chapter of Forward, the Lyte Brigade.