Nakano Takeko

In 1868, the Japanese civil war (AKA the Boshin War) between the Meiji regime and Tokugawa Shogunate was abruptly coming to end. The western-backed imperial faction was overpowering the Shogunate with powerful firearms that left many Samurai defenceless. Eventually, Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu surrendered but the war wasn't over yet. His loyalists refused to give in to the Meiji regime and fought across Japan despite being heavily overpowered. During this time, the Battle of Aizu took place between the Imperial and Shogunate factions. Leading a group of unlikely warriors named the Joshitai (Translated as Girls Army) onto the battlefield, was a courageous 21-year old Samurai. Her name was Nakano Takeko, this is her story. 

The Life of Nakano Takeko



An image of the late warrior, Nakano Takeko (1847-1868)
Nakano Takeko was born to a Samurai family in the Japanese prefecture of Edo, which has since become the capital of Japan, Tokyo. Nakano's father Oinuma Kinai was known as one of the fiercest Samurais within the Ashikaga Domain and her mother, Nakano Heinai was a Samurai official of Aizu. She also had two younger siblings, her brother Nakano Toyoki and sister, Nakano Yuko. Due to her family's rich Samurai lineage, Nakano was destined to be a great warrior and follow in the footsteps of her parents. Throughout her youth, Nakano began her journey to becoming a warrior by learning a strict and complete education of martial arts. During this time, she was also taught literary arts in the form of Chinese Confucian classics as well as Japanese calligraphy. Nakano became extremely talented in each of these arts and started to teach the younger students at her school shortly after. One of her favourite pastimes throughout her youth was reading about the stories of Japanese female warriors, generals and empresses. She also used to frequently recite the Ogura Hyakunin isshu from a young age, a Japanese anthology of 100 poems written by 100 different poets. 
After she completed her education, Nakano received her Menkyo, a certificate that allowed practitioners to teach martial arts, in Hisso-Mutu a major branch of the Itto-Ryu (Translated as, one-sword school). Upon receiving her qualification, Nakano was offered to work for the Itakura Estate, home to the Lord of Niwase. She began teaching the Lord's wife how to use her blade of choice, the naginata, which is a wooden pole with a traditional Japanese blade mounted above it.
It took many years for Nakano Tekeko to discover her blade of choice but you can find yours in a matter of minutes here, with our Sword Guide.
When her contract was over with the estate, she moved to the region of Aizu in February of 1868 and was tasked with teaching the women and children of Aizuwakanamatsu Castle how to use the naginata too. 

The Last Stand of the Samurai

Trained and ready to risk their lives for the honour of the Samurai tradition, Nakano led her army of 650 female soldiers to fight alongside the vastly outnumbered Shogunate faction. Initially, the leader of the faction was hesitant to let woman fight alongside his army but after Nakano threatened to disembowel him, he accepted the Joshitai's help. Although her army the Joshitai and their allies were losing the battle decisively, Nakano fought so gallantly eyewitnesses claimed they saw her kill 5 or 6 soldiers before succumbing to her injuries. Before she passed away, her younger sister Yuko held her in her arms while Nakano mumbled her final wish. True to the Samurai way, she wanted to be beheaded to ensure she didn't become a trophy. Yuko was so tired and traumatised another warrior named Ueno Yoshisaburo had to perform the beheading. She was able to escape with her sister's head and buried it under a tree at the Hokai-ji temple, a famous landmark in Fukushima, Japan. 

Nakano Takeko's statue that stands at the Hokai-ji temple. 

Despite suffering defeat in the Battle of Aizu, Nakano Takeko's legacy still lives on today through the statue that was erected near her burial site and iconic monument. Nakano's story is a great reminder that regardless of the odds, you should always make a stand for what you believe in.