Hangaku Gozen (坂額御前)

Hangaku Gozen (years of birth and death unknown) is believed to have been a woman warlord (female samurai) who lived from the late Heian period through the early Kamakura period. Hangaku belongs to the Jo clan (related to the Taira clan) which was a powerful local clan of Echigo Province, whose father was Sukekuni JO and whose siblings were Sukenaga JO and Sukemoto (Nagamochi) JO. The name Hangaku "坂額" is also written as "板額" and "飯角."


The Jo clan was a powerful gozoku (local clan) siding with the Heike (the Taira clan), but the Jisho-Juei War (which conflict is commonly known as the Genpei War, battles of which taking place during the Jisho and Juei eras) brought about the ruin of this clan, thus being obliged to go into hiding. In 1201, according to "Azuma Kagami" (literally, Mirror of the East, relating the history of Kamakura shogunate), Hangaku's nephew Sukemori JO (Sukenaga's son) raised his army in Echigo Province (the Kennin Uprising). Sukemori thus rebelled in response to an attempt by Hangaku's older brother Nagamochi (who was also called Sukemochi) to overthrow the Kamakura shogunate, and that Nagamochi was soon felled in Kyoto while Sukemori, based in a fort of Mt.Tossaka (the Tossaka-jo Castle), greatly vexed Moritsuna SASAKI's punitive force.

Hangaku had been celebrated for her valor, which ranked with her contemporary Tomoe Gozen, so that Hangaku supported Sukemori during the Kennin Uprising and bravely fought as a commander of the rebel army. The "Azuma Kagami" describes Hangaku as follows: "Woman as she was, Hangaku was an expert archer and able to hit her target with pinpoint accuracy, her archery skills and techniques being superior to her father and older brother's." "Everyone thinks it numinous." "Hangaku plotted strategies on the day of battle." "Hangaku let her hair down in the manner of a pageboy and wore a breastplate ('Haramaki' in Japanese, which was a part of armor), stayed up on the turret so that she could shoot down every enemy warrior of the besiegers." "Hangaku's arrows never failed to kill the target enemies."

Eventually, however, Hangaku's both legs were shot by Kiyochika FUJISAWA and the wounded Hangaku was captured, which triggered the collapse of the rebel army. Hangaku was sent to Kamakura and presented to Shogun MINAMOTO no Yoriie, but she remained thoroughly undaunted, thereby astonishing the veteran shogunal warlords. Deeply impressed by the undaunted attitudes exhibited by Hangaku, Yoshito ASARI of the Kai-Genji (the Minamoto clan of Kai Province) wished her to be his wife and received the Shogun's permission to marry her.

It is said that Hangaku lived with Yoshito as his wife in Kai Province, where she gave birth to a son named Tomoyoshi Taro ASARI ("浅利知義太郎"), and died in Kai.

The "Azuma Kagami" which was written by Hangaku's contemporary related that "(If compared to Hangaku Gozen,) even the fair lady grave keeper ('Ryoen no sho [bijo]' in Japanese, referring to a poem of the same title by a Chinese poet Bai Juyi [Hakurakuten or HAKU Kyoi]) would look ugly," that is, Hangaku was portrayed as beautiful, whereas the "Dainihonshi" (Great History of Japan) and some other literature of the succeeding generations described her as a plain woman. The reason (why Hangaku is described as a plain woman) may possibly lie in a certain misunderstanding resulted from some description of her unbalanced features of the beauty and the heroism based on the strong arms (as an archer).

[Original Japanese]