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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Female Samurai Photo - Who's That Girl?

Unless I am going squirrely, the above photo is a woman dressed up in Japanese samurai armor. It’s not a pretty man, right?

The image is circa 1860, and is from Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty Images.

So… this is obviously a photograph of someone of some financial means.

My thought is that photography and photographers in Japan were still not all that common in 1860, and as such, to have one’s portrait photographed would be relatively expensive.

For reference, I found that in 1870s Japan, a portrait photograph usually cost half a ryō "per head", which was about a month's pay for an artisan.

So… expensive, but perhaps not if you were a samurai or an aristocrat.

But… a female samurai?

We’ve gone through this previously.

I don’t believe there were really ever any female samurai.

Do I believe that Japanese women would fight alongside their men? Sure.

Would they wear armor? Sure.

Would they have their own armor? Maybe... but no woman would be considered to be a samurai.

But I’m talking from pragmatism 150 years removed, and without the benefit or hindrance of Japanese thought.

I decided to check and see if there was any reason for a woman to have a suit of armor in Japan circa 1860… and while there were skirmishes in the Osaka area throughout the 1860s… there was no big battle or civil war going on at the beginning of the era.

The problem with saying that the photo is a curiosity souvenir of 1860, is that the photograph is merely attributed as being from ‘circa’ 1860. Not an exact date.

I’m sure someone with better Japanese research skills could make an exact determination of when the photograph was taken, who took it, and perhaps even who the subject might have been.

People kept journals and records… and visiting a photographer for a portrait would have been a big deal circa 1860.

Also, perhaps there’s a way of determining a range of years by the armor-style?

As for who - maybe not an exact name, but surely by examining the crest on her torso, a family name could be discerned… and since Japan has exacting family birth records (I go back as far as my grandparents - so not far at all), perhaps the woman in the photograph could be determined re: an age determination against the known women in the family clan at the time…


I’m just saying that there’s probably a way find stuff out if you ask the right questions in the correct language.

Enjoy the photo… she certainly looks striking and fetching all at the same time.

Andrew Joseph


  1. Hey Andrew, she's an authentic samurai alright. Google Nakano Takeko. There are about five photographs of her across the web. She was killed in the Boshin War at the age of 21. She must of been an amazing young woman. In one photo, she looks to be about 15 or 16 and beautiful.

    1. Hey David! You da man! Thanks for sharing the information!!!

  2. I Wouldn't want to split hairs about what a samurai is or isn't, but from my perspective, considering her class, vocation, being adopted by a bushido master, then her manner of death, she qualifies. The Boshin War was brief affair. Most high ranking (male) samurai of the 19th century read books, wrote poetry and drank tea. They envy yet.