The picture above is a vintage photograph of an onna-bugeisha, one of the female warriors of the upper social classes in feudal Japan.
Often mistakenly referred to as “female samurai”, female warriors have a long history in Japan, beginning long before samurai emerged as a warrior class. However, they did fight alongside of samurai warriors. They were wives, widows and daughters who answered the call of duty to protect their families, households and honor in times of war.
Onna Bugeisha were the exception, rather than the rule, but they still played an important role nonetheless. One famous example is empress Jingu, who reportedly lead a successful conquest against Korea in 200 AD without shedding a single drop of blood (or so the legends say).
This is the second time this photo has gone around, and it is still not an image of an Onna Bugeisha, but rather was a photograph from a set of photos of Kabuki actors and Geisha in costume.
The original caption read:
Portraits of Japanese Kabuki actors and geisha. Unknown photographer, 1870s.
It went on auction, which you can see listed here, and there were 34 prints total, but none of them were of Onna Bugeisha. Just a heads up! There are images of Onna Bugeisha on this blog here.