Onna-musha were female warriors who led and fought alongside samurai and other warriors of Japan.
One notable Onna-musha who lived during the Heian period (12th century) was Tomoe Gozen*, an ally of the Minamoto clan. Tomoe had commanded three-hundred samurai at the battle of Genpei defeating two-thousand warriors.
Tomoe's legend was honored in the epic The Tale of the Heike which was compiled through a collection of stories documenting the struggle between the Taira and Minamoto clan for control of Japan during the Genpei war (1180–1185). In this epic, she was described as a "remarkably strong archer and swordswoman. She was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors".
A rivial of Tomoe, Hangaku Gozen, was an ally of the competing Taira clan. Hangaku was noted for her leadership and bravery. Like her rival, Hangaku led samurai into many battles wielding the naginata and also was a notable archer.
*Gozen was not a name but a title similar to Lady
When thinking of the tenth to nineteenth centuries, coupled with Japan's geographic location, many people find it surprising that non-native Japanese were servicing as retainers and samurai under various daimyo and shogun. Both retainers and samurai provided administrative and military services to a Lord.
These non-native retainers and samurai came from various parts of the world including China, Korea, Africa and Europe. One famous retainer of Lord Oda Nobunaga was Yasuke who was of African origin most likely from Mozambique however, some scholars reference other possible locations including Ethiopia or Sudan. Lord Nobunaga assigned Yasuke the duty of Weapons Bearer and in 1582, Yasuke helped to defend his Lord against attacking forces.