Japanese swordswoman Nakazawa Koto (1839-1927)

Transcribed by Paul Budden

There is little written about Nakazawa Koto in English. But according to Wikipedia and other Japanese sources, she was born in Kōzuke Province (modern Gunma Prefecture) in 1839. 

Having been taught martial arts in her childhood, she became very skilled in Kenjutsu. Her skill with the naginata surpassed even that of her father, Magouemon, who taught her. She also studied Hoshin-Ryu kobudo and used Kusarigama – (chain & sickle).

In 1863, dressed as a man, she accompanied her brother Sadamasa to Kyoto. Together they joined the Roshigumi, a group protecting the Tokugawa shogun part of the Kyoto defenders group led by Kiyokawa Heihachiro. Koto was tall for a woman at 170cm. In the Edo period, the average height in Japan was 155cm for men and 143cm for women. Even in the modern world, 170cm is quite tall for a woman, so she was surprisingly tall for the time, which contributed to her successful disguise as a man. She was also rather beautiful. 

It was said that: 

When Koto dresses as a man, many women fall in love with her. When Koto dresses as a woman, many men fall in love with her. ” 

Although the Rōshigumi was financially supported by the Tokugawa Bakufu. Kyokawa Hachirō and others had strong loyalties to Emperor Meiji and planned to gather other rōnin in Kyoto to combat subversive elements in the city. When Kyokawa’s scheme was revealed, he immediately commanded the Rōshigumi to return to Edo. The group was disbanded; Nakazawa Koto and other officers who went to Edo (Tokyo) later became the founding members of the Shinchōgumi. On March 26, 1863, Kiyokawa led the Rōshigumi out of Edo as the vanguard of Shogun Iemochi’s procession to Kyoto, where they arrived on April 10, 1863.

The Boshin war 

Nakazawa Koto and her brother joined the shogunate forces of Edo, the Shinchōgumi. During the Boshin War, Koto allied with the Tokugawa. Military action by the imperial forces and acts of violence by Meiji supporters in Edo led the Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu to attack and try to control the Meiji court in Kyoto. 

Historical records indicate that, during the Boshin War, Nakazawa Koto defended the shogunate against the Satsuma and Ogi clans (the Satchō Alliance) in Edo in 1868. 

After those attacks, she and her brother participated in the Battle of Hokuetsu. During this battle, Nakazawa Koto, surrounded by a dozen enemy samurai, broke through the encirclement by using her katana against her attackers.

Surviving the war, Koto saw the Meiji restoration (the restoration of imperial rule in Japan) and the Showa era’s beginning. It would seem that she stayed celibate her whole life. She reportedly said that she could only marry a man who could defeat her in a sword fight. Apparently, no living man could beat her, so she remained single all of her life. However, according to local histories, such as the Gunmajinkokuki, she married once but became single again for some reason.

Tone County, Her hometown, is where she spent her life from her mid-thirties until the end of her life. It is called the Hokumo district of Gunma Prefecture, a mountainous area, very rich in nature and full of seasonal beauty. While creating such enjoyment and savouring the beauty of nature, it is said that she drank sake and recited poetry. Even performing sword dances – kenbu, which she learnt as a girl. “kenbu is a traditional form of dance in Japan typically using a katana and a fan. It has roots in the Heian period, but its modern version was mostly a product of the Meiji period starting in 1868 when former samurai were looking to make a living through their fencing skills in the modern age.


Koto Nakazawa, a swordswoman, lived through four eras – the Edo, Meiji, Taisho and Showa. She died on October 12, 1927, at the age of 88.

Her grave is located in the Tone District, Gunma, (where she was born). Many people visit her grave there, where a monument has been erected nearby. 

The TV drama “Koto Nakazawa: the Beautiful Swordswoman” was released in 2017.

Kuroki Meisa as Nakazawa Koto in the TV drama “Koto Nakazawa: the Beautiful Swordswoman”


 Nakazawa Koto’s page on Wikipedia 

 “群馬「男装の剣士」中澤琴に静かな注目 子孫が墓建立”, from the Japanese newspaper Asahi

刀剣ワールド「歴女も憧れる女剣士ヒストリー、中沢琴」Touken World Japanese sword virtual museum


「新徴組・中沢琴」幕末の最強女性剣士はとてもイケメン2019-07-14、Umako 歴史ファイル

Paul Budden

Kendo Kyoshi 7th dan

Has practised and studied kendo for over 40 years. Kancho of Kodokan Kendo Club;
a kendo Kyoshi 7-dan and a British team member in 1987. Organiser of the Kodokan
International Kendo Seminar for 34 years. 
Historical researcher, author and a recognised authority on European Kendo history. 
Publications to date:
Looking at a Far Mountain – A Study of Kendo Kata.
Devil’s Gloves and the One Cut – An introduction to Ono-ha Itto ryu kata.
Biographical Portraits – Volume IX, The Japan Society: The Three Ages of British
A Truly British Samurai – The exceptional Charles Boxer.
The Oshu Kendo Renmei – A History of British and European Kendo.
A Man of Many Parts- Portrait of an Inimitable Swordsman.
Paper Butterflies – Unravelling the Mystery of Tannaker Buhicrosan.
Official Speaker at the EKC for the European Kendo Federation for over 20 years.
Co-Organising Director at the 12th WKC in Glasgow 2003 for the British Kendo
Association. Former President and Technical Director of the Maltese Kendo

One thought on “Japanese swordswoman Nakazawa Koto (1839-1927)

  1. Thank you for this article that shines a light on this warrior that I never heard of before 🙂
    I have a question relative to the photograph used to illustrate this article and which induced it is the portrait of Nakazawa Koto. I have seen many times elsewhere this photograph used to represent another warrior, Nakano Takeko, so I would like to know which one of the two it actually represents?

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