Women Warriors is an ongoing series that celebrates the lives of inspirational Japanese women throughout history. And while historical figures like Empress Jingū laid the groundwork for what can be accomplished, it’s worth looking into fictional characters as well to appreciate how Japanese women are represented in popular culture.
Mariko Yashida is a great example of a badass female warrior who broke away from traditional Japanese societal norms. A love interest of Wolverine, Mariko is by no means a damsel in distress.
Heir to an empire
Born into the infamous Yakuza crime family, Clan Yashida, Mariko was raised to be a certain way. Her father Shingen viewed her as a chess piece to be manoeuvred among other crime families to suits his ends. But all that changed when she met the X-Men. When the team were called to Japan to stop a terrorist threat, she encountered Wolverine and the two of them developed a strong attraction. From that point on, Mariko visited Logan whenever she could in the USA.
Their meetings stopped when Shingen married Mariko off to the leader of another Yakuza family. Wolverine returned to Japan to find her in an abusive relationship and though he tried to protect her, Mariko claimed she was doing her family duty. Eventually, Mariko came to see her father for what he was and planned to kill him to protect her family honour. Once she had done so, she would commit seppuku as penance.
Wolverine prevented her doing this by slaying Shingen in fair combat. He was convinced that she would be honour-bound to kill him and was prepared to die at her hands. Instead, Mariko saw Logan’s actions as noble and their bond deepened.
With her father dead, Mariko became the head of Clan Yashida and tried to steer it towards a better future. Although she’d agreed to marry Wolverine, she felt she couldn’t go through with the ceremony until she’d accomplished her goal.
Tragedy and resurrection
As Oyabun, Mariko became a force to be reckoned with, though her authority was challenged by the leader of The Hand, Matsu’o Tsurayaba. Despite trying to make peace with The Hand, Mariko was fatally poisoned by blowfish venom. Rather than face a slow death, Mariko asked Logan to mercy kill her, much like Nakano Takeko asked her sister to end her suffering at the Battle of Aizu.
Years later, Mariko was resurrected by The Hand and became the Scarlet Samurai. She reunited with an older version of Wolverine, who managed to break the hold that the cult had on her mind. Vowing revenge, Mariko defeated the Hand alongside Wolverine and set out to reclaim her birth right as the head of Clan Yashida.
Mariko’s story is inspiring because she needed to stay strong in a society that was dominated by men. Not only did she break away from her father’s control, but she developed into a strong leader who wanted to overturn centuries of Yakuza tradition. As the Scarlet Samurai, she fought back against her oppressors and carried all the skills of a superhero. With her strength, intelligence and courage, Mariko deserves her own solo comic series.
To learn more about Mariko’s connection with Wolverine, be sure to read this analysis of their relationship.