Yamamoto Yaeko lived from 1845 to 1932 in Japan. Her father was Yamamoto Gonpachi, a samurai warrior who was one of the premier gunnery instructors in the Aizu Domain of Japan. He seemed to have imparted his knowledge onto his daughter, as she was considered to be a very skilled shot. She later participated in the defense of the Aizu Domain, called the Battle of Aizu, in the Boshin Wars in 1868. She defended one of the fortified castles from the Meiji government and coalition forces. She used a Spencer repeating rifle during the defense. After Aizu surrendered, Yaeko took refuge in the Yonezawa Domain for one year. Her husband at the time was not so lucky, and was taken prisoner. They divorced in 1871. That year, Yaeko journeyed to Kyoto in order to search for her brother. There, she was hired on as an instructor for the Kyoto Women’s School. As an instructor, she learned the art of the tea ceremony and became able to practice arranging flowers.
In the early 1870s she met Reverend Joseph Hardy Neesima, a former samurai who had spent a lot of time in the United States. He was a strong believer in women’s rights, and together he and his new wife (Yaeko) founded Doshisha University. As Yaeko and her husband had a friendly relationship that did not have a power dynamic, Yaeko was criticized as being a bad wife by Japanese society. Neesima had no complaints, however, and thought that Yaeko’s non-subservient mannerisms were perfect for him. They were married for fourteen years before Neesima’s death in 1890. She left Doshisha University and joined the Japanese Red Cross in April of 1890. She participated as a nurse during the Sino-Japanese War, where she led a team of forty nurses. After the war, she was recognized by the Japanese government and received the Order of the Precious Crown, Seventh Class, in 1896. She was the first woman outside of the Imperial House to be decorated for service to the country.
During the lull between wars, Yaeko was a nursing instructor. When the Russo-Japanese War broke out in 1904, she returned to service and volunteered for the army in Osaka. She received an Order of the Precious Crown, Sixth Class, for her services in that war. To further honor her, the Japanese Imperial House bestowed upon her a silver cup to recognize her for overall service to Japan.
She passed away in 1932 at the age of 86. She was given a funeral sponsored by Doshisha University, and was buried in the Doshisha Cemetery.
In Japan: As a popular historical figure, Yamamoto-san has appeared in manga, TV shows, computer games, and books.