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Kunoichi: A Guide to the Amazing Female Ninja!

Tokyo TerryTokyo Terry
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April 16, 2024
A female ninja with short hair and decorative eye makeup.

Female ninjas are super popular in video games, comics, anime, and movies. But we only know a little about the real women who inspired all these fantastic characters. They were so secret that we can’t even be sure about the few stories we have about them! But today, we’ll dive into the mystery of these extraordinary ninja women called kunoichi!

Who were the kunoichi?

These women were good at collecting secrets and helping out on missions. They hardly ever used fancy gadgets or fought enemies head-on, significantly less than the guys. While ninjas were about sneaking around, female ninjas, or kunoichi, blended right in where no one would suspect them. 

A kunoichi wearing a red robe.
Female ninjas were integral to Japanese history! Image via Shutterstock

They would pretend to be maids, entertainers, or even close companions in the houses of the people they were keeping an eye on. This way, they could overhear important talks and gather crucial info. Sometimes, they had to stick with their undercover roles for years to build trust before finishing their mission. This job was super risky – imagine trying to sneak out of a castle! They were also trained to use swords and sometimes even poisoned ones!

A group of kunoichi lined up.
Some kunoichi came from samurai families. Image via Yamato Magazine

The idea of female ninjas became popular in the 1960s thanks to a Japanese writer named Yamada Futaro and his book series. The word “kunoichi” comes from breaking down the parts of the Japanese word for “woman”: “く”(ku), “ノ”(no), and “一”(ichi). Back in the Edo period, “kunoichi” just meant “woman,” so it’s thought that maybe it was a secret code word.

What makes them unique?

Female ninjas, or kunoichi, were super sneaky agents who gathered secrets or completed missions in places where male ninjas couldn’t go. Imagine being able to chat with everyone in the kitchen just because you were always there or learning secrets because you were close to an influential leader. Since women weren’t usually suspected during wars, so they could easily slip into enemy areas. Their sneaky skills were called “kunoichi no jutsu,” which means “woman’s ninja techniques.”

A female ninja in class.
The name “kunoichi” comes from the Kanji character for “woman”. Image via The Japan News

One of the most fantastic tricks was the Kakuremino. Picture this: the lady of a house gets told a huge, heavy box is coming. The guards at the gate would need to check the box better, thinking it was just a delivery. But surprise! Enemies could dress up as delivery workers and sneak in. Some of these boxes even had secret spots where a ninja could hide!

Kunoichi were also great at helping ninjas find and get close to their targets using yinchuin jutsu. This was useful when the person they were after was well protected or hard to find. Sometimes, they’d use their knowledge of the place to sneak in and finish the mission themselves!

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Who were some notable kunoichi?

Arukimiko

Arukimiko, or “wandering miko,” were often female ninjas in disguise. These women, also known as shrine maidens, were like priestesses for the Shinto religion and did special ceremonies at shrines all over Japan. When they went on their travels, they could easily cross borders without unique papers, even if a war occurred. 

A bunch of miko, also known as shrine maidens.
Some shrine maidens moonlighted as ninja! Image via Shutterstock

Plus, since they carried many religious stuff, people usually didn’t check their bags. This made it super easy for them to sneak weapons, poisons, and secret messages from one place to another. Most of the time, these wandering miko were young and pretty, which meant guards and soldiers often got distracted by them. This clever way of hiding in plain sight was called shichihode.

Mochizuki Chiyome

Mochizuki Chiyome is probably the most famous female ninja we know about, but she’s still a big question mark. She might have been married to a samurai boss from Nagano, Mochizuki Moritoki. There’s also a chance she was part of the Koga ninja family. After her husband died in a fight, an influential leader named Takeda Shingen asked her to take charge of his group of wandering shrine maidens. 

Mochizuki Chiyome, a famous female ninja.
Mochizuki Chiyome is one of the most famous female ninjas in history! Image via Facebook

While she traveled, she found young girls who didn’t have families and started an orphanage. It seemed like she was training them to be priestesses, but she was turning them into spies and assassins for Takeda Shingen! Today, a unique marker for her grave is in Tomi City, close to the orphanage. That place is still famous for being Japan’s top “shrine maiden village”!

Umemura Sawano

Back in the Edo period, ninja schools would teach their secrets to the next group of ninjas by writing everything down on scrolls. If there wasn’t a boy in the family to pass the scroll to, it would go to Umemura Sawano until a boy was ready to take over. 

Three images of various female ninja.
A lot of kunoichi fought in many battles Image via Urbanish Network

But people respected her for having a lot of knowledge about being a ninja. Some noble leaders were so impressed by her that they said she started the Takeda ninja family, which was a massive deal because women usually didn’t get that kind of recognition back then!

Why are these kunoichi important?

These ninja ladies were super sneaky, even more than regular ninjas! Their secret missions were so hidden that it’s fantastic we know nothing about them at all. These incredible women weren’t known for big, flashy fights in front of many people.

A kunoichi in black disguise.
Have you ever heard to the kunoichi? Image via Alpha Coders

Instead, they blended in as cooks, maids, priestesses, and wives, doing their important work out of sight, waiting for the perfect moment to act. Even though they worked from the shadows, they had a big impact, carrying out the plans of influential leaders and shaping decisions all over Japan.

What do you think about the mysterious world of the female ninjas, the kunoichi? Do you know any cool facts about them? Let’s hear what you know or think in the comments!

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