Kunoichi: Female Ninjas

2 minute read

Kunoichi is a modern term used to refer to women who served as Ninjas in medieval Japan.  The term most likely is phonetic – as the Kanji character for woman 女 is composed of three strokes which also occur in the Japanese phonetic alphabet く(Ku), ノ (No), and, 一 ( Ichi ).

Roles and Disguises

Ninjas are famous for their stealth – sneaking into places in the dead of night, striking with a quick flash of steel, then fading back into the shadows.  And while female ninjas did receive similar combat training to their male counterparts, their roles used stealth in a much different way.  Kunoichi served as spies, using their unassuming nature as women to infiltrate targets, passing on information to their allies or getting close enough to pull off a quick assignation.  These roles required months or years, with some even requiring a lifetime.  The women were often required to use intimate means to keep and hold a target’s trust over long periods of time.

Possibly the most famous Kunoichi was Chiyome.  A widow of the nephew of a powerful Daiymo (Lord)  Shingen, she was asked by Shingen to gather girls and train them in espionage.  The girls were collected young and were often orphans.  They were trained to be mediums.  Japan, a religious country at the time, allowed great freedom of movement to religious practitioners, and they were often trusted implicitly because of their “connections” to the divine.  This allowed the women to gather information without being suspected.  Chiyome reportedly trained over 200 women to be these traveling spies.

Tools of the Kunoichi

The Kunoichi had two very popular tools that served them well.  The first was Neko-te.  These were like tiger claws that could be slipped onto a finger similar to a thimble.  The sharp tip could be dipped in poison in order to make a scratch lethal.  Because of their small size, they were easy to hide in clothes.  Another popular weapon was a bladed fan.  Japan gets very hot in the summer, so women were expected to carry fans around to keep cool.  Having a fan with hidden blades was an easy way to carry a weapon around with one at all times, hidden in plain sight.  Finally, they would sometimes use a metal box with a false bottom to have their things carried between cities.  This false bottom could hold a person, allowing them to sneak  a male ninja into a guarded compound when required.


Kunoichi had roles just as important as male ninjas, though they served in a very different way.  Many a Samurai fell victim to these master infiltrators, whether through direct assignation or through their divulgence of their secrets.

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