Deadly Female Ninja Assassins Used Deception and Disguise to Strike Their Target

Deadly Female Ninja Assassins Used Deception and Disguise to Strike Their Target

(Read the article on one page)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got a lot of ninja qualities right: their preference for sticking to the shadows, the emphasis on reconnaissance and espionage, and, of course, their choice of weapons all adhere to the ninja "code". The one thing that could have put such an intriguing kid's show over the top would have been the inclusion of a female ninja turtle. But females have no place in war or espionage. After all, is not April more of a "damsel in distress" in the original cartoon? It might be interesting for some fans of the ninja turtles—or fans of the history of ninja warriors—to learn that women did partake in the art of ninjutsu. In fact, these kunoichi were among the most elite and skilled of the ninja class.

Ninja, Shinobi, and Kunoichi

Ninjas are practitioners of the espionage based military tactic called ninjutsu, belonging to the Japanese class of shinobi. It is often incorrectly assumed that ninjas are strictly males, particularly in historical contexts, because of the prevalence of male dominated societies in which women are regulated to the background either as wives or figureheads (if royal). However, women worked alongside men, as powerful stealthy assets in the shinobi clans ( shinobi is the "correct" title for ninja warriors) in groups called kunoichi.

Drawing of the archetypical ninja from a series of sketches (Hokusai manga) by Hokusai. Woodblock print on paper. Volume six, 1817

Drawing of the archetypical ninja from a series of sketches (Hokusai manga) by Hokusai. Woodblock print on paper. Volume six, 1817. ( Public Domain )

The kunoichi are recorded as powerful devotees of ninjutsu in the 17th century in a tome called Bansenshukai, a collection ninja training secrets. Kunoichi warriors seemingly predate their documentation in this text—by how long, it is uncertain. Yet one woman, Mochizuki Chiyome, is believed to have successfully created a secret kunoichi cohort in feudal Japan in the 16th century.

A representation of Chiyome with her kunoichi.

A representation of Chiyome with her kunoichi. ( CC BY SA )

Using Womanly Wiles to Their Deadly Advantage

The consistent belief that women were no more than beautiful arm candy or ignorant wives boded well for the kunoichi, as it allowed them to become close to their targets—usually men of the samurai class—either to gain information or to kill. While men were always on the lookout for suspicious men, rarely were they on the lookout for suspicious women. Women were far more likely to be able to maintain their disguises than men, as the samurai rarely hired strange men for advice, aid or protection, but they readily took on concubines or pretty mistresses.

Ishi-jo, wife of Oboshi Yoshio, one of the "47 loyal ronin."(CC BY SA 2.0) She was an Onna-bugeisha, a type of female warrior belonging to the Japanese nobility.

Ishi-jo, wife of Oboshi Yoshio, one of the "47 loyal ronin."( CC BY SA 2.0 ) She was an Onna-bugeisha, a type of female warrior belonging to the Japanese nobility.

Thus, kunoichi often disguised themselves as performers, courtesans, maids, Shinto priestesses, etc., which enabled them to gain access to the most intimate parts of the samurai's life. (Priestesses were not prohibited from travel as it was considered part of their religious education.) Women were therefore able to infiltrate deeper than men in more dangerous zones; if a samurai ever found out the depth of the deception he had fallen for, the price a woman would have had to pay for such intimate betrayal would likely have been worse than those of an exposed shinobi.

Red female ninja.

Red female ninja. (Dani_vr/ CC BY SA 2.0 )

Yet, as horrifying as the punishments for discovered kunoichi likely were, when it was necessary to assassinate their own targets, their executions were equally—if not more—terrible for their cunning and craftiness.

A modern representation of Mochizuki Chiyome, a woman who created a secret kunoichi cohort in feudal Japan in the 16th century.

A modern representation of Mochizuki Chiyome, a woman who created a secret kunoichi cohort in feudal Japan in the 16th century. Source: CC BY SA

Weapons of Choice for Female Assassins

While female ninjas used their sexuality and beauty to gain access to their targets, they did not step aside for a male ninja to take out the target when he was most vulnerable. Rather, the women also took care of assassinations themselves. Some poignant weapons used were rather typical of those shown in historical spy and ninja movies today: fans with hidden blades, daggers, various forms of poison, slim katana swords, and the famous throwing stars.

Yet, the weapon of choice for the kunoichi was, essentially, Wolverine claws. Made of "leather finger sheaths topped with sharpened metal 'claws,'" the neko-te were the next best thing to possessing feline claws. The metal weapons ranged from one to three inches (2.5-7.6 cm) in length - easily long enough and sharp enough to tear away a man's flesh. A particularly vindictive female might even dip her claws in poison to exacerbate pain or, if she was feeling kind, quicken death.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

(1) Knotted tanned hide bundle before extraction of contents; (2) & (4) gold dinars; (3) signet ring with intaglio; (5) contents of knotted tanned hide bundle.
In mid-September, a large treasure was unearthed during a dig at the Abbey of Cluny, in the French department of Saône-et-Loire: 2,200 silver deniers and oboles, 21 Islamic gold dinars, a signet ring, and other objects made of gold. Never before has such a large cache of silver deniers been discovered. Nor have gold coins from Arab lands, silver deniers, and a signet ring ever been found hoarded together within a single, enclosed complex.

Human Origins

Deriv; Ancient Celtic dolmen from Poulnabrone, Ireland and carved Egyptian deity Thoth
When ancient Egypt and Ireland are spoken about in the same breath it usually results in the rolling of eyes, polite exits and the sound of murmurs citing pseudo-history and new age babble. At least...

Ancient Technology

Grinding stone, Dendera Temple, Egypt.
Most people know of the great construction achievements of the dynastic Egyptians such as the pyramids and temples of the Giza Plateau area as well as the Sphinx. Many books and videos show depictions of vast work forces hewing blocks of stone in the hot desert sun and carefully setting them into place.

Ancient Places

El Caracol Observatory at Chichen Itza (Wright Reading/CC BY-NC 2.0) and Composite 3D laser scan image of El Caracol from above
In 1526, the Spanish conquistador Francisco de Montejo arrived on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and found most of the great Maya cities deeply eroded and unoccupied. Many generations removed from the master builders, engineers, and scientists who conceived and built the cities, the remaining Maya they encountered had degenerated into waring groups who practiced blood rituals and human sacrifice.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article