KUNOICHI THE FEMALE NINJA SPY AND MORE!…
Most Westerners think of ninjas as blackmasked men with swords who appear from the Ninjutsu shadows and strike without warning.
But not all ninja assassins were male, and not all of them walked in shadow.
Female ninjas, known as kunoichi, formed an important part of medievalshinobi clans. Like their
male counterparts, kunoichi trained in combat, disguise, and stealth, though their missions and
function differed from those of male shinobi in several important ways.
Disguises and Tactics
Shinobi (which is the Japanese pronounciation of the characters Westerners read as “ninja”)
worked as spies as well as assassins. All shinobi could kill in the line of duty, and many did, but
others acted as covert agents—often deep undercover in enemy territory.
A courtesan’s costume of the Kamakura Period in JapanMedieval Japan was ruled and dominated
by men of the samurai class. Samurai rarely trusted strangers, but often made exceptions for
women, either because of their beauty or because the woman filled a “harmless” social role (a
maid, for example). Kunoichi frequently posed as performers, courtesans, or servants. In these
disguises, kunoichi infiltrated temples, castles, and fortresses, either to gather information or to
strike at wellprotected targets male assassins could not reach.
A male shinobi might assume the role of a samurai retainer or an artisan, but those positions
seldom allowed the assassin unfettered access to his target. Samurai lived welldefended lives.
Assassinations by male ninja often took the form of clandestine (usually nocturnal) missions, a
medieval form of “seek and destroy.”
The costume of a courtesan from Japan’s medieval period, By contrast, a kunoichi could gain her
target’s trust until he allowed her intimate access, at which point she could attack—when both his
pants and his guard were down.
Shinobi training for both genders focused on utilizing the ninja’s personal strengths to best
advantage. In medieval Japan, where women were often prized for beauty rather than skill, a
kunoichi’sbeauty was one of her most valuable—and deadly—weapons.
But that doesn’t mean the female ninja depended exclusively on her looks. In combat, kunoichi
were just as deadly, and as welltrained, as any othershinobi.
Like their male counterparts, kunoichi trained with a variety of weapons. Most knew how to use a
sword, though female ninjas usually specialized in close handtohand combat—which meant a
preference for daggers, garrotes, poisons, and specialty items like bladed fans and clawlike finger
extensions known as nekote.
An example of nekote or cat’s claws, a weapon used by kunoichi in medieval JapanNekote, in
particular, were used almost exclusively by kunoichi. The weapon consists of leather finger sheaths
topped with sharpened metal “claws.” The sheaths slipped over the end of the wearer’s fingers,
giving the kunoichi a set of lethal, tigerlike claws that measured from one to three inches in length.
Many women poisoned the metal claws for added effect.
Nekote slipped on in an instant but disappeared just as quickly into a pocket or the sleeve of a
kimono, facilitating surprise attacks and helping the kunoichi avoiddiscovery.