Last Updated: May 23, 2021

Kunoichi: Japan’s Female Ninjas

At some point or another, just about everyone has had the dream of being a ninja. Well, at least guys anyway. What many people don’t know, however, is that there was a group of women ninjas who developed their own unique techniques of espionage, reconnaissance, and assassination. These female ninjas were known as kunoichi, and in many ways were more deadly and efficient than their male counterparts.

ninja cat japan

Image courtesy of Wikipedia


As with ninjas in general, the kuniochi are shrouded in mystery. The name kunoichi is a code in itself, supposedly coming from the three brush strokes that make up the kanji character for woman (女). The first stroke, ku (く), is found in the left part of 女 and is written in the hiragana alphabet. The second stroke, no (ノ), is written in the katakana alphabet and crosses the bottom part of ku. The last stroke, ichi (一), is the kanji for the number one. Combined, く + ノ + 一 form 女 and make up the name for the secret female ninja group → ku-no-ichi.

*side note: the character for woman (女) comes from a woman sitting with her legs crossed.

Kunoichi Training

General ninja techniques revolved around gathering information, assassination, and escape, with training focused on camouflage, stealth, martial arts, deception, small weapons, explosives, and poisons. While male ninjas often undertook missions in which remaining unseen and hand-to-hand combat were essential, kunoichi were more likely to disguise themselves as prostitutes, geisha, entertainers, and maids to get close to their victims. As such, their training emphasized disguise, role-play, weapon concealment, and poisons. Kunoichi went to great lengths to complete their missions, and one of the most effective ways of eliminating a target was to seduce them and poison them after they had fallen asleep.

In order to recruit new members, kunoichi leaders often traveled around the country and adopted young orphan girls. Treated with care and given a better chance in life, these recruits were deathly loyal to their benefactors. Young kunoichi in training were taught to use their femininity to the greatest possible extent and emphasis was placed on controlling their feelings so as not to fall in love with their pray during the elaborate, and often lengthy, process of seduction. Training in religion and the chores of a Miko, or shrine servant, also allowed them to travel around the country undetected.

Techniques of the Kunoichi

Unfortunately for their enemies, kunoichi were fond of poison and masters of concealing weapons. Favorite methods included attaching a hidden razor to a fan, sticking a needle in their hair, hiding a knife in a musical instrument, or inserting a blade in a sex toy. Of course, all would be dipped in deadly poison and unnoticed scratches in a victim soon resulted in their mysterious death, by which time the kunoichi would be long gone.

In addition to hiding weapons, Kunoichi also received substantial training in how to use everyday items in hand-to-hand combat. With the proper kick, the wooden clogs of a geisha were great for smashing bones and umbrellas made for effective shields. Rings were also used to attack pressure points in subduing opponents by creating acute pain or even short-term paralysis.

Do you have a favorite kunoichi? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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