The Accursed Term ‘Kunoichi’ and What Has Been Said of Her

I have witnessed females participating in “ninja” dojos refer to themselves as ‘kunoichi’, a term that is thought to essentially mean a “female ninja” and is used to denote a sort of female ‘prowess’.

What do ninjutsu texts say about this?

Fujibayashi Yasutake, author of the Bansenshukai of 1676, writes that ku-no-ichi are indeed ‘female ninja’, but follows up with the assertion that they are of a “twisted and inferior mind, shallow intelligence, and poor speech…”(The Book of Ninja. 2013. p.107). He also suggests using them against high-ranking officials for these men “wallow in sexual desire”(Ibid p.205), thus implying the deeds kunoichi would defile themselves with.

It has been noted by Cummins that the Bansenshukai is the only historical text to date that uses the term ku-no-ichi, so we are at the mercy of Fujibayashi in defining this creature, and well, it isn’t a very romantic or appealing definition.

Stephen K. Hayes on the other hand pumps up the image of a kunoichi by writing that she would have had “similar” training to that of her “male counterparts” (The Complete Ninja Collection. 2013. p.519), going on to declare that the female agent would have been skilled  with knife, spear, and unarmed techniques. Hayes  does not even allude to the sexual promiscuity that Fujibayashi himself  saw as a tool to accomplishing warfare objectives, and instead goes on to talk of Chiyome Mochizuki, an alleged descendant of the 15th century ninja Mochizuki Izumo-no-Kami who was said to have headed a school for female agents.

That this woman did not exist is difficult to defend, for popular culture is replete with her personification, though alas, I have found no historical references to her name other than websites that give no primary sources either. These sites in tandem with Hayes’ texts state that Chiyome took orphaned or abandoned girls under her wing to train them in intelligence gathering methods in service to the daimyo Shingen Takeda. Hayes even states that Chiyome made it a pragmatic to reinforce the trainees’ loyalty to her by incessantly reminding them of how their lives could have been had they not been pulled from their abject existences. What is interesting about this factoid is its similarity to an historical shinobi principle found in Chikamatsu Shigenori’s scrolls called ‘Kokoro Yui no Daiji’, which was used to promote loyalty by ameliorating a bond between shinobi  that was like that of father and son.

So let us just say that Chiyome did exist and was a headmistress of a shinobi school for kunoichi, as I am inclined to believe. What are the ramifications?

Well, for starters, it foments a controversy in my mind.

Antony Cummins, in his book In Search of the Ninja, makes a case for the idea that female agents were lowly in comparison to true shinobi and also makes the assertion that only a single historical instance exists where a female headed a shinobi-no-jutsu school in capacity paralleling male ninja. But it is not Chiyome, rather he cites Umemura Sawano of the Edo period.

Does Cummins, with his background in history and archaeology, know of Chiyome? Does her existence supplant his argument against the notion of  ku-no-ichi as “some form of heroine”?

So far as can be inferred, Chiyome was far from the characteristics of a ku-no-ichi given by Fujibayashi. But this only counts against the definition of kunoichi given in historical texts. Who is to say the term was not used with different meanings that were never penned down?

Perhaps I know too little to continue to expand on such matters, so for now, I will leave you guessing. Apologies.




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