A kunoichi (Japanese: くノ一) is a female ninja or practitioner of ninjutsu (ninpo). During the feudal period of Japan, ninjas were used as killers, spies and messengers. The training of kunoichi differed from the training given to male ninjas, although they had a common core of skills, being trained in martial arts, such as taijutsu and ninjutsu. Kunoichi training tended to prioritize traditional female skills.
- "く" is a hiragana character pronounced "ku"
- "ノ" is a katakana character pronounced "no"
- "一" is a kanji character pronounced "ichi" (and meaning "one").
The word "kunoichi" was not used frequently in the Edo period. This is probably because in this era, the kanji letter "女" was not written in regular script but usually in cursive script, and the cursive script of "女" cannot be decomposed into "く", "ノ", and "一".Yoshimaru:p168
History of use
The eighth volume of the ninja handbook Bansenshukai written in the late 17th century describes Kunoichi-no-jutsu (くノ一の術, Ninjutsu of female ninja). This can be translated as "a technique to use a female"Yoshimaru:p170 and was employed for infiltration purposes. The Bansenshukai compiles the knowledge of the clans in the regions of Iga and Kōga dedicated to the formation of ninjas. According to this document, the main function of the Kunoichi was espionage, finding functions in enemy house services, to gather knowledge, gain trust or listen to conversations. A disputed historical example is Mochizuki Chiyome, a 16th-century noble descendant who was commissioned by warlord Takeda Shingen to recruit women to create a secret network of hundreds of spies.
The meaning "female ninja" might be a purely modern use, that possibly first appeared in the novel Ninpō Hakkenden (忍法八犬伝) written by Futaro Yamada in 1964 and became popularized in the following years.Yoshimaru:p184
Iga FC Kunoichi, a women's football club which is based in the city of Iga, takes its name from the term.
- Hatsume no Tsubone, a legendary female ninja in Tokugawa Ieyasu's service
- Mochizuki Chiyome, a Japanese woman who claimed to be a female ninja leader
- Onna-musha, samurai women
- Umemura Sawano, 16th–17th century female ninja
- Seiko Fujita, From Ninjutsu to Spy Warfare (忍術からスパイ戦へ). Higashi Shisha, 1942.