So…ninjas. And chick ninjas.
Just about everything popular history and culture “knows” about ninjas is a misconception. Starting with this whole ninja vs Samurai thing. During the Warring States Period–where the vast majority of ninja stuff was being done–very many of the extant Samurai training schools had ninjutsu curricula. So…there were a large number of Samurai who were “ninja”. Or, as we say in the modern military vernacular, “ninja qualified”…
In keeping with our current topic of Women in Warfare, let’s talk for a few about female ninja. Throughout the entire history of Japan, there has been espionage. And females have conducted a large portion of it.
In case you don’t know *techincally* what a ninja is, it is a practitioner of specifically codified tactics and strategy of guerrilla warfare, espionage, as well as reconnaissance and special intelligence collection…and assassination. The more historically preferred nomenclature is shinobi. And the proper plural is simply ninja.
These tactics, techniques, and missions–which also included countering all the stuff listed above–were not exclusive to any school, unit, or subculture in Medieval Japan. And every ninja you ever heard of has two names (first and last). Which means they were a noble (or doctor), and therefore Samurai. The most historically notable of which is Hattori Hanzo. (That’s right, from Kill Bill).
I’m pretty sure we’re all familiar with what a ninja is, basically, and what a ninja does. But ninja pop culture doesn’t really clue you in to the reality of the female ninja. The modern word for these lady ninja is kunoichi. Though, that is not a historically used word. Male or female, the job title was the same.
The most famous female ninja that history has brought to us is Mochizuki Chiyome, a 16th Century noblewoman of the Takeda Clan (a major noble house in Medieval Japan). After her hubs was killed in battle, Chiyome became a senior ninja of the Takeda Clan Daimyo, Takeda Shingen. (Don’t forget, at this time women were still taught all kinds of warriory shit.)
Chiyome was tasked by Shingen with creating, training, maintaining, and commanding a network of female spies. To the last woman, these were all ninja. (Trained, therefore, in not only espionage, but also in tactics, combat, personal combat, and weaponry.)
She found a remote–yet accessible–village up in the mountains, set up an operations center, and got to work. Her primary recruits–which numbered in the hundreds (think about running that shit, HUMINT guys)–were women she already knew to be ninja-qualled. After that, she built a solid operational cover as a noblewoman trying to help out girls and women who had been victimized or in any other way fucked over by the century and a half of warfare that had wracked the country. So, my girl here started recruiting orphans, hookers, wanderers, widows, and wives…the works. (This shit is truly beautiful from an operational standpoint. She worked the social system like a rib.)
Every single woman who passed through her door was trained in the fundamentals of personal combat, information gathering, and surreptitious communication. Beyond that, various women gained various other advanced training: cooking, cleaning, sewing, sneakin’, freakin’, seduction, assassination, first aid and traditional medicine, further coded communication, household management/operation; all shit that could be used to maintain cover while living their secret lives. (And in the event of all operations going sideways, these women at least had marketable job skills they could use to fend for themselves.)
The icing on this Bene Gesserit cake is that every woman was also given complete training as a [wandering] Shinto priestess. This right here netted every single last one of them unrestricted movement between all domains in the empire–which was heavily restricted due to all the lords’ paranoia. No one would suspect them as they travelled. The cover was airtight, because they were always vouched for by the local Shinto priests. They were welcome and given food and shelter at every shrine in the country. And each literally carried a bag of disguises to use once *inside* whatever town, castle, or temple.
At the height of operation, Chiyome is suspected to have had operatives in every major household in the empire–including Shingen’s, and the Emperor’s–and every major temple and shrine.
Fucking genius. Access. Placement. Movement. (Who else is getting hot, here?) This is all a “best case scenario” for running human intelligence and source operations. And your shit has to be completely together to even get things half this good on the best of days. Much less at a national level scope of operation for years and years. I can’t even truly fathom Chiyome’s skill(s), and I’m pretty good at this stuff.
Freedom of movement. Zero suspicion. Absolutely surreptitious KSAs (Knowledge, Skills and Abilities)–and *far* beyond the depth and scope of their male counterparts, doctrinally. There were plenty of dudes cruising the shadows of Japan at the time who were certifiably scary fuggers. But, there was no corps at the time that had as many dudes trained to the level that Chiyome’s average operative had been trained to. And no network of spies as well placed and prepared. Again…beautiful.
Chiyome’s corps managed to raise Shingen’s situational awareness to a far greater level than his fellow warlord daimyo, keeping him at least one step ahead of all of his competitors at all times.
In 1573, however, Shingen Takeda died. At this point, you can bet your happy ass that Chiyome did what any of us woulda done: burned as much shit as possible, pulled stakes, commenced some serious retrograde and/or escape and evasion, and lived out the rest of her days as far from any other historical record as possible. Which is why–consequently–we know absolutely nothing more about her from that day. (Mission Accomplished.)
Atta girl. Atta ALL the girls! Human history has no other example of this depth or bredth of exclusively female operation. *Zero*. And they all just…vanished. No one knew who they were. Chiyome was most likely the single member of that entire operational structure who knew every member. Ninja TTPs (tactics, techniques, procedures) specified a very particular cellular structure. So her officers knew only who their people were. And would not have been intimately involved with (read that: micromanagerial about) their girls’ ops or sources.
From here, we end with the pre-modern history stuff. In the next, and final, installment of this cultural example of women in politics and warfare, we will get into the suicide squads of World War II. It’s bad, bad shit. And you thought it was only dudes in planes…