Shinobi and Kunoichi : The way of calling ninja

Do you know Ninja? Probably yes! But how about the word “shinobi” or “kunoichi”?
In Volume 9 of Demon Slayer comic, a new story starts with Sound Hashira, Tengen Uzui.
He and his wives (three!) are ninja, but he call himself as “Shinobi” and his wives “Kunoichi”.


To know about Shinobi, it’s easier if you learn this kanji character.
Do you know this kanji, “忍”? If you know ninja well, you can guess the character is from 忍者 (ninja).

With 忍者, “忍” is read “nin”, but it’s not always read as “nin”. This is a kanji for “Shinobi”.

What does this character 忍 mean? Let’s see the top 3 meanings of 忍 in the dictionary.

1. being inconspicuous, avoiding being noticed
2. an out-of-sight place
3. to have patience

These features are of Ninja precisely!

忍ぶ (shinobu) is a verb meaning “to avoid being noticed” or “to hide oneself”.

Another kanji “者” of 忍者(ninja) means “a person”. This character is read “mono”, “sha” or “ja”.

忍ぶ者 (shinobu mono / a person who avoids being noticed) = 忍者 (ninja) = 忍 (shinobi)
Some people call ninja “shinobi”, like Uzui Tengen call himself. If you say “Shinobi” you sound more pro!
“Ninja” is actually a new word (born around 1950) and “shinobi” or other names were used instead of ninja when they really existed in Japan history.


There seem some reasons why they were called “kunoichi” but we have no concrete answer actually.

The most possible reason is the way of writing a kanji character “女”.

In Japanese, female is written “女” in kanji.
If I disassemble this character, what happens? Let’s see.

女 → くノ一 → く ノ 一

Then we can see that “女” can be built with three elements “く” , “ノ” and “一”.

Funny thing is all the elements are different writing (character) system.
is hiragana character, is katakana character, and is kanji, but this is not the problem.
The point is how to read these characters.

Let’s see how to read these elements one by one!

く → “ku”

ノ → “no”

一 → “ichi”

See? That’s why female ninja is called KUNOICHI!
Sorry, it’s a very simple reason.

Kunoichi meant only “female”

Today “Kunoichi” is used as a secret language for female ninja, although it is said that it meant only “female” in old days. Actually Kunoichi as “female ninja” became established around 1960’s because of ninja novels.

Ninja had “くノ一の術 (kunoichi no jutsu / Kunoichi Art)” as a tactic, but it doesn’t mean an art of female ninja.
One of its tactic is using women as a spy to gather information when it’s difficult for ninja (male) to sneak into the target place.
Some said that woman was ninja, but others not, so now it’s better to regard “kunoichi” of “Kunoichi Art” as “female” not “female ninja”.

That’s all

Now does it make sense to you about Shinobi and Kunoichi?
Sometimes we believe that an old-fashioned word is actually very old and traditional, but the truth is sometimes not.
It’s quite surprising that Ninja is very new!

Ninja was a spy and as there were lots of tactics, they sometimes had to kill people to achieve their mission.
In Demon Slayer, Tengen Uzui and his three wives are suffering from their past that they killed people.
Knowing their background, let’s enjoy Yukaku (a red-light district) arc!