Mochizuki Chiyome and the Kunoichi

Mochizuki Chiyome made her mark in history as being responsible for creating an all-female group of ninja agents known as the Kunoichi. The ninja and samurai are iconic Japanese symbols for defense and attack forces. Ninja are spies or mercenaries resorted in unorthodox methods in warfare and were usually in the service of Japanese clans.

Mochizuki Chiyome, also known as Mochizuki Chiyo or Mochizuki Chiyojo was a 16th century Japanese noblewoman and poet. She was the wife of the samurai lord of Shimano’s Saku District, Mochizuki Moritoki, and a descendant of the 15th century ninja of the Kōga-ryū, Mochizuki Izumo-no-Kami. After the death of Mochizuki Moritoki during the Fourth Battle of Kawanakajima in 1561, Chiyome was left under the charge of her late husband’s uncle, the head of the Takeda clan, daimyo Takeda Shingen.

Takeda Shingen, Japan.

While under Shingen’s care, and still bristling from the untimely death of her husband, Chiyome was given the daunting mission to recruit women and create an underground network of kunoichi or female ninja warriors. Chiyome was thought to be the best candidate to recruit women because she came from a long line of Kōga ninja. She accepted the task and set up operations in the village of Nezu in the Shinshū region (Tōmi Nagano today) and there she began her search for potential candidates and begin training.

The kunoichi were employed to wage espionage against rival warlords of the Takeda clan. They were fully trained female operatives who acted as agents and spies who would gather information and deliver coded messages to Takeda’s allies.

Kunoichi of Japan. | Screengrab from www.mysterytribune.com

Chiyome eyed victims of the recent Sengoku period civil war, prostitutes and other errant women, and young lost, abandoned or orphaned girls. Many villagers and locals believed that Chiyome was helping these women and giving them a chance to begin a new life, little did they know the recruits were being taught all the skills to be information gatherers, seductresses, messengers and assassins.

The kunoichi  were also schooled in religion so as to be able to pose as miko (Shintō shrine maiden or a wandering priestess), which allowed them to travel almost anywhere without suspicion.

Kunoichi digital character. | screen grab from www.unrealengine.com

Through the years, the kunoichi had set up an extensive network of around 200 to 300 agents that served the Takeda clan. This kept Shingen always a step ahead of his counterparts. He died mysteriously in 1573, after which Chiyome disappeared from all historical records.

In modern day Tokyo, there is a red light district called Yoshiwara which is said to have been built by old ninjas who belonged to the Fuma clan. During the peaceful Edo Period, many of the kunoichi were thought to have become geishas or lived relatively normal lives.