Saturday, September 12, 2015

Badass Women of History- Mochizuki Chiyome


Mochizuki Chiyome

The Ninja



The only recorded female ninja in history, Mochizuki Chiyome was a crafty and highly lethal agent in Japan's Warring States Period (1467-1603). 



This era (imagine Game of Thrones in Japan) was a one hundred and seventy six year time of conflict in which samurai warlords from rival clans fought each other for territory and power following the decline of the Japanese Emperor's authority. 

Along with frequent battles between massive armies, long sieges and bloody pillaging of villages, a parallel conflict raged in the shadows. It was led by spies and assassins we know as ninjas.



Divided into loosely knit family clans, ninjas served various samurai lords and had longstanding rivalries with ninjas who operated for other factions. 

A descendant of a ninja clan patriarch, Mochizuki Chiyome started her career as a spymaster after she married Moritoki, a member of the Takeda family. 

A powerful faction of the time, the Takeda lords had been locked in a struggle with the Uesugi and Tokugawa clans for their region of the main Japanese island, Honshu. 

The head of Takeda family, Takeda Shingen, had narrowly escaped several assassination attempts and wanted to create his own intelligence network to serve as his eyes and ears. 

Portrait of Takeda Shingen

When his nephew, Moritoki, died on the battlefield in 1561, Shingen approached his widow Chiyome and made her an offer. 

To avenge her husband's death, Shingen proposed that she use her background to set up a network of women ninjas and informants to serve the Takeda clan. 


Chiyome agreed and went straight to work. 


Disguising herself as a charitable noblewoman, she traveled to Koga Province and set up her ninja academy in secret. 

Advertising her headquarters as a religious school for underprivileged girls, Chiyome traveled around Koga and other nearby provinces in search of pupils. 


Her main recruiting tactic was to visit villages and towns that had been sacked and burned by marauding samurai (a frequent occurrence in those days). She would then find orphaned girls or girls who's families had lost their homes and offer to take them in as an act of charity. 


Once she recruited them, Chiyome would bring the girls back to her school, where she and her associates would give them a formal education...and secretly teach them the arts of spying and assassination. When the girls finished their training they were sent to infiltrate settlements controlled by Takeda enemies. 


What women ninjas DIDN'T look like


While the term 'woman-ninja' conjures up an image of a bunch of women in black outfits leaping from rooftop to rooftop, the truth is most of the girls were trained to be spies first and assassins second. 

They were taught how to hide in plain sight and play a variety of different roles. They learned how to seduce and charm men, what to look for on an enemy base when they infiltrated it, how to record and smuggle sensitive information without detection, how to withstand torture and if needs be how to kill and defend themselves. 

Chiyome's women agents took on a number of different disguises. Some became bar maids or prostitutes attached to enemy armies. Others infiltrated the households of nobles as servants. A few took on the guise of noblewomen and actually married enemy samurai who were none the wiser to their wives' true identities. A large number became priestesses and Buddhist nuns. This allowed them to travel between various settlements without as much harassment or questioning. 

Because the patriarchal society of medieval Japan largely regarded women as non-players in the affairs of war, Chiyome's agents were able to successfully penetrate and disrupt the operations of the Takeda's rivals without being discovered for years. 

What a women ninja probably looked like

Battle plans were exposed to the Takeda and their enemies started losing... badly, commanders and noblemen began mysteriously dropping, messages containing sensitive information were changed between being sent and being received causing confusion. 


Rumors began to spread through Uesugi and Tokugawa camps that female demons were wreaking havoc on their operations with curses and black magic. 

Chiyome's network continued to grow and find success. By the end of 1573, she had around 300 women working as spies and assassins. 


The Emblem of Chiyome's backer the Takeda Clan


She remained in close contact with Takeda Shingen, accepting his orders and informing him of enemy plots through her informants. 


Thanks in no small part to her operations, Shingen was able to expand the Takeda's lands to nearby provinces. By the end of his life, the Takeda were the most powerful samurai clan in Eastern Japan. 


However, despite all her efforts Chiyome's backer mysteriously died in 1573. Little his known of how Lord Takeda Shingen perished though he seems to have died in an act of subterfuge while he was laying siege to a castle. 


After his death, all record of Chiyome and her vast network of women ninjas vanishes completely from the history books. 


There's a great deal of speculation as to what Chiyome's fate was. 

Was she killed as part of a massive Tokugawa or Uesugi plot against her and her Takeda backers? 

Did she dissolve her network and hide out or did she continue to operate? 


Did she fall out with Takeda Shingen and have him killed before disappearing? 


We will probably never know. Chiyome's story, like so much related to historical ninjas, remains mired in mystery. 



Women were drilled in etiquette, dance, singing, disguise, and infiltration techniques to blend in with regular society, and could convincingly masquerade as traveling entertainers, religious pilgrims, noblewomen, priestesses or prostitutes.  They were taught what they needed to look for in the enemy base, and taught memorization techniques to remember it down to the slightest detail.  They were trained in how to get drunk military officers to cough up good information, how to hold out under torture, and how to problem-solve and improvise on the fly so you don’t need to fish in your pocket for a smoke bomb every time a bunch of sword-swinging samurai are chasing you through a burning building.  - See more at:

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