History’s First Female Ninja Mochizuki Chiyome

Mochizuki Chiyome, also known as Lady Chiyome

(c. 1540 – c. 1580)

Mochizuki Moritoki was a samurai from Shinano Province and lord of Mochizuki castle. In the early 1550s, the daimyo Takeda Shingen conquered Shinano, expelled Murakami Yoshiharu and Ogasawara Nagatoki and brought the Mochizuki clan under his rule. Yoshiharu and Ogasawara turned to the daimyo Uesugi Kenshin for aid. Uesugi brought his armies to the province and over the course of many years his men clashed with the men of Takeda on the plain of Kawanakajima in northern Shinano. The most ferocious battle was fought on September 10, 1561, in which Mochizuki Moritoki was mortally wounded. Takeda placed his nephew, Nobumasa, in charge of the Mochizuki clan, but he was defeated in battle and so too was his son. With the death of Nobumasa’s son, the Mochizuki clan’s 600 year history essentially came to an end.

Lady Chiyome had been the wife of Moritoki. She was originally from the Koga region and had connections with ninja clans there. Female ninjas were not unheard of, but they were a rare breed of strong-willed women who were willing to fight as men for their families and beliefs. After the death of her husband, Chiyome was approached by Takeda and challenged with the idea of creating a force of female ninjas that were different from those already known. Takeda wanted a force of spies, informants, and messengers who could access an enemy’s fortresses and thoughts. He asked Lady Chiyome to begin the kunoichi (meaning “deadly flower”).

The operation was established in the village of Nazu in the Shinano Province as Lady Chiyome began rounding up potential candidates for training. Her main choices were hard luck cases: runaways, prostitutes, impoverished, orphans, etc. She was considered to be doing charitable work by collecting these poor souls and she developed a reputation for turning out women of merit, when in fact she was creating subversive female ninjas. Lady Chiyome was quick to remind the girls of their difficult histories if they agitated against her and needed bringing to heel.

The girls that came out of her training appeared to be miko, or shrine attendants, who served at the Shinto Buddhist shrines all across the land. With this disguise, they were able to travel freely without arousing suspicion. The girls received proper religious training as part of their overall training in order to make this disguise complete.

Lady Chiyome trained her ninjas differently than male ninjas were taught. She trained her students to take into account their smaller statures and lesser bodily strength. However, their apparent weaknesses were used to catch foes unaware and therefore were used as a strength. She also taught her ninjas to use weapons that appeared to be common items rather than weapons and that could easily be concealed on their bodies. There was a heavy focus on one-on-one fighting rather that group tactics. Also, by training her girls as mikos, she didn’t need to teach much of the normal stealth that a male ninja would learn, for they were already able to travel with ease. With time, the kunoichi forces would learn a variety of disguises and eventually the women were able to pass themselves off as artisans, performers, paupers, prostitutes, and even geisha. The network that Chiyome established would give Takeda a great advantage that kept him ahead of his enemies.

Lady Chiyome vanished into the mists of history, but it is said that she passed leadership of her kunoichi to Koskei Anayama who worked closely with Momichi Sandayu and his Iga ninjas.