Ninjas & Samurais: Weapons in Japan

Our resident American-in-Japan, Corinne Morier, is here to tell us about Japanese weapons!

 

I studied Japanese language and culture in university, and during my four years there and three years since, I’ve studied quite a few aspects of Japanese culture, such as manners, idioms, history, and pop culture. But one aspect of Japanese culture that my education was severely lacking in was Japanese weapons. So I jumped on Google to rectify that.

Tonfas

Fans of the game Soulcalibur will recognize this one. The character Talim wields this seemingly unobtrusive weapon. Two wooden sticks, each with a handle. These might not seem as dangerous as a sword or a bow and arrow, but one whack from these and you’ll regret everything.

Talim, a character in the video game Soulcalibur, who wields the tonfa.

The tonfa was at first used for daily life—historians think it was used for digging or cooking at first, and then later turned into a weapon. Does the shape look familiar? That’s because the tonfa is the inspiration for the modern baton used by police today.

Nunchaku

The nunchaku is probably the most iconic Japanese weapon. Appearing in nearly every kung fu movie, as well as the popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, this ancient Japanese weapon has joined mainstream Western culture. Originally used as a grain pounding tool in Okinawa, the nunchaku allow for portability and stealth—they can be tucked surreptitiously into a pocket or bag, only to come out when faced with an enemy who then cowers in the face of these deadly batons!

Michelangelo, aka “Mikey,” from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who wields the nunchaku.
Yumi

The very obtrusive weapon with the not-so-obtrusive name. This is the traditional Japanese bow and arrow, used by samurai and hunters alike, though it sounds so innocent due to the name, which is a homonym for a common name for girls. Though many will be familiar with the Western style of bow and arrow, Japan’s isolation from the world allowed for a unique development of their own style. Most notably, the length of the bow itself, which measures 2.5 meters on average. Beauty and grace in a deadly weapon. This is one of my favorites on this list.

The shuriken, or “throwing star”
Kunai, a small handheld knife

These two handheld weapons are probably the most iconic when it comes to ninjas. The shuriken, or “throwing star” is used exactly how it sounds: throw it to inflict massive damage. However, the kunai was not used so much for attacking as it was for utility: ninja would use them for climbing walls and trees rather than directly injuring their opponents.

The kunai, as seen in the popular ninja anime Naruto.
Shuriken, “throwing stars” being used in the anime Naruto.
Katana

The most innocuous weapon originating from Japan, and my favorite. I often joke with my friends that I have a katana (spoiler alert, I don’t) and one day I’d like to own a real katana. The katana is the most famous of Japanese swords, and in the Edo period, regulations were so strict that only samurai were allowed to own them. This traditional Japanese sword is my favorite out of this entire list because of what it implies. Its longstanding value throughout most of Japanese history, its continued use as a ceremonial weapon today, and the fact that I happen to love swords of all kinds.

The popular anime Shakugan no Shana, in which the titular character wields a katana.

Which Japanese weapon is your favorite? Did I miss any? Leave a comment below. Thank you for joining me on this mission to rectify my education, and don’t forget to follow the JL blog and come back for more during our month of weapons!

 

Corinne 乙女

 

 

 

Corinne Morier

Corinne Morier is a fantasy author with a penchant for writing stories that make readers feel. Born and raised in Oakland, California, she now lives in Japan, where she works as a TEFL teacher for her local elementary school. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, watching anime, and, of course, writing. 

Follow Corinne: Facebook, Twitter, Website
Published works: JL Anthology Vol. 1, The Photo (Paranormal Flash Fiction)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elise Edmonds lives in a quiet South Gloucestershire village, where she spends her free time with her husband and two cats, and enjoys attending local fitness classes, watching movies, and playing the piano. Pursuing writing in her spare time as a creative outlet is a way to bring the magic back into her everyday life.

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