Six Essential Tools of the Shinobi

Shinobi Hiden and Shoninki 忍秘伝と正忍記

shoninki equipment
The entry on what sort of tools to carry on a shinobi mission in the Shoninki.

Back in 2013, while I was bouncing between freelance contract and not having a place to call my home, I had used certain ideas presented in the Shinobi Hiden (known popularly as the Ninpiden) in order to fit professional roles that I wasn’t necessarily fit for.

The purpose of this article is to highlight some of the more physical elements of that rather challenging phase of my life. I had essentially adapted the six tools of the shinobi as outlined in the Shoninki in a chapter called “Shinobu Idetachi no Narai” (忍ぶ出立ちの習い), “Equipment and Outfits for Shinobi Activities“. In this chapter, six items are presented as “essential gear for shinobi”.

  1. Amigasa 編笠 – Wide brimmed straw hat.
  2. Kaginawa 鉤縄 – Grappling Hook
  3. Sekihitsu 石筆 – Slate Pencil
  4. Kusuri 薬 – Field Medicine
  5. Sanjaku Tenugui 三尺手拭 – Three-foot Cloth
  6. Uchitake 打竹 – Striking Bamboo (tool for starting fire)

Amigasa 編笠

shoninki-amegasa
A mild sort of “Amegasa”.

The amegasa is used to cover your face or change your appearance, while still allowing you to see other people.” (Cummins, 52)

Here, obviously it wouldn’t make much sense to walk around with a straw asian hat in a modern metropolis like Toronto, Canada. It is easy to see however, that a modern baseball cap can meet the purpose well here, and it did just that. In addition, it also doubled as a sunblocker as I was oftentimes working outside in the direct sunlight.

Kaginawa 鉤縄

shoninki-kagi-nawa
Variation of the kaginawa mentioned in the Shoninki.

Though I didn’t have too many issues with needing to tie someone up, or climb with a rope, I did find use for the rope part for various different issues, project, etc. Really, everyone should learn some basic uses for rope, it can be quite enabling.

Sekihitsu 石筆

sekihitsu
Sekihitsu stone writing implements as mentioned in the Shoninki.

Sekihitsu is used to take notes and make marks.” (Cummins, 52)

Not much to say there, the modern carpenter’s pencil would fill this role nicely, except that you need a blade of some sort to sharpen it, while the designs to the left aren’t wrapped in the wood coverings, thus are ready to use no matter what; no sharpening required.

Here I have graphite, slate, and coal for some nice variety of hardness.

Kusuri 薬

shoninki-kusuri
Medicine eluded to in the Shoninki

The medicine is called worm’s killer, and is an essential tool. If you get sick in the field, you will not be able to accomplish your task, so you should carry this with you at all times.” (Cummins, 52)

Here I keep a supply of ginger tincture for stomach aches (dilute with water when ingesting), ginseng extract for boosts in energy, vitamin D tablets for maintenance, and guarana for prolonged physical demands (think of it as a mellow caffeine high that lasts for several hours).

This collection of ingredients have served me well over the years.

Sanjaku Tenugui 三尺手拭

sanjaku tenugui
Three-foot cloth for various purposes as found in the Shoninki.

This is very useful as a hachimaki, you can wrap it around your head and face, and you may use it to extend a sash by tying them together to make a rope so that you may climb a wall or other heights. In other schools you are supposed to keep it in your sash. In [Natori-ryu] however, you should fold it and keep it in your collar, [. . .] It is essential that you should always keep one of these cloths about you at all times.

Initially, I thought that it would be difficult to find a purpose for this item. However, soon into the summer I discovered that when in the direct sunlight, having this over the back of your neck, and around your shoulders helped to delay dehydration and heatstroke by blocking the direct sunlight, even when the cloth is black or dark colors.

Also, when it gets cooler at night, it acts as a scarf, or if you need more discretion, wrap it around your midsection to help keep the organs warm so the body doesn’t need to direct blood flow inward as happens in cold climates.

Uchitake 打竹

uchi-take-shoninki
The Uchitake from Shoninki (modern take on the device).

The tsukitake (alternative spelling for uchitake; 附竹) is a tool that helps you create fire; this can be used when you need to have a fire at night. [. . .] Also, they can be used for that skill of jiyaki 地焼, this is a skill for ground burning. Also, you can use it for arson and other purposes.

Here I have replaced some of the classical options with a modern striking steel with magnesium such as that found at most hardware stores. This has been wonderful for producing fire starting sparks and is inherently waterproof.

In this set, I have also included a Bic lighter for convenience, and some strike anywhere matches wrapped in tissue paper and dipped in wax for long lasting matches.

This same section mentioned briefly the donohi (胴火), but I haven’t yet taken the time to practice either the production or the use of such a tool, However Gabriel Rossa had produced a wonderful video on how to make and use the classical donohi here. And for those interested in such, here’s a video that is similar in nature:

Conclusion

So the above was essentially the load-out that I carried with me for the majority of last year. It served me well, and for the most part it all fit into one small pull string hemp bag which fit nicely into my other luggage. The only things that weren’t easily storable was the rope and the tenugui, in which case one was worn under the clothes, and the other is kept in my other belongings. In all, this makes for a pretty complete package. Though the Shoninki also mentions the use of the o-wakizashi (a medium size short sword; 大脇差), I would lean towards a blade that can serve many purposes and doesn’t look so out of place in the modern world, such as a machete, or my current favorite, the Japanese nata.

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Referenced Documents

  • Cumins, Antony, Natori Masashige. True Path of the Ninja [Shoninki]. (2011 / 1681). ISBN 978-4-8053-1114-1
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