The Readable Air: On the Japanese Expression “KY”

Somewhat important for foreigners visiting Japan to try t get a grasp of…

The Eyeslit-Crypt

Every year in Japan there is a vote for the most popular new word. In 2007, the word of the year was “KY,” which stands for “Kuuki wo Yomenai,” literally translated into English means: “Air read cannot.” This calls for an adaptation and through this adaptation, it can be translated as: “One who cannot read the air (atmosphere) of a certain situation.”

For example, last night I saw a man on a train eating potato chips. He had obviously been drinking and was trying to combat his drunkenness with food (we all know that being drunk on a moving train is horrible). The man, oblivious to the other passengers noisily munched his chips with myopic dedication. It should be noted that even though all the surrounding people ignored his munching (the Japanese are masters at pretending not to notice), his actions were unabashedly “KY.” One does not eat potato chips…

View original post 538 more words

Are You An Eccentric?

Shiro Kuma

Disclaimer: The class was so dense that this article might be a little too long. Sorry about that.

A class with Sōke these days is a succession of many moments. Relying on the Dai Shihan to show the techniques, he gives his advice from his chair. He only shows when a move requires his expertise.

Also, he often begins the class by showing the new swords he bought for his museum. He recently did a sword exhibition in Noda to explain to the public, the 200 blades he already has.

Friday night he displayed à few interesting Tantō that he got. Some of them had a Kozuka inserted in the scabbard. It was a first for me. (1)

Each time Sōke tells of being aware of the danger of live weapons. And shows the correct way to pass or receive a naked sword from hand to hand. Not aware of…

View original post 798 more words

Chasing a Rat down a Hole

After some discussion on the Historic Ninjutsu Research Facebook group regarding an image of the “shinobi” from the Wakan Sansai Zue (和漢三才図会) written in 1712, there had been some disagreement around it.

Several people got caught up on the fact that the individual who is leaping over the wall in the illustration is wearing some sort of animal costume. This had been speculated to be inferring a connection to the Katō Danzō (加藤 段蔵, c. 1503 – 1569), a shinobi who was said in folk myth to be able to transform into a rat. One source (currently unavailable for reference) states that he was a rat breeder as his main daily occupation.

Most concluded that it was some form of canine costume, however, when looking at the ears, shape of the head, and tail, it as quite evident that it is a rat, particularly a spotted rat, which was considered special or lucky in the 17th century.

Existence of Spotted Rats

There was some dispute about spotted rats in Japan at that time, as one individual claimed that the spotted pattern came form a popular breeding practice in Europe in the 19th century. However, this was easily disputed with a quick google search, where I found two manuscripts regarding rat breeding. the first, Yosotama no kakehashi (養鼠玉のかけはし), was from 1775, and the second, Chingan Sōdate Gusa (珍玩鼠育草), was from 1787. Both documents provided illustrations of spotted rats. At this point all three documents in regard to this investigation was from the 18th century.

The Wakan Sansai Zue also has a section focused on rats, in which we can see a spotted rat in the first volume as well. it has been speculated that the previous two texts drew some inspiration from this text.

Nomenclature of “Shinobi”

An interesting note regarding the term used to refer to the shinobi here has the kanji 游偵 (Yūtei), while there’s hiragana next to it saying しのびのもの (shinobi no mono). This name appears in the Bansenshūkai as one of the names the Chinese had referred to spies by. In the Bansenshūkai, however, it is written as 遊偵 (found in the Q/A section of the preface, still read as “yūtei”), but then written as 游貞 in the first volume of Seishin.

In other sources (citation unavailable at the moment), yūtei has been shown to have several variants of the first kanji, such as 斿, 游, 浮, 遊. All of which expresses a sense of floating, drifting, or roaming. And Tei (偵) means to investigate, spy or acquire protected information. Thus, yūtei means to travel or roam around gathering information.

Note: ukitei (浮偵) also suggests a principle of movement called ukimi (浮身) found in the classical martial arts, that can also be seen in the judo movements of the late Kyuzo Mifune.

Under the heading for shinobi in the Wakan Sansai Zue, there is listed a few other terms:


Wakan Sansai Zue 和漢三才図会 (1712)

Kasha (課者)

The first of these terms is kasha (課者), which was an interesting one to dig into. Dictionaries generally define this first character as “chapter; lesson; section; department; division; counter for chapters (of a book).” But when we break it down, we have “[to get] results (果) with words (言) [in order to obtain results]”; investigation. and with the second character (者), it becomes “those who investigate“.

Saisaku (細作)

The first ideogram can be read as hosoi (細) which means, “work meticulous, fine, delicate, precise,” The second ideogram, (作), means: “to manufacture, make, build, work, or harvest.” One can translate saisaku as, “One who manufactures [creates] with meticulousness [a plan]” or “One who collects what is fine, delicate [quietly perceives essential information].”

Rakō (邏候)

Some very old characters here, and digging did not get me to far; apparently this is connected to Edo period police investigations but I don’t have a reliable source for this at this moment. the first character can be broken down quite far, but for this well only divide it into 辵 “to walk or move” and 羅 “to surround like a net. This I understand to grow to refer “patrolling”, though one dictionary also suggests a borrowed definition of “concealment”. The second character, (候), means: “expectancy, make an attempt, sign, season, or time.” Breaking it apart however starts to suggest something conspicuous or clue-like. in medicine it has been used to refer to “symptoms”. Thus I understand this to mean something like “one who waits and watches clues to grasp the truth like a net.

Tanshi (探伺)

The first ideogram (探) means: “grasp, grope; deep, intense, to deepen.” the second character is made up of a “person (人) who peers through a hole (司).” Though nowadays 司 is defined as as sort of government administrator, but we can understand that to be someone who oversees things. Thus tanshi means “one who perceives deeply.

Kanchō (間諜)

One of the earliest names for a spy, the first character means a space between things, and the second character means something “flat” (葉) like a leaf, and words (言); spy ended up being a borrowed definition that has endured to today. Thus, kanchō can be understood to mean “one who acquires words by going between people.” though it also gives the image of being able to slip through small or impenetrable spaces.

Togakure-ryū Connection

It should also be noted that the “San”(of Togakure-ryū’s Santō Tonkō Gata (鼠逃遁甲型) can be read as “nezumi” and means rat. This isn’t the first time that I’ve heard of ninja being referred to as rats, in 2008, I was looking into how these kata could be expressed in a “squirmy” way like a fleeing rat. And then Takamatsu Toshitsugu’s favorite story was said (by Masaaki Hatsumi) to be “Neko no Myōjutsu” (猫之妙術), a story about a rat that fought off all cats except an old cat that had nothing left to live for.

The Santō Tonkō gata consists of twelve techniques in response to being grabbed by the arms, back of the neck, and when your cornered or surrounded by enemy (picture a rat being cornered by a cat, and just the same this is depicted in Neko no Myōjutsu). Each of these techniques finish with the statements of using one of the goton (五遁) of escaping using fire, earth, water, wood, or metal, as well as that of blinding powder, throwing blades and so on. True to the teachings of the tradition, they strive to avoid killing, aiming to only distract, escape and hide. As such none of these techniques describe lethal techniques – though they can certainly be made to be.

Yet another interesting connection is the depiction of a falconer just before (to the right) of the entry for shinobi. It has been established rather thoroughly by Sean Askew that the Toda family that had been the head of the Togakure-ryū tradition of ninjutsu for generations, were also well known for their falconry. So within this text we can see three correlations to the same tradition of ninjutsu:
1) Falconry – the trade of the Toda family
2) Connecting rats and ninjutsu
3) Reference to the Goton used by this tradition (see next section).

Chinese Link

The above entry about Yūtei, describes another text called Wǔ zá zǔ (五雜組), written sometime between 1567‐1624 by Xie Zhaozhe, with an additional preface added in 1616, that talks about Tonkeijutsu (遁形术), methods of hiding the form, just like we see in books such as Ito Gingetsu’s Ninjutsu no Gokui. Both these writings describe Tonkei/Tonko (遁形/遁甲) as using the five phases of wood, water, metal, earth, and fire (Ch: Wu Xing, Ja: Gogyo; 五行).


What has been presented here is my own collective knowledge on this subject based on historic primary sources. We can see that the depiction in the Wakan Sansai Zue is quite evidently that of a man in a rat costume (for what reason, I’m not at all sure), the existence of spotted rats and specialized breeding methods go back at least as far as the 16th century (and the same document hints at “ancient times”). w can also see that the author of the same document had a comprehensive grasp of obscure names for spies. We can also see clear correlation to the Togakure-ryū tradition of ninjutsu, and even its hints at a relationship with falconry. And the connection to Goton no jutsu was traced at least as far back as the early 16th century, and surely traces further back.

Sources referenced (chronological)

  • Wǔ zá zǔ 五雜組 (1616~), by Xie Zhaozhe
  • Bansenshūkai 萬川集海 (1676), by Fujibayashi Sabuji
  • Wakan Sansai Zue 和漢三才図会 (1712), by Terajima Ryōan
  • Neko no Myōjutsu 猫之妙術 (1727), by Niwa Jurozaemon Tadaaki
  • Yosotama no kakehasi 養鼠玉のかけはし (1775 ), unknown author
  • Chingan Sōdate Gusa 珍玩鼠育草 (1787), susposedly by “Tei-en-shi”
  • Ninjutsu no Gokui 忍術の極意 (early 1900~), by Ito Gingetsu
  • Togakure-ryū Shinjin Ichinyo no Maki 戸隠流神人一如の巻 (mid 1900~), by Masaaki Hatsumi

Tsuki no Sho 月之抄


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Author: Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi 柳生 十兵衛三 厳
Title: Tsuki no Shô
Year: 1642

Author Yagyû Mitsuyoshi (柳生 三 厳) in the original language Title: “月 之 抄” (Other spellings mentioned in the original language: 月 之 抄 / 月 の 抄 / 月 ノ 抄 / 月 之 書 / 月 の 書 / 月 ノ書 / 月 之 諸 / 月 の 諸 / 月 ノ 諸 / 月 見 之 抄 / 月 見 の 抄 / 月 見 ノ 抄 / 月 見 之 書 / 月 見 の 書 / 月 見 ノ 書 / 月 見 之 諸 / 月Titre の 諸 / 月 見 ノ 諸).

Japanese title: “Tsuki no Shô” (or sometimes “Tsukimi no Shô”) Title in French: “Written in the moonlight” Title in English: “Annotation (s) ) in the moonlight

The “tsuki no sho” is a strategic and philosophical treatise mainly about kenjutsu (saber warfare technique), written by one of the most famous fencers in Japanese history:

Yagyû Jûbei Mitsuyoshi (1607 – 1650). You will find here the complete transcript in modern Japanese. This transcription in modern Japanese comes from the book of Yoshio Imamura, published in April 1995: “Shiryô Yagyû Shinkage-Ryû (Vol.2)” (史料 柳生 新 陰 流 (下 巻)), of which she occupies about the first 70 pages (Pages 9 to 80).

Link download: Mitsuyoshi-Yagyū-Jūbei-Tsuki-no-Shô


Essence of Budō – Menkyo Kaiden Henchō Gata

Wanderings in Budo

From the Essence of Budō book. There is a second omission in the English translation for the sōjutsu section (p90), under the Menkyo Kaiden Henchō Gata 免許皆伝変蝶型 heading there is a short descriptive paragraph.

Below is the Japanese text and a translation:


Changing butterfly patterns passed from teacher to student
These are the changing butterfly techniques, that is to say as the butterfly dances and plays (flutters) so must you. Move the body to the right and left, turning around the opponent’s side, harmonise and enter in to the space with intent. To fully make use of the spear a person needs to practice and gain competence with all these techniques and to be able to use them together/interchangably.

The above is my translation, the last line being quite difficult to find the best way to express what is written.

Kukishin Ryū Sōjutsu and the Creation Myth of Japan

View original post 197 more words

高木揚心流 . . .



“Takagi Yōshin-ryū is a style of jūjutsu. Of course it’s not ninjutsu. That is obvious. Historically, the founder of this style, Takagi Oriemon, practiced a school called ‘Takenouchi-ryū’ (竹内流), one of the oldest and most famous traditions of ‘sōgō bujutsu’ (composite martial arts; 総合武術) of Japan. The reason why I say sōgō bujutsu is because you also have weapons. So, sōgō bujutsu in martial arts means ‘general martial art’ or ‘various martial arts’. From one point, a nucleus, they teach many, many weapons. Takagi Oriemon had learned this method with the second generation, but the problem with the Takenouchi family is that they never gave the inner movement, the deepest understanding, to someone from outside of the family. That was one of the main rules back in the 14th and 16th centuries. But he learned enough to create his own style. He received many things and, with that, he had…

View original post 448 more words

A Glance at Satsuma’s Heki ryu Kyujutsu: Part 1

Light in the Clouds

Japan has a long history of the bow and arrow. A prestigious weapon when feudal lords were at conflict for the unification of Japan, many bushi were required to learn the art of shooting an arrow, called kyujutsu in Japanese. Several martial schools became famous for their instruction on kyujutsu, such as Yamato ryu and Ogasawara ryu. One school in particular, called Heki ryu, has strong roots in warfare and was systematically devised to be used in the hands of both the elite warriors and infantry. It is unique in that the traditional methods of battlefield tactics is still preserved today, which is visible in the Satsuma style of Heki ryu.

Yumi-p1000624 A Japanese bow with arrows, dating back to Edo period. From Wikipedia.

Let’s take a brief look into the history of Heki ryu to understand its roots, and it’s further development as a battlefield-focused archery system under the…

View original post 992 more words

A Glance at Satsuma’s Heki ryu Kyujutsu: Part 2

Light in the Clouds

Here we continue with part 2 of the talk on kyujutsu, with the focus on the Satsuma style of Heki ryu. While part 1 focused on Heki ryu’s history and development, this time around we will look at the technical aspect of this archery system. If you have yet to read part 1, you can access it here.

@-cimg0576.jpg.jpg Archers wait patiently during a public exhibition. Photo from “Izumi Terebi Digest

Heki ryu is categorized as a busha style of archery, or battlefield-centric. This involves heavily structured group formations and moving in patterned sequences while shooting at targets in a wide field clad in armor. This is different from the more commonly practiced “reisha”, or ceremonial-centric, style of archery found in schools such as the Ogasawara ryu, where the attire is much lighter, and archery performed either standing up or on horseback. Kyudo, the non-violent form of kyujutsu…

View original post 1,765 more words

Nata 鉈

My Introduction to the Nata

Many years ago (about 15~) in my days of obsessively playing the Tenchu series of video games, I was exploring every nick-and-cranny of all the levels, and in one of the levels that took place in the mountain-top Buddhist monastery, I noticed a small detail where there was this sort of chopping blade sticking out of a block of wood just like a hatchet might.

A few years later I became quite interested in this short battle royal type of anime and manga called Basilisk: Kouga Ninpou Cho (and later the novel that it came from). In it I was drawn to  a character named Yashamaru from the Iga clan, and besides his distinct long-distance fighting style, he also carried as similar short cleaver, though between the three forms of media he never uses it, in the anime adaptation he does draw it so that you can see the angle and length (screen shots provided in the slideshow below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Finally, in around 2008, when I started to take studying Japanese and the ninja more seriously, I acquired a copy of the Shinobi Hiden (or Ninpiden), and before even having a translated copy, I knew what the illustration I was looking at was.


I have seen two different ways to write Nata: the first seems to be the most common way 鉈, and seemingly less common way, 屶.

The first, the dictionary tends to translate as “hatchet”, but that is an evident transliteration to English based on it’s general use. However, when we break the radicals apart we find “stretch” (它) and “metal” (金). In my mind, this gives the image of a simple elongated piece of metal; which could stretch back in history  as a tool quite some ways.

The seal script of the kanji 會

The second way, I cannot recall where I got the kanji from initially, but a quick google search shows the very same tool. One doesn’t need a dictionary to see that this kanji easily breaks down  to “mountain” (山) and “blade” or “sword” (刀), so some form of mountain blade (see the Tenchu reference above). However, the Japanese dictionaries that I have don’t have this character. Instead, Wiktionary shows that , is a variant form of . So in looking at that…

The relevant seal inscription form (see image to the right) is a variant form (through phonosemantics) of 介 “reduce” and 曾 “pile” or  “mass” (That’s a bit of an adventure on how it gets there, but current dictionary’s go in a different direction as usual). Thus this character can refer to reducing a pile of something.

Interestingly, 會, which has come to refer to “reducing the space between things”, and as such nowadays means something like “gathering”, “to meet”, etc., and is usually simplified to “awasu” or “awaseru” (会).

Nata in the Shinobi Hiden

The “Testsu” (鉄), found in the second volume of the Shinobi Hiden.

In the Shinobi Hiden, it is listed as a “Tetsu” or “Kurogane” (鉄), which basically means “Iron”. I’m not yet sure if the name changed at some point, but the common term for it is currently a “Nata” (鉈), referring to something like a hatchet.

In the Shinobi Hiden, it primarily details the proportions and materials used for it and it’s scabbard. It is even detailed at the end that a hole should be in the end of the scabbard and a “thieves gimbal lantern” can be attached.

What can be inferred

A point of interest is that it details to “Be sure the iron blade is well forged. Do this in case it is used in place of a sword, and thus the blade is of the most importance.” (Cummins, 2011). Though there is a growing opinion that the ninja would not have their own martial art, one can note that a machete or hatchet handles very differently from a sword or spear. As a result, in order to treat this tool as a sword, the biomechanics of ones martial tradition would have to allow for more than a familiarity with swords, spear, halberds, etc. but also a unity of combative methodology between any weapon.

This is precisely what we see in traditions such as Gyokko-ryu, Koto-ryu, Togakure-ryu, and similar traditions that have some part of their history in the Iga region of Japan.

The single edged Silky Nata


It is important to remember that though such a tool can be weaponized, it is not in itself a weapon and is to this day used by foresters and gardeners alike. Used like both that of a hatchet and a machete. I have herd several accounts now of North American outdoors-men (and women) now preferring the Nata over that of their choppers or hatchets for their every day use.

How the Nata ended up being associated with the ninja in a few video games and anime is honestly beyond me, but for those guys dressed up in black masks and running through the bush with their Filipino machetes, this would be the direction that they would want to go.


  • The Ninpiden – True Ninja Traditions: And the Unknown Ninja Scroll
  • Etymological Dictionary of Han/Chinese Characters. By Lawrence J. Howell, Research Collaborator Hikaru Morimoto

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑