It’s pretty ironic to speak about a well-renown ninja, considering that ninjas acted in secret and needed to maintain this secrecy in order to protect themselves. It seems almost counter-intuitive for a ninja to become famous, or well known enough that outsiders could piece together information about their life. This is why there are so few known ninjas in history, but of course there are some exceptions to that rule, as we’ve seen with Hattori Hanzo for example. But if there’s anything rarer than a ninja, it’s probably a female ninja. The only recorded female ninja in history, aside from her disciples, appears to be Mochizuki Chiyome, who has since been described as a spy or agent, who operated during the feudal era, a time where bloodshed was pretty much an everyday occurrence.
But along with the clans declaring war on each other, and Daimyo challenging one another to see who blinks first, there was another conflict waging in the shadows, one that was led by spies, assassins, and what you could indeed call ninjas. We know that ninjas served various samurai lords, some of them having a more honorable bond, and others merely serving for money. In a sense, some ninjas were merely mercenaries selling their skills to the highest bidder. But Mochizuki Chiyome wasn’t born into any particular ninja clan. Her earliest notable event seems to be the marrying of Moritoki, a member of the powerful Takeda clan and nephew to the clan leader Takeda Shingen. It was during this time that the Takeda clan was warring with the Uesugi and Tokugawa clans for the mainland of Japan, known as Honshu. But Takeda Shingen was under the threat of assassination quite often, whereby his own entourages would be infiltrated by spies and riddled with traitors. So he set to work in creating his own network of spies to regain control over his own men, and to also weed out the rotten ones.
This network of spies would also be tasked with infiltrating the enemy strongholds to learn secrets and potential battle strategies. But unfortunately for Mochizuki Chiyome, her husband died on the battlefield in 1561 in a possible skirmish with the Tokugawa clan. Struck with grief, Chiyome was approached by Takeda Shingen, who you might say, took advantage of her emotional state and offered her revenge. He would grant her the role of seeking out information on their enemies, setting her on a path where she would establish a network that Takeda Shingen had always envisioned. Whether she was guided by Takeda in her efforts is unclear, though it is unlikely that Takeda would have had the time to invest in the cultivation of her role.
Chiyome would disguise herself as a charitable noblewoman, seeking out to do good amongst a land riddled with so much evil. It’s through this act that she was set to draw in those who were lost, and were looking for something or someone to believe in, in a time where blood and chaos presided over all. Having established something of a flock, she would set up her own ninja academy that was disguised as a religious school for underprivileged girls, these such girls being the main group she brought in under her guidance. She would travel around Koga and other nearby provinces in search of those who would join her ninja entourage. Under the guise of a rich noblewoman seeking to do good, she would visit villages and towns that had been pillaged by marauding samurais, otherwise known as ronin. She would take orphan girls under her wing, promising them safety and sanctuary, in a time when they would so desperately need it. Once recruited, she would lead them back to her school, whereby her Takeda-funded associates would grant them a formal education. However, they were also said to be taught in the art of spying, infiltration, sabotage, and even taught how to kill a man in the quickest way.
Once Chiyome was happy with the progress each girl made, they were sent off into the street to infiltrate settlements controlled by Takeda’s enemies. They were taught how to hide in plain sight and how to role-play in order to fit a certain character for certain situations. They were taught the art of seduction most prominently, for what faster to a way to a man’s head. They were also taught what to look for once they were close to an enemy, as well as how to record and smuggle information, and even how to withstand torture. Mochizuki Chiyome’s women would disguise themselves in a variety of different roles, most notably bar-maids, who were likely to hear the spilling of secrets after soldiers had a few drinks, or as courtesans, who would be privy to more intimate conversations due to the nature of their role. Others infiltrated the households of Daimyo as servants, where they would be able to move around the enemy lord’s house freely in search of information and secrets. Some would even marry enemy samurai after pretending to be high-esteemed noblewoman. Many took on the guise of priestesses and nuns, allowing them to travel between settlements unburdened, as well as giving them the opportunity to hear the confessions of enemies.
Due to the patriarchal society of feudal Japan, woman were not considered as threats in the affairs of war, and so this allowed Chiyome’s woman to successfully disrupt operations for years without ever being suspected. They would become so successful at what they did, that Takeda Shingen began winning more and more battles. It can’t be said for certain what information allowed Shingen to win which battle, but the man was standing toe-to-toe with Nobunaga at one point, and even defeated the combined forces of Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu at the Battle of Mikatagahara. He was clearly doing something right. In fact rumors began to spread through the Uesugi and Tokugawa camps that there were female demons pouncing through the land with hexes and black magic.
By the end of 1573, where Takeda Shingen had either supposedly died of cancer or some unnamed disease, or perhaps killed by a long-ranged marksman while in his camp, Mochizuki Chiyome would have around 300 women working for her as spies and assassins. When Takeda Shingen was announced dead, Chiyome and her band of ninjas would seem to vanish from the record. There’s a great deal of speculation as to what fate met Mochizuki Chiyome. Some say she was killed By Tokugawa forces after she tried to avenge Shingen’s death. Others say that the other lords of the Takeda clan were not sold on the idea of having women working for them, so either dissolved the ninja clan or had them killed. Another theory is that Chiyome understood that she could no longer operate without Shingen’s guidance, and chose to dissolve the clan before retreating to a life of peace. Another more insidious idea is that Chiyome had a falling out with Shingen, and this would lead her to sneak poison into Shingen’s camp, whereby she or one of her ninja disciples would apply a lethal dose to him. The marksman mentioned earlier, who some say is responsible for the shooting and killing of Shingen, could very well have been Chiyome herself, having snuck her way through the camp; or just as easily, one of her women. Did Mochizuki Chiyome fade out into the shadows to live her life out to the fullest? Or was she in too deep, struggling against the Tokugawa uprising that would soon dominate Japan? Maybe she did kill Takeda Shingen, considering the details around his death are mysterious to say the least. We’ll likely never know, as a good ninja would not leave vital information to be discovered.
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