The Japanese word neko-te translates “cat’s claws.”
In the context of medieval Japan and the ninja, neko-te refers to a weapon consisting of metal or leather finger sheaths equipped with sharpened metal blades. The sheaths slip over the end of the wearer’s finger, allowing the blades to protrude like the claws of a cat.
Neko-te were favored by female ninjas (also called kunoichi) who often poisoned the blades to increase their lethality.
The claws were used as a stabbing weapon, and sometimes also to cut or scratch an enemy (or the target of an assassination).
Kunoichi often impersonated entertainers or courtesans, which enabled them to get close to their targets. For this reason, kunoichi favored easily-concealed weapons like neko-te, daggers and fighting fans (tessen) over swords.
The image above is cut from the cover for my upcoming mystery novel, Claws of the Cat, and although the neko-te pictured here are not 100% authentic, they give the basic idea: a finger sheath with a blade that protrudes beyond the wearer’s fingernail, much like a tiger’s claws.
What’s your favorite ninja weapon? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!