Talk like a Shinobi
A Glossary of Japanese Terms

Bokken A wooden practice sword, used for sparring or solo weapons practice.
Bushido Literally, “the way of the warrior.” The samurai moral code, which emphasized loyalty, frugality, and personal honor.
Chonmage The traditional hairstyle of adult samurai males. After shaving the pate, the remaining hair was oiled and tied in a tail, which was then folded back and forth on top of the head.
Daimyo A samurai lord, usually the ruler of a province and/or the head of a samurai clan.
Dōshin The medieval Japanese equivalent of a “beat cop” or policeman.
Futon A thin padded mattress, small and pliable enough to be folded and stored out of sight during the day.
Genpuku A traditional samurai coming-of-age ceremony, after which a boy was allowed to wear swords and take on the responsibilities of an adult.
Geta Traditional Japanese sandals (resembling flip-flops) with a raised wooden base and fabric thongs that wrapped around the wearer’s big toe.
Hakama Loose, pleated pants worn over kimono or beneath a tunic or surcoat.
Inkan A personal seal, used in place of a signature on official documents.
Jitte A long wooden or metal nightstick with a forward-pointing hook at the top of the hand grip; carried by dōshin as both a weapon and a symbol of office.
Kaginawa A medieval Japanese grappling hook consisting of a metal hook (or hooks) attached to a length of rope.
Kaishakunin The samurai who acts as the “second” for another samurai during the seppuku ceremony.
Kami The Japanese word for “god” or “divine spirit;” used to describe gods, the spirits inhabiting natural objects, and certain natural forces of divine origin.
Kata Literally, “form(s).” A detailed pattern or set of movements used to practice martial skills and combat techniques, performed either with or without a weapon.
Katana The longer of the two swords worn by a samurai. (The shorter one is the wakizashi.)
Kimono Literally, “a thing to wear.” A full-length wrap-around robe traditionally worn by Japanese people of all ages and genders.
Koban A gold coin which came into widespread use in Japan during the later medieval period.
Koku A Japanese unit of measurement, equal to the amount of rice required to feed one person for one year.
Kunoichi A female shinobi.
Kuri The kitchen in a Zen Buddhist monastery.
Menpo (or mempo) An armored mask which covered the wearer’s face, with holes for the eyes and mouth.
Menhari-gata A type of tessen (bladed war fan) containing sharpened metal ribs which allowed the fan to be used as a weapon.
Miso A traditional Japanese food paste made from fermented soybeans (or, sometimes, rice or barley).
Mon An emblem or crest used to identify a Japanese family or clan.
Naginata A weapon featuring a long wooden shaft with a curved blade on one end, similar to a European glaive.
Neko-te Literally: “cat’s claws.” A weapon consisting of metal or leather finger sheaths equipped with sharpened metal blades. The sheaths slipped over the end the wearer’s finger, allowing the blades to protrude like the claws of a cat.
Noren A traditional Japanese doorway hanging, with a slit cut up the center to permit passage.
Nuki-ashi A specialized method of walking with sweeping, careful steps to minimize noise; one of many stealthy movements utilized by shinobi.
Obi A wide sash wrapped around the waist to hold a kimono closed, worn by people of all ages and genders.
Odoshi A lacing technique used to connect the plates of lamellar armor.
Oe The large central living space in a Japanese home, which featured a sunken hearth and often served as a combination of kitchen, reception room and living space.
Pontocho One of Kyoto’s “hanamachi” (geisha and courtesan) districts, containing geisha houses, teahouses, brothels, restaurants, and similar businesses.
Ronin A masterless samurai.
Ryogin-an One of the sub-temples located on the grounds of Tofuku-ji.
Literally, “school.” Shinobi clans used this term as a combination identifier and association name. (Hiro Hattori is a member of the Iga Ryu.)
Sake (also “saké”.) An alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice.
Sakura An ornamental cherry blossom tree (Prunus serrulata) and/or cherry blossoms.
-sama A suffix used to show even higher respect than -san.
Samurai A member of the medieval Japanese nobility, the warrior caste that formed the highest-ranking social class.
-san A suffix used to show respect.
Seppuku A form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment, originally used only by samurai.
Shamisen A traditional Japanese instrument with a long neck and resonating strings strung across a drum-like wooden base. The instrument is played by plucking the strings with a plectrum.
Shinobi Literally, “shadowed person.” Shinobi is the Japanese pronunciation of the characters which many Westerners pronounce “ninja.” (“Ninja” is based on a Chinese pronunciation.)
Shinto The indigenous spirituality or religion of Japan, sometimes also called “kami-no-michi.”
Shogun The military dictator and commander who acted as de facto ruler of medieval Japan.
Shuko (also “tegaki-shuko”) spiked metal bands worn on the hands to aid in climbing walls, trees and other vertical surfaces.
Shuriken An easily concealed, palm-sized weapon made of metal and often shaped like a cross or star, which shinobi used for throwing or as a hand-held weapon in close combat.
Tabi An ankle-length Japanese sock with a separation between the big toe and other toes to facilitate the use of sandals and other traditional Japanese footwear.
Tanto A fixed-blade dagger with a single or double-edged blade measuring 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) in length.
Tatami A traditional Japanese mat-style floor covering made in standard sizes, with the length measuring exactly twice its width. Tatami usually contained a straw core covered with grass or rushes.
Tengu A supernatural demon (“monster-spirit”) from Japanese folklore, often depicted as a human-avian hybrid or with a long, hooked nose reminiscent of a beak.
Tessen A bladed war fan with ribs made of sharpened metal. The bladed ribs were disguised so that, when closed, the tessen looked like a harmless wood and paper fan.
Tetsubishi Metal caltrops, often used by shinobi to distract or slow pursuers.
Tofuku-ji A Zen Buddhist temple located in Kyoto.
Tokonoma A decorative alcove or recessed space set into the wall of a Japanese room. The tokonoma typically held a piece of art, a flower arrangement, or a hanging scroll.
Torii A traditional, stylized Japanese gate most commonly found at the entrance to Shinto shrines.
Tsuten-kyo A covered wooden bridge located on the grounds of Tofuku-ji (a Buddhist temple in Kyoto).
Wakizashi The shorter of the two words worn by a samurai. (The longer one is the katana.)
Yoriki An assistant magistrate, tasked with supervising doshin and other practical and administrative law enforcement duties.