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The term is thought to derive from the names of characters that resemble the three strokes in the kanji character for woman (女 onna ); said in the order they are written: ku (く) - no (ノ) - ichi (一). Early literary quotes include Enshū Senkuzuke Narabi Nihyaku In (遠舟千句附并百韵) (1680) as well as Maekuzukeshū (前句付集) (1716), which specifically associates the word with the kanji 女 supporting the etymology. The "くノ一" writing requires the use of one character from each Japanese system of writing — first hiragana, then katakana, then kanji. While hiragana and kanji can exist in the same word, katakana generally cannot appear in conjunction with the others. There are exceptions to this, e.g. "ゴミ箱", "消しゴム".
A popular etymology would derive the term from 九能一 (能 "nō" : talent) with Japanese numbers "ku" (九) for "nine", the particle "no" (の) for "and" and "ichi" (一) for "one", literally translated to "Nine and One". The meaning for this name is derived from the number of orifices on a female body. A male has nine, a female has one more (vaginal opening) and possesses the skills to make use of this orifice as well. Another theory asserts that the term is apocryphal and coined in the writings of Ninpōchō novelist Futaro Yamada.
Unlike fiction, real-life kunoichi were trained differently from male ninja. Their training focused more on disguises, poisons, and using their gender to an advantage. While they were trained in close combat, they were only to make use of this knowledge if they were caught.
They would usually disguise themselves as geisha, prostitutes, entertainers, fortune-tellers, and the like to get very close to the enemy. It is thought that they would generally seduce the soon-to-be victim and when they get close enough, would poison them, but it is just as possible they would be disguised as a household servant, allowing them many opportunities to overhear information or get close to a victim.
Kunoichi would hide weapons in their disguise, like poisoned needles in their hair and knives up their sleeves. They also often would turn a previously harmless item into a weapon. For example, they would learn how to break bones with their wooden shoes, put a hidden blade on their fan, or they would use an umbrella as a momentary shield.
- ^ Hayes, Stephen K. (1991). Ninja and Their Secret Fighting Art. Tuttle Publishing. pp. Page 16. ISBN 0804816565. http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0804816565&id=E2-ExmpupJQC&pg=PA16&lpg=PA16&ots=fZfQxcSZtj&dq=Kunoichi+female+ninja&sig=8DOA92qYzoRBG3BjlZQ4n3XwUqk.
- ^ Morris, Glenn (1996). Shadow Strategies of an American Ninja Master. Frog. pp. page 70. ISBN 1883319293. http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN1883319293&id=Prs4YZQRUz0C&pg=PA70&lpg=PA70&ots=euXsnTWpPM&dq=Kunoichi+female+ninja&sig=N61VkpDNdLPmnN3UugTgz-GKEgg.
- ^ 語源由来辞典
- ^ くノ一