Some Commonly Used Terms


We’re not shinobi snobs here, or trying to talk down to anyone, but we do tend to use a lot of words that the more casual reader may find ‘insider’ to either the film or martial arts communities. Here’s a few definitions for the sake of clarity:

** Synonyms for NINJA - we use the term “shinobi” a lot, it’s interchangeable with ninja. After reading the superb Path of the Assassin for the past few years, we’ve also fallen in love with the term “suppa” - which seems used by someone of higher rank to describe a ninja in a service role. You’ll also see us call ninja agents shadows quite a bit.

Oh, and for the record, the plural of ninja is ninja, NOT ninjas

CHAMBARA (or Chanbara) - a sub genre of jidai-geki wherein the emphasis is on swordplay, basically samurai cinema.

EDO - the feudal era capital city of Japan, and setting for many films

IGA – historic and fabled region of Japan that gave birth to the ninja 

JIDAI-GEKI - ”period drama” cinema, mainly set during the feudal (warring states) era.

KAMA - a small, handheld farmer’s sickle for cutting rice, often co-opted as a martial arts weapon. Exaggerated kamas look like reaper scythe’s, and when combined with a long chain anchored to the handle make for an iconic ninja weapon.

KATANA - the longer of the two commonly used samurai swords

KOGA – rival province of Iga

KUNOICHI - a female ninja, often portrayed as using feminine charms to compensate for physical might. 

RETROSHINOBIFICATION - OK, we made this up, but it’s a great word! Many ture-life and legendary characters in Japanese history were at one point credited with being ninja, wether they were or not. Ishikawa Goemon is historically a famous theif, but has been portrayed as a shadow-skilled vagabond in books, and an outright black-suited ninja in five decades of popular movies. Thus, he’s been retro-shinobi-fied… 

SHADOW SKILLS - we’ll use this catch-all phrase to refer to the specialized skill sets ninja-for-hire possessed that common samurai did not. They included commando tactics, castle arson techniques, use of disguises, fashioning of outré weaponry, communicating with codes, methods of observation, use of poisons and smoke, etc. and so forth. 

SHURIKEN - aka the ninja star – although the term also encompasses throwing spikes (bo shuriken) which some argue were much more common than the iconic throwing discs or wheels.

TOAD MAGIC - for some reason, toads are commonly associated with trouble-making ninja wizards, and the ability to summon a giant castle-destroying toad has given many a screen villain a fabulous entrance. Sometimes, if a villain is in, say, a fire-breathing dragon or enormous spider mood, the hero will then show up on a giant toad, usually riding it’s head, concentrating on the arcane hand gesture that seems to keep it under his control.

WAKIZASHI - a shorter version of the Katana, often used by silver screen ninja and sword girls.

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