Sticks and Stones may break your bones, but blowguns can kill you

Not too long ago, I remember seeing a post on Facebook about the question if Shinobi or ninja used blowguns and whether the tips of the darts were poisoned or not. At the time I didn’t have anything to share but recently I came across a few things regarding blowguns, stone throwing and the Shinobi that I would like to share with everyone.

The origins of the art of Fukiya-jutsu (吹矢術) or blowguns in Japan are not entirely clear. They most certainly existed in the country, but oddly enough, very little about them was recorded.

Fukiya in Japan have been developed as a hunting tools, as a weapon of assassination, and even as a recreational toy.

There is no hard evidence in the historical record of Japan regarding the concept of applying poison to the tips of blowgun darts, shuriken or arrows. But… we do know, for a fact, that Shinobi did have extensive knowledge of various poisons and tranquilizers.

Of course, the killing power of a blowgun dart without poison is naturally very limited. That being said, the technique of using blowguns as an assassination weapon was still handed down and practiced in secret by the shinobi. Due to ninjutsu’s secretive nature, the art or skill was not widely known to the general public.

In the Yasuda Ryu ninjutsu densho from the late Edo Period that I have been slowly translating on Facebook there is a passage mentioning blowguns. Actually, the passage is about the Yasuda Ryu’s own secret recipe for Shinobinogami (矢寿駄流忍紙), a special method of waterproofing and treating paper so it can be used for multiple purposes during missions. The paper was thickly coated with a special oil and then cut into strips that were about 15 centimeters wide and 30 centimeters in length. The Yasuda Ryu ninja would carry 3 to 5 sheets or so of this paper and would often tightly wrap their walking staffs or sword scabbards with this paper and remove it as needed. The densho lists many potential uses for the paper material such as, placing on wounds, for writing messages, making maps, leaving behind as path markers, to wrap things in, waterproofing a shelter, and many other clever ideas, including for making blowgun tubes and blowgun darts. So, we know for sure at least that blowguns were used by some schools of ninjutsu in the late Edo Period. While the same Densho also includes recipes for poisons, they do not discuss delivering them with blowguns. That was most likely a very well-kept secret among the clan.

As a modern form of entertainment, the art of Fukiyajutsu has been handed down in Shizuoka and Ehime prefectures since the Edo period, and even now there is a dojo that keeps the traditions of Fukiyajutsu alive. At the Kyuto Renshinkan Dojo (弓刀錬心舘道場), Fukiyajutsu is not just a sport. It is considered Budo or Bujutsu. In this dojo, Fukiyajutsu is taught in parallel with Heki-Ryu Hankyujutsu (日置流半弓術) or the art of the short bow.

During the Edo period, at popular spots called Yaba (矢場), or “the place of arrows”, Fukiya contests were enjoyed as a form of entertainments for the common people, right alongside the short-bow games.

On a small side note, Japan had some very odd games, to the modern mind anyway. One such game was called Ishigassen (石合戦) or Injiuchi (印地打ち). It was a dangerous game involving throwing stones and other objects at each other. Sounds fun right?… It was performed in various parts of Japan since ancient times. In the old days it was adults that played but as time went by it became an annual event for the younger generation in the late modern period. According to the old text known as the “Kiyusho” (嬉遊笑), boys would hold these stone battles with each other across the Sumida and Asakusa Rivers during the Dango Boy’s festival. Sometimes they would also swing sticks and swords. It was only supposed to be done mock style but there were often times where people were cut and killed. For more information on this crazy game please click the following link;

I hope you enjoyed this little essay on Fukiyajutsu! Please stay home, stay safe, stay healthy!

Sean Askew

Bujinkan Kokusai Renkoumyo


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