Glossary of Terms
Ashigaru - A commoner trained in the military arts; a non-samurai
warrior, always an infantryman.
Bakemono - Ghostly goblins or bogeymen; general term for weird
Bo - Quarterstaff, full name roku-shaku-bo or six-foot-staff.
Bosatsu - A Buddha who has delayed entry to Nirvana to help
mankind; a Buddhist deity.
Bu - A silver coin, value 1 koku.
Buddha - Enlightened one; deity of the Buddhist religion.
Buke - A social caste consisting of the military aristocracy, the
samurai. Often refers to jizamurai and ronin as well.
Bukkyo-No-Otera - Buddhist temple.
Bushi - A noble warrior; any samurai.
Bushido - Literally The Way of the Warrior; the honor code of the
samurai; similar in concept to western chivalric codes.
Butsudan - "Buddha box"; a Buddhist shrine in a family home.
Butsudo - Another name for Buddhism.
Cha-No-Yo - The art and practice of the tea ceremony; a fine art.
Chunin - A middleman for a heimin organization; a contact man for
a ninja family, overseer of genin; a contact man for a yakuza organization.
Daimyo - A feudal overlord, literally "great name," minimum income
of 10,000 koku.
Dai-Sho - The two swords of a samurai, literally "long and short,"
wearing the dai-sho was restricted to buke and physicians.
Doka - Ninja device for holding a live coal, used to warm hands and
Eta - The untouchables; lowest social caste; those who deal with
corpses, excrement, filth, animal slaughtering etc.; also those outside
normal society such as ninja, thieves and entertainers.
Fukushu - A blood feud.
Funshi - Seppuku performed to shame an otherwise untouchable foe.
Interesting concept, that. "I am going to shame you by killing myself."
No wonder I can't really grasp that, anyways - I am a Westerner.
Genin - A ninja agent. Literally, "low man."
Giri - Literally "duty"; interlocking code of obligations which
drives much of Nipponese society.
Go - Strategy game popular with buke and kuge, corresponds to
chess in the West.
Gokenin - Middle ranking samurai retainer; literally
Hatamoto - Highest rank of samurai retainer; literally
Heimin - A commoner, social caste of farmers, artisans,
Hinin - Lowest strata of the eta; dealers in deaths and corpses,
such as undertakers and executioners.
Hiragana - Phonetic alphabet for Nipponese; used for legal
documents, Shinto texts, etc.
Hojojutsu - Techniques of rapid binding of foes.
I Ching - Taoist book of divination used in a sorcerous ritual.
Iaijutsu - Fast-draw skill with the katana.
Jigai - Ritual suicide; reserved for female members of the buke
caste; performed by slitting the throat. I wonder if it is mentally
healthy to have so many words for different suicide methods.
Jiin - A Buddhist temple.
Jinga - A Shinto shrine.
Jitte - Metal truncheon with sword-catching tines; used as a
symbol of authority by police officers.
Jizamurai - Farmer samurai; corresponds roughly to European
Jo - Short club or baton, used like a mace.
Jonin - Head of a ninja family; literally, "high man".
Kachi - Lower ranking members of a samurai clan.
Kago - A palanquin, or sedan chair, used by wealthy for travel.
Kama - Farmer's sickle; used as a weapon when necessary;
edged weapon component of a kusari-gama.
Kami - Literally "superior being," applies to Shinto deities
and animalistic spirits; used to designate almost any sort of non-demonic
Kamidana - "God shelf"; Shinto shrine found in a private home.
Kanji - Chinese pictographic writing; used for Buddhist texts,
sorcerous texts, imperial documents, etc.
Kannuchi - Shinto priest serving as full-time keeper of a shrine.
Kanshi - Seppuku performed to reprove the samurai's lord.
Karma - Good or bad "luck" in this life as reward or punishment
due to actions in previous lives; fate.
Katakana - Phonetic alphabet for writing Nipponese; used for
common documents, street signs, public notices, etc.
Katakiuchi - Legal vendetta.
Katana - Samurai sword, the "dai" of dai-sho.
Kawa-naga - A rope and grappling hook, used as a weapon by Ninja.
Kenjutsu - The martial art of the sword, as opposed to
Kendo, The Way of the Sword.
Kiseru - A solid metal smoking pipe sometimes used as a weapon,
and occasionally even fitted with handguards. It is usually used by yakuza
and other lowlifes.
Kirisutegomen - The right of a samurai to immediately kill a
member of a lower caste who is acting improperly; invoked for insults, real
or imagined; literally "killing and going away."
Koban - A gold coin, value 3 koku.
Kobun - Member of a yakuza clan. An underboss.
Koku - Measure of rice sufficient to feed one man for one year,
approximately 5 bushels; a measure of wealth; term can refer to actual rice
or the equivalent value in goods or money.
Koshigumi - A favored individual in a samurai clan who is not
necessarily a member of that clan.
Kuge - Nobleman of the Imperial aristocracy; kuge outrank samurai
socially but few hold actual political or military power.
Kuji-kiri - "Nine Ways Cutting", hand positions used to focus a
Ninja's mind on the task at hand. Ascribed supernatural powers.
Kusari-gama - A weapon consisting of a sickle (gama) and a length
of chain (kusari) or rope with a weighted end; used by Ninja and peasants
as a weapon.
Kyunin - Higher ranking members of a samurai clan, usually
consisting of the lord's family, the council of elders, and any koshigumi.
Kyutetsu-shoge - A ninja weapon consisting of a hooked knife and
a weight or ring linked by rope; a climbing implement.
Mandala - A mystic, symbol-encrusted object used by Nipponese
Masakari - A battle-axe.
Matsuri - A festival.
Mikado - The divine emperor of Nippon; literally "heavenly
gate/road/way of life". The word "do" is flexible, as one can readily
Mon - A copper coin, 360 mon equals 1 koku; also a heraldic
device or family crest.
Myo-O - Vanquishers of Evil; Buddhist deities.
Naginata - Polearm with sword-like blade on the end.
Nawanukejutsu - Techniques of escape from bindings.
Nekode - A ninja weapon and climbing device.
Nengo - An era, a time period of variable length.
Ninja - Member of that counterculture; any assassin, spy, or
Ninjato - Ninja sword; straight-bladed sword somewhat smaller
than a katana, often of poor or inferior materials.
Ninjo - A term referring to the more tender human feelings such
as mercy and love; in Nipponese tragedies ninjo often conflicts with giri
resulting in the death of the hero. Here we go again, more death.
Nirvana - The removal from the eternal circle of reincarnation;
state of non-existence sought by Buddhists.
Nodachi - Large form of the katana.
Nunchaku - Jointed end of a grain flail, used as a weapon.
Oban - A gold coin worth 10 koku.
Oni - Any sort of demon or demonic being.
Oyabun - Head of a yakuza family; leader of any heimin
Ri - Measure of distance equal to 2.4 miles.
Risshi - An underpriest at a Buddhist temple.
Ronin - Literally "wave man"; member of buke caste not in service
to a lord; ronin are technically outside Nipponese society. The term
"wave man" has an interesting origin. Consider the Nipponese islands as a
sea, and then picture many men endlessly wandering this sea, never settling
down, like a restless wave weaving back and forth across the islands. A
rather poetic term for a bunch of (usually) crude brutes with swords.
Saiminjutsu - Ninja hypnotic technique; source of allegedly
supernatural powers, together with kuji-kiri.
Sake - Alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice; usually
Samurai - Member of the buke caste owing service to a lord;
Seppuku - Ritual suicide; specifically for male members of the
buke caste; self-evisceration.
Shaku - Measure of distance roughly equivalent to 1 foot.
Shinobi-zue - A stick or staff concealing a weapon, used by
Shikken - The title used by the Hojo clan regents of the shogun.
Shinto - Native animalistic religion.
Shochu - A potent alcoholic drink made from distilled sake dregs.
Shogun - Military ruler of Nippon; full title is Sei-i-tai-shogun;
literally "great barbarian-subduing generalissimo". Quite a mouthful.
Sohei - Martial monks maintained as troops by some Buddhist
Sojo - An abbot of a Buddhist temple.
Soryo - An ordinary Buddhist priest.
Sumotori - Practitioners of the ancient ritualistic martial art of
Sumo; usually rough, vulgar fellows yet well regarded as athletic
celebrities; retired wrestlers occasionally fall into work as yakuza
Tanto - Knife or dagger.
Ten - Heavenly guardians; Buddhist deities.
Tessen - A metal or metal-reinforced fan, used as a (concealable)
weapon by buke or kuge.
Tetsubo - Literally "iron-staff"; a large staff of metal or
metal-reinforced wood used as a heavy club.
Tetsubishi - Small caltrops used by ninja to discourage pursuit.
Toki - Nipponese division of time, equals 2 western hours.
Tonfa - Crank handle for a millstone, used as a weapon by the
Torii - Distinctive arch at entrance to Shinto shrines.
Wa - Inner harmony; the sense of peace gained by being one with
Wakizashi - Short sword; the "sho" of the dai-sho.
Wako - Pirate, buccaneer, or viking-style raider.
Yadomejutsu - Martial art of cutting down or parrying arrows.
Yakuza - The professional criminals of Nippon; literally
"gambler" from early occupation; comparable to the Mafia in origin, style
and interests. Does usually observe a sort of internal honor.
Yamabushi - A martial monk of a Buddhist sect, often more
mystically inclined than the more common sohei martial monks. Usually highly
trained and motivated.
Yari - Nipponese name for a specific type of spear.
Yogen - Study of mysterious powders, drugs and compounds used by
the Ninja; comparable to the art of alchemy.
Yojimbo - A bodyguard.
Yomi - The Shinto underworld.