Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Different Kind of Not-So-Holiday Star...

--Susan, every other Sunday
According to the Bible, and Christian tradition, the magi followed a star to find the location of the Christ child. The Star of David (or "Shield of David") is heavily associated with Judaism, and appears on the Israeli flag. The star and crescent symbolizes Islam...
... and one of the most famous ninja weapons (in fact, the only unique ninja weapon most people know) is the shuriken, also known as the "ninja star."
Actual ninja stars, on display at the Iga Museum 
The word "shuriken" literally translates "behind-the-hand knife" or "hand-hidden blade," and though most Westerners think of shuriken as "throwing stars" the word actually refers to a much more general type of weapon--a knife or blade that a person can easily conceal in the hand. 
In truth, shuriken weren't always thrown, and they came in many different shapes, only some of which were stars: 
Bo shuriken (also called "stick shuriken") were essentially sharpened iron spikes, either square or rounded in shape. This type of shuriken was generally thrown, though shinobi (the Japanese word for "ninja") also used them for stabbing in close combat.
Antique bo shuriken (Iga Ninja Museum)
Hira shuriken (also called "sha-ken"), were normally flat and came in a variety of shapes, including the familiar five and six-armed stars. 
 A display of antique hira shuriken.

This type of shuriken also took the form of crosses, triangles, and even swastikas (a shape and symbol that had very different meaning in Asia, and before the twentieth century).
18th century hira shuriken on display at the Iga Ninja Museum.
Most commonly, hira shuriken were used as fist load weapons, held or concealed in the hand with points protruding between the fingers. In close combat, pointed fist load weapons cause significant (often fatal) injuries, and make the user difficult to disarm.
The shuriken demonstrates a cardinal aspect of shinobi weapons and tactics: the emphasis on multi-purpose gear. Ninjas worked in secret, and had to avoid detection, so lightweight gear and minimal baggage were vital to survival. A tool which filled many different roles was better than one that offered only a single or limited range of purposes.
A ninja could use a shuriken as a throwing or stabbing weapon, a cutting tool, and in any other circumstance where a blade might come in handy. Although its primary purpose was as a weapon, shinobi training taught ninjas to be resourceful, creative thinkers and problem solvers.
And shuriken fill one more purpose, too...
...they just allowed me to write a murderous holiday post that's full of stars.
Wishing you, and your family, a happy, safe, and peaceful holiday season.


  1. And the same wish back atcha, Susan!

  2. Good post, Very interesting, and a happy holiday to you and your yours.

  3. Great post, Susan. I love how you get something blood-thirsty into most of your posts!

    1. Thanks Zoë - I'm not sure whether it's a gift or a curse, but I'm playing it for all it's worth.

  4. "O, little star of shuriken, deadly we see you hide..."

    1. "Beware of deep and dreamless sleep...with ninjas prowling nigh...."

  5. Star of wonder, star of night, star of murder, fear and fright. Happy Holidays. :)