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Edo period shuriken in Odawara Castle Museum, Japan

A shuriken (Japanese 手裏剣; literally: "sword hidden in the hand") is a traditional Japanese concealed weapon that was generally for throwing, and sometimes stabbing or slashing. They are sharpened hand-held blades made from a variety of everyday items such as needles, nails, and knives, as well as coins, washers, and other flat plates of metal.

Shuriken are commonly known in the West as "throwing stars", though they took many different shapes and designs during the time they were used. The major varieties of shuriken are the bō shuriken (棒手裏剣, stick shuriken) and the hira shuriken (平手裏剣, flat shuriken) or shaken (車剣, also read as kurumaken, wheel shuriken).

Shuriken were mainly a supplemental weapon to the more commonly used katana (sword) or yari (spear) in a warrior's arsenal, though they often played a pivotal tactical role in battle. The art of wielding the shuriken is known as shurikenjutsu, and was mainly taught as a minor part of the martial arts curriculum of many famous schools, such as Yagyū Shinkage-ryū, Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū, Ittō-ryū, Kukishin-ryū and Togakure-ryū.



Six bo-shuriken

Bo-shuriken is a throwing weapon consisting of a straight, iron or steel spike, usually four-sided but sometimes round or octagonal in shape. They are usually single-pointed, but there are some that are double-pointed. The length of bo-shuriken ranges from 12 to 21 cm (5–8 1/2 in) and the average weight was from 35 to 150 grams (1.2–5.4 ounces). The bo-shuriken is thrown in a number of ways, such as overhead, underarm, sideways and rearwards, but in each case, the throw involved the blade sliding out of the hand through the fingers in a smooth, controlled flight. This is not to be confused with the kunai, which is a thrusting and stabbing implement that is sometimes thrown.

The major forms of throw are the jiki da-ho (direct hit method), and the han-ten da-ho (turning hit method). These two forms are technically different, in that the former does not allow the blade to spin before it hits the target, while the latter requires that the blade spin before it hits the target.

Bo-shuriken were constructed from a wide variety of everyday items, and thus there are many shapes and sizes. Some derive their name from the materials they were fashioned from, such as kugi-gata (nail form), hari-gata (needle form) and tanto-gata (knife form); others are named after the object to which they appear similar, such as hoko-gata (spear form), matsuba-gata (pine-needle form) while others were simply named after the object that was thrown, such as kankyuto (piercing tool form), kunai-gata (utility tool form), or teppan (plate metal) and biao (pin).

Other items were also thrown as in the fashion of bo-shuriken, such as kogai (ornamental hairpin), kogata (utility knife) and hashi (chopsticks), although these items were not associated with any particular school of shurikenjutsu, rather they were more likely just thrown at opportune moments by a skilled practitioner who was skilled in a particular method or school.



The origins of the bo-shuriken in Japan are still unclear despite continuing research in this area. This is partly because shurikenjutsu is a secretive art, and also to the fact that throughout early Japanese history there were actually many independent innovators of the skill of throwing long, thin objects. The earliest known mention of a school teaching shurikenjutsu is Ganritsu Ryu, prevalent during the 1600s. This school utilized a long thin implement with a bulbous head, thought to be derived from the arrow. Existing examples of blades used by this school appear to exhibit a mixture of an arrow's shape with that of a needle traditionally used in Japanese leatherwork and armor manufacture.

There are also earlier mentions in written records, such as the Osaka Gunki (大阪軍記, the military records of Osaka), of the standard knife and short sword being thrown in battle, and Miyamoto Musashi is said to have won a duel by throwing his short sword at his opponent, killing him.


Modern hira-shuriken by FURY

Hira-shuriken are constructed from thin, flat plates of metal derived from a variety of sources including hishi-gane (coins), kugi-nuki (carpentry tools), spools, and senban (nail removers), and generally resemble popular conceptions of shuriken. In modern popular culture, these are called "throwing stars" or "ninja stars". They often have a hole in the center and possess a fairly thin blade sharpened only at the tip. The holes derive from their source in items that had holes - old coins, washers, and nail-removing tools. This proved convenient for the shuriken user, as well, as the weapons could be strung on a string or dowel in the belt for transport, and the hole also had aerodynamic and weighting effects that aided the flight of the blade after it was thrown.

There is a wide variety of forms of hira-shuriken and they are now usually identified by the number of points the blades possess. As with bo-shuriken, the various shapes of hira-shuriken were usually representative of a particular school (ryu) or region that preferred the use of such shapes, and it is therefore possible to identify the school by the type of blade used.


Contrary to popular belief, shuriken were not primarily intended as a killing weapon, but rather as a secondary weapon that sometimes played a role supportive to a warrior's main weapon, usually the sword or spear, but it could be deadly in the hands of a skillful shinobi. Shuriken were primarily used to cause either nuisance or distraction.[1] Targets were primarily the eyes, face, hands, or the feet, the areas most exposed by a samurai's armor. The shuriken would also sometimes be thrown in a way that cuts the opponent and become lost later, causing the opponent to believe that they were cut by an invisible swordsman.

Shuriken, especially hira-shuriken, were also used in other novel ways – they might be embedded in the ground, injuring those who stepped on them (similar to a caltrop), or wrapped in fuse to be lit and thrown to cause fire. They can also be used as a handheld striking weapon in close combat.

There are reports of shuriken being coated with poison intended either for a throwing target or for whoever may pick them up when left in a conspicuous place. Other reports indicate that shuriken may have been buried in dirt or animal feces and allowed to rust and harbor the anaerobic bacterium Clostridium tetani – if the point penetrated a victim deeply enough the bacteria transferred into the wound could cause a then incurable tetanus infection.

Shuriken are a simple weapon, but their historical value, thanks to their wide variety of uses and the ready availability of material from which they could be made, has increased. Unlike katana and other bladed weapons, antique shuriken are not often well preserved, largely due to their original status as throwaway weapons.


Modern shuriken, unlike historical ones, are most often made of stainless steel and are commercially available in many knife shops in Europe and North America or online. They are illegal to possess or carry in many countries (e.g., Germany[2]) and in some countries such as the United States, some regions prohibit them (e.g., California[3], Indiana [4]), while others allow them. In some cases they may also be allowed, but still subject to specific local legislation. Owners may be required to possess a certificate for the possession of knives.

In modern popular culture

Shuriken are popularly believed to have been used by Japanese ninja. They can be seen in a wide range of modern media set in both modern and ancient settings. While shuriken are almost always associated with ninja and to a lesser extent other thieves and assassins, they are sometimes seen as wholly separate from that context. Often used is a fictional enlarged version of shuriken, called fūma shuriken.

On some occasions, shuriken are actually fired from guns (such like in the video games Painkiller and Tyrian 2000; in the tabletop board game Warhammer 40,000, the Eldar race use guns that shoot razor-sharp rounded shuriken).

Occasionally, the use of shuriken does not even involve a human throwing them (in the film Gamera vs. Guiron, monster Guiron fires four-point shuriken from the sides of his head, in the film Alien vs. Predator, the Predator's disc changed from an actual disc into a shuriken-style throwing star, and in the film Jeepers Creepers 2 the monster Creeper uses shuriken made of human bones).

Notable examples of shuriken in popular culture include:

  • DotA Allstars (video game): A hero called Gondar has a skill 'Shuriken toss' as his 3rd ability.
  • Aero Fighters (video game): the FSX fighter jet shoots shuriken-shaped projectiles, upgradable to kunai.
  • Mortal Kombat 4 (video game): Reiko and Jarek both use shuriken as their weapon of choice during combat.
  • In various Batman media, the Joker, on some occasions, use modified playing cards in the same manner as one would with a shuriken.
  • Conan the Adventurer (TV series): an episode is named "Sword, Sai & Shuriken". Magical shuriken are weapons of the major character Jezmine in the series.
  • Final Fantasy VII (video game), Yuffie Kisaragi uses enormous shuriken as her primary weapon.
  • Gatchaman (TV series): The members of the Science Ninja Team (Team Gatchaman) use feather shuriken, and they are used frequently by G2 (Joe the Condor).
  • Hot Rod (film): during a fight scene between Rod and his father, the latter throws a shuriken at Rod that gets embedded in his chest.
  • Jet Force Gemini (video game): one of the weapons available for use is a shuriken that homes in on enemies.
  • Midnight: A Gangster Love Story (novel): the eponymous protagonist's visit to an apple orchard in upstate New York culminates with an unrealistic visit to a nearby blacksmith's shop, where he asks to have a shuriken made to his specifications.
  • Naruto (TV series): Shows up repeatedly as weapon used by all ninja.
  • Neuromancer (novel): the protagonist, Case, is fascinated by shuriken. He is later bought one by Molly.
  • Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger (TV series): the sixth and final Ranger to appear was Tenkuu Ninja Shurikenger (Green Samurai Ranger in the American version Power Rangers: Ninja Storm), whose symbol on Shurikenger's shinobi medal was a green eight-point hira-shuriken. Also in Hurricaneger, the three Hurricaneger fired shuriken from their Hurricane Gyro henshin devices (replaced with lasers in Ninja Storm due to U.S. television regulations).
  • Sam Noir: the title character's love interest, Jasmine, is killed by four throwing stars in the back.
  • Shadow Warrior (video game): the player character Lo Wang uses shuriken as weapon, and states: "I love the shuriken".
  • Shinobi (video game): Joe Musashi's primary weapon is the shuriken. They are also primary weapon of his son Hayate in Shadow Dancer.
  • Sluggy Freelance (online comic): the character Oasis throws shuriken as a harrying tactic and to wound fleeing opponents, in particular in her fight with Gwynn on the cliff in the Poconos, and her iconic duel with Bun-bun.
  • South Park (TV series): in the episode "Good Times with Weapons," Kenny is depicted wielding a pair of shuriken, and maiming Butters with them.
  • You Only Live Twice (film): the character Tiger Tanaka saves James Bond from being killed by Blofeld's gun by means of a throwing star. A similar thing happens in the film Tomorrow Never Dies, when the character Wai Lin saves James Bond from being shot by a henchman.

French hip-hop MC Shurik'n is named after shuriken.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ (2009-11-07).
  3. ^ California Penal Code Section 12020 outlaws the manufacture, import, sale, and possession of a large number of weapons (including shuriken) with limited exceptions for law enforcement and the motion picture industry.
  4. ^ | IC 35-47-5-12 bans the possession of "Chinese throwing stars."


  • Fujita, Seiko (1928) Zukai Shurikenjutsu (An Overview of Shuriken-jutsu)
  • Nawa, Yumio (1962) Kakushi Buki Soran (An Overview of Hidden Weapons)
  • Finn, Michael (1983) Art of Shuriken Jutsu
  • Hammond, Billy (1985) Shuriken jutsu: The Japanese Art of Projectile Throwing A.E.L.S
  • Shirakami, Eizo (1985) Shurikendo: My Study of the Way of Shuriken
  • Iwai, Kohaku (1999) Hibuki no Subete ga Wakaru Hon (Hidden Weapons) BAB, Japan
  • Kono, Yoshinori (1996) Toru Shirai: Founder of Tenshin Shirai Ryu in Aikido Journal #108
  • Saito, Satoshi in Skoss, Diane ed. (1999) Sword & Spirit: Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan Vol. 2 Koryu Books
  • Someya, Chikatoshi (2001) Shuriken Giho
  • Mol, Serge (2003) Classical Weaponry of Japan: Special Weapons and Tactics of the Martial Artists Kodansha

External links

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