A shuriken (Japanese 手裏剣; literally: "sword hidden in the hand") is a traditional Japanese concealed weapon that was generally used 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" or "ninja 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.
Bo-shuriken are throwing weapons consisting of a straight, iron or steel spike, usually four-sided but sometimes round or octagonal in shape. They are usually single-pointed, but some have points on both sides. 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 tantō-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).
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