Chiba was born in Fukuoka, Fukuoka, Japan, he was the third of five children in the family of a military test pilot. When he was four years old, his father was transferred to Kisarazu, Chiba, and the family moved to Kimitsu, Chiba.
After Chiba went to junior high school in Kimitsu, the physical education teacher advised him to do artistic gymnastics. He also was passionate about track and field sports, baseball and volleyball. He participated in those four sports championships of Chiba Prefecture. In high school, Chiba dedicated himself to artistic gymnastics and won the National Sports Festival of Japan while in his third year. He enjoyed watching Western movies like Shane and High Noon.
Chiba went to the Nippon Sport Science University in 1957. He was a serious candidate for a place in the Japanese Olympic team in his late teens until he was sidelined by a back injury. While he was a university student, he began studying martial arts with the renowned Kyokushin Karate master Masutatsu "Mas" Oyama (whom he later portrayed in a trilogy of films), which led to a first-degree black belt on 15 October 1965, later receiving a fourth-degree on 20 January 1984.
In his fifties, the actor resumed working under the name Shinichi Chiba when he served as a choreographer of martial arts sequences. At the dawn of the 21st century, Chiba was as busy as ever in feature films and also starring in his own series in Japan. Roles in Takashi Miike's Deadly Outlaw: Rekka and directors Kenta and Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale II effectively bridged the gap between modern day and yesteryear cinematic cult legends, Chiba's enduring onscreen career received a tribute when he appeared in a key role as Hattori Hanzo, the owner of a sushi restaurant and retired samurai sword craftsman, in director Quentin Tarantino's bloody revenge epic Kill Bill in 2003.
Chiba has starred in more than 125 films for Toei Studios and has won numerous awards in Japan for his acting. In November 2007, he announced the retirement of the stage name Shinichi Chiba and will now be known (in Japan) as J.J. Sonny Chiba (ＪＪサニー千葉 Justice Japan Sonny Chiba?) as an actor and Rindō Wachinaga (和千永 倫道 Wachinaga Rindō?) as a film director. Chiba established the Japan Action Club to develop and raise the level of martial arts techniques and sequences used in Japanese film and television.
- Chibaryū samurai eno michi (in Japanese). Bunkasha. 2010. ISBN 4-8211-4269-4., pp.81 - 82.
- Chiba Shin'ichi aratame Wachinaga Rindō (in Japanese). Yama to Keikokush. 2008. ISBN 4-635-34022-8., pp.38 - 39.
- Chibaryū samurai eno michi, pp.89.
- "SPORTS CITY". Kamakura Shobo 1 (2): pp.32. 1981.
- Chibaryū samurai eno michi, pp.95 - 96.
- Chiba Shin'ichi aratame Wachinaga Rindō, pp.53.
- The dates are uncertain, because it is possible that he had television appearances to his credit as early as 1959.
- SHINICHI "SONNY" CHIBA: A Real Mean Bastard!
- "千葉真一「ＪＪサニー」に改名！映画監督としては「和千永倫道」." Sankei Shimbun.
- "Honke Bruce Lee wo shinogu Chiba Shinichi" [Shinichi Chiba surpasses Bruce Lee as the movie star of martial arts]. Sports Hochi (in Japanese) (Tokyo). 27 December 1974.