Hi! How are you doing? March is almost over!
Most schools and companies start new year on April 1st and people are busy preparing for the change during this season.
I don’t have many changes except that I will be busier from next month. haha
I will keep on creating music and posting useful information here.
Please come visit here sometimes!
Alright, about “Ninja” this time.
If you are interested in Japanese culture, I’m sure you have heard the word “Ninja” somewhere.
Maybe from Anime, Manga, Movies, or Magazines.
But what really is Ninja? Do they still exist?
What did they do? Where can we appreciate Ninja today?
I gathered info and wrote about this mysterious agent.
Have fun learning about Japanese culture and Ninja!
What is Ninja?
Ninjas are assassins, spies or secret forces with special techniques in feudal Japan.
Their work were espionage, infiltration, sabotage, assassination and guerrilla attack.
As the name 忍者 (忍/Nin means to hide, and 者/ja means person. The word 忍 can also be pronounced “Shinobi”, so Ninjas were called Shinobi as well) shows, they were the ones that lived in secrecy like CIA of today.
It is believed that they existed and were particularly active from Muromachi period to Edo period (From 1,336 to 1,868).
Most records of Ninja were destroyed or well-guarded.
Therefore, there are very few official documents about their activities and existence.
We only know some of the secret information passed down orally, and have little information from very few books written about Ninja.
Iga and Koga (Mie and Shiga prefecture today) are the two places that are rich in Ninja history.
Those places were ideal hideouts for refugees and bandits who became Ninjas.
A lot of Daimiyos(warlords) would hire ninjas of Iga and Koga in the 15th and 16th century to bring victories to the battles.
In the 17th century, they were hired as spies or guards by the central government, Tokugawa Shogunate, to protect the government and the Edo Castle (They were called “Oniwaban”. Some people claim that Ninja and Oniwaban were different, but we do not have enough information about their activities and relations).
Later on, Ninjas were romanticized in plays like Kabuki (Japanese traditional drama) to entertain audiences.
Many of the images that people have about Ninjas today are exaggerated or unreal mostly because of Kabuki, movies, and animes.
忍術 Ninjutsu (or sometimes called 忍法 Ninpo) were the many different kinds of skills practiced by Ninjas.
It is believed that Ninjutsu was developed by the samurai of Nanboku-cho period (1,336 to 1,392) and polished by groups in Iga and Koga later.
Ninjutsu involved training of disguise, escape, free running, assassination, medicine, etc.
Below were the famous Ninjutsu using the 5 elements of nature.
Katon(Fire) no Jutsu
Using fire, make smoke to block enemy’s view and run away.
Suiton(Water) no Jutsu
Hide underwater (most people could not swim back then, so trained Ninjas had advantages just being able to swim).
Ninjas used bamboo pipes to stay in the water for a long time.
Mokuton(Plant/Tree) no Jutsu
Hide yourself using a cloth that looks like the skin of tree/plant.
Kinton(Metal/Gold) no Jutsu
Distract or misdirect using concealed weapons like Shrunken (hidden hand blade).
Doton(Earth) no Jutsu
Make holes on the way of escape, and stay there to hide yourself from enemies when running away.
Famous Ninjas and legends
As we have very limited information of Ninja and their activities, we can not know if all information about them are correct, but below are the popular Ninjas and legends that exist on old books.
He was a leader of the Iga ninjas in the 16th century.
They fought against Oda Nobunaga, the most powerful daimyo at the time.
Later on, Nobunaga invaded Iga to kill all Ninjas there.
Fujibayashi’s family escaped and went into hiding to preserve their culture.
Nagato’s descendant, Yatake wrote the book about the training of Ninja called Bansenshukai.
Another famous leader of the Iga ninjas was Momochi Sandayu, who taught Ishikawa Goemon and Kirigakure Saizo.
He was a Ninja in Iga and was a student of Momochi Sandayu.
After the attack of Nobunaga, he ran away and spent 15 years stealing things from wealthy family and temples.
He planned to assassinate Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s (he was a preeminent daimyo at the time) wife in 1594.
He was caught and put alive in a cauldron with boiling water.
The execution took place at the gate of Nanzenji Temple in Kyoto.
He trained Ninja skills in Iga and served Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Together with remaining Ninjas after Nobunaga’s attack, he helped Ieyasu to become the ruler of Japan ,and his family worked as guards of Edo Castle.
Even to this day, Hanzo’s legacy remain.
There’s a gate called Hanzo’s Gate/Hanzomon at Imperial Palace in Tokyo, and Hanzomon subway line runs from Hanzomon Station in the center of Tokyo.
She was the wife of a samurai, Mochizuki Moritoki of Shinano (Nagano prefecture today) and worked as a female ninja in the 16th century.
She is from Koga and formed the all-women ninjas known as Kunoichi and served under Takeda clan.
She recruited prostitutes, refugees, orphans, etc and trained them to be entertainers like Gaisha or Miko (Shinto maiden),who were allowed to travel freely.
They disguised and worked as spies to gather important information from rival warlords or sometimes to assassinate them.
Ningu, the unique weapons
Ningus were the tools that Ninjas used.
Most of them were portable and very well designed.
Here are the 4 major Ningus.
It is a hidden hand blade.It was used to distract or misdirect, or to kill the target at a distance.
There are many shapes of shrunken.
The major kinds are Bo shrunken (Stick shrunken),Hira Shrunken (flat shuriken), and Shaken (wheel shuriken).
It is a Japanese blowgun.
They were typically around 50 cm long and Ninjas used special darts with poisoned tips.
(The pipe was sometimes used for Suiton no Jutsu as well).
It is a multi-functional weapon.
Ninjas used it to make holes in walls and grounds.
A rope can be attached to the ring and it helped Ninjas climb the walls or trees.
It could also be used in hand to hand combat.
They are sharp, spiked small objects.
Ninjas would throw them behind to slow down pursuers.
There were mainly two kinds of it: Tetsubishi (Iron caltrops) and Tennenbishi (Natural type of caltrop).
Some planted on the ground in advance and used it to defense.
Shuriken and Kunai
Where to appreciate Ninja/Ninjutsu today
Below are the places where you can learn more about Ninja today.
They are great for both visitors and those who want to deeply understand its art and culture.
Modern Ninja school/Shop
There are many Ninja schoold where you can experience being a Ninja.
Among them, NINJA DOJO and STORE is one of the most popular.
You can learn to use Shrunken and Fukiya ,and get some Ningus as souvenirs.
Hours: 10:00am to 6:00pm (Closed irregularly)
Access: 3 min walk away from Shijo station
VR Ninja Dojo
Hours: 9:30am to 9:30pm
Access: 5 min walk away from Kanda station
Ninja museum of Iga-ryu
Ninja museum of Iga-ryu is a museum of Ninja in Mie prefecture.
It is a great place to learn the history of Ninja.
On display, there are a lot of tools and clothes that actual ninjas used.
Visitors can enjoy watching a show of Ninja as well.
Hours: 9:00am to 5:00pm (Closed from Dec 29th to Jan 1st)
Access: 5 min walk away from Ueno-shi station
Edo Wonderland is one of the most popular Ninja spots located in Tochigi prefecture.
As the name shows, you can fully enjoy the atmosphere of Edo period here.
It is like an amusement park with a lot of attractions including Ninja shows.
You can also appreciate cuisine from Edo-period and the place makes you feel like
you were a citizen of Edo!
Hours: 9:00am to 17:00pm
Access: 15 min by bus from Kinugawa Onsen station
Ahh, Ninjas are so cool, aren’t they?
I remember reading books about Ninja like crazy when I was a kid.
Although most of the Ninja culture has already died out and we don’t have real Ninjas alive now, the mysterious/secret skills they had still attracts a lot of people.
Btw, this is me wearing Ninja like clothes! Looks so evil lol
(This attire is called Kuroko, clothes for assistants of stage performers)
The pic was taken when I was a stage actor.
I used to appear on the stage in Shinjuku Kinokuniya where as many as 418 people can seat. It reminds of the good old days.
See you next time!
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Or, you can click on the band camp link below to listen.
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