From Japan: So, You Want To Be A Ninja?

Shinobi Ninja

While people in Japan may role their eyes when hearing a Westerner mention the term “ninja,” these mysterious assassins have captured the imagination and been the inspiration behind numerous sources of pop-culture, from 1970’s martial art films, to James Bond movies, to video games like Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi, to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  But the question is, were the ninja merely a product of this pop-culture, or did they actually exist?

Yes, they did.

While fact and fiction has been blurred, due to what little information has been uncovered (their whole profession was stealth, after all) many historians believe the ninja predominantly existed around the Sengoku era (around 1450 to 1600) when Japan lacked unification, resulting in military conflict and social upheaval.  While the Samurai were all about upholding rules on honor and combat (known as Bushido) the ninja fought “unfairly” by hiding in the shadows and pouncing on unsuspecting enemies.

Ninja GaidenAs their profession grew, Nina Clans began sprouting around Japan – particularly in Mie Prefecture – where they would train and graduate, before being hired as either a spy or mercenary, usually by the more desperate lower-class Shoguns.  Some well-known historical events involving the ninja was the Shimbara Rebellion (1637-1638) in which the Shogun Iemitsu Tokugawa hired ninjas to kill the Christian rebels stationed in Hara Castle in Nagasaki Prefecture.  And in the early 1700’s, Yoshimune Tokugawa started the Oniwaban, a kind of medieval CIA which employed ninjas for their secret intelligence, gathering on government officials and Daimyos.

Where can we see ninjas today?

If you head up to Nikko, you can visit the Edo Wonderland, which is mainly a studio set up to resemble an ancient village used for filming Japan’s historical dramas.  There, you can witness mock ninja battles as they fly through the trees on cables swinging their swords, or fighting in a play dubbed “Ninja Kabuki.”

Last month, a “Ninja Training Session” was held in Chiba Prefecture which ran a two-hour course for only 500 yen, teaching the ways of the ninja such as throwing shuriken (ninja stars) and climbing trees.  The catch?  You have to be a kid.


written by Damon Finos