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Did You Know? Trivia on Ninja

A ninja is someone who possesses superhuman abilities and lives in the world of shadows, not on the center stage. Many people probably find them mysterious. In reality, though, ninja were people who possessed superhuman physical abilities and knowledge. With that, here are some bits of trivia about ninja.

1. What is a Ninja?

During the times when Japan was not yet unified and numerous tiny battles were constantly raging, ninja served as intelligence agents and spies. Back then, a ninja was tasked to gather information by infiltrating enemy territory without being noticed, and then making it back alive to be able to report the condition of the enemy to the overlord. It is said that their daily training gave ninja that ability to move about 400km per day and jump as high as 3m, and in order to carry out their mission, they developed superhuman physical ability and their own unique fighting method, known as “ninjutsu”. So, when did they first appear? Based on historical records, it has been confirmed that ninja began to exist in the Nanboku-cho Period (1336 – 1392), and at that time, they we called different names depending on the area, such as “suppa” (meaning spy / thief) and “kusa” (meaning grass). It is fairly recent, roughly 60 years ago, that they came to be called “ninja”.

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2. Ninja Schools

In terms of schools of ninja, two major schools are famous: the Iga and Koga Schools. The Togakushi School, despite the fact that this school is not really well known, still has students today and this school’s disciples apparently reach 100,000 all over the world. One theory even suggested that there are up to 49 ninja schools throughout Japan. The activities of these ninja had been covert, so there is barely any mention of their names and records on them in history.
※ Photo shows a ninja in the manga (comic strip) of Ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai

3. Typical Ninja Tools

Ninja used various tools in carrying out their missions. Shown below are some of these tools.
The most well-known ninja instrument is the “shuriken”, which refers to a blade that is hidden in the hand. Some ninja even painted poison at the tips of the blades of the shuriken to boost its ability to kill. The “makibishi” (spiked caltrop), a tool that is scattered on the ground to hurt the feet of enemies when a ninja is escaping, is actually dried water chestnut. No matter how they are scattered, the pointed tip of the caltrop would also point upward. The “kaginawa” (a rope with a grappling hook), used for going up and down walls, cliffs and other structures by throwing the grappling hook and then using the rope for scaling, is an excellent tool that turns into a weapon when swung toward an enemy. Further, ninja relayed codes and messages to their comrades, such as “There is an enemy ahead”, by arranging the “goshiki-mai” (grains with five colors) that are painted in five colors: red, blue, yellow, black and violet. It seems when painted, rice grains had less chances of being eaten by birds. It is then easy to understand how they carried out their missions equipped with these handy and practical implements.

Shuriken

Kaginawa

4. Ninja Techniquies

The techniques adopted by ninja, called “ninjutsu”, cover a wide array of techniques such as physical techniques, psychological methods and techniques to deceive enemies. “Suiton”, wherein a ninja hides underwater and breathes through a bamboo pipe, is one of the most famous techniques used by ninja. There are techniques that demonstrated the height of communication skills of ninja, including “gosha no jutsu”, wherein a ninja manipulates the emotions of people by ruffling their feelings of joy, anger, sadness, humor and fear through such means as flattering them or making them mad, and “yamabiko no jutsu”, wherein a ninja gets into the head of an enemy to win his trust and then betrays him when the need arises. Meanwhile, “shinobi-ashi”, wherein a ninja walks on tiptoes without making any sound, and “kitsune-bashiri”, wherein a ninja would walk in a straight line so that those who follow him will not know how many people have already passed, are both effective in entering enemy territory. Ninja also used the extremely interesting technique called “neko-tokei no jutsu”, wherein they find out the time by looking at the degree of opening of the pupils of the eyes of a cat. Other techniques such as “bunshin no jutsu”, wherein a ninja can make it look like there are many of him present by moving quickly, are considered fictitious and not real. However, it is possible that ninja intentionally mixed in some fictitious techniques in their legendary ninja techniques in a bid to manipulate information.

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5. Ninja Training Methods

Ninja with superhuman abilities went through unique training. The training for running fast by not letting the “kasa” (the hats worn in that period) on the chest and the long cloth wrapped around the body touch the ground was a reasonable method for finding out one’s running speed at a time when there were no stopwatches yet. To jump over high walls and fences, ninja planted fast-growing hemp seeds and then jumped over that plant every day. By jumping over the hemp plant that grows 2cm – 3cm each day, before they knew it, they ended up being able to jump high. Superior hearing ability was also crucial for listening to the private talks of enemies. They were also trained to drop a needle on a grindstone in a quiet place and then guess the number of needles dropped. By repeatedly training and practicing every day, they managed to acquire the skills that people still talk about today.

6. Ninja Today

Ninja still frequently appear in animation and movies today, but the number of places where they are active has dropped with the times and there are virtually no more ninja who have learned real ninjutsu. There are still people who call themselves ninja and act like ninja nowadays for the purpose of preserving the culture of ninja, but they may look a little different from how people think real ninja look like. The ninja of today are probably working to spread the world of ninja to the modern world by showcasing the real conditions and techniques of ninja. Ninja from the time they were active Japan do not exist anymore, but there are places where you can experience being a ninja and spots where you can explore actual ninja residences equipped with tricks and mechanisms, so try to visit them.
※ Photo shows an existing ninja residence at Koka Ninja Village

6. Ninja Today

394 Koka-cho Oki, Koka-shi, Shiga

Being found out as a ninja by other people meant death for a ninja. Ninja usually pretended to lead a completely ordinary life and then carried out their big jobs with the help of their superhuman abilities and knowledge while staying in the shadows. The more you learn about them, the more appealing ninja get, so they continue to enamor people in this modern world where their role has ended.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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