Until about 150 years ago, ninja were active in Japan. Ninja were employed by rulers at that time and used their special stealthy skills in ninjutsu — the art of the ninja — like spies to fight for their employers. Of course, there is no ninja in Japan today, and they only live on in pop culture such as manga, anime and films. With time, ninja have become something of legend, and known by many people overseas as well. There are a number of ninja-related attractions and facilities to experience ninja-style activities in Japan, and many kids get together to enjoy ninja experiences on holidays. Still today, the ninja has been a hero for kids in Japan.
Ninjutsu: Special Spy Skills
Dressed ninja style in dark colors to melt into the darkness and avoid detection by the enemy. (Koka Ninja Village)
From the 10th to 19th centuries, there was a class of people known as bushi, or warriors in Japan. These bushi were, like ninja, employed by regional rulers. In today’s terms, these bushi were roughly the equivalent of military units that fought battles and wars. In contrast, ninja were more akin to spies, like “special forces” undertaking covert missions to gather information on other regions or disrupt enemy operations.
There is a stereotypical image of a ninja clad in black from head to toe, a typical ninja outfit. Some manga portray ninja not only in black, but also in blue or red. It is said that black outfits helped the ninja disappear into the darkness. In reality, however, it is generally believed that ninja went about their work disguised as everyday citizens to hide their identity as ninja.
What is amazing about ninja is their unique skills, or ninjutsu, that have been acquired through various specialized training. Ninja were known to easily conceal their identities disguising themselves as merchants, businessmen of their day, or travelers. They could also use a hypnosis technique to manipulate people to do their bidding, to stay submerged underwater for extended periods of time by using a snorkel-like tool and to run without making a sound.
When a ninja got stuck in a tight spot or disadvantageous position, the ninja would use as a diversion a fire technique with small balls of explosives made with gunpowder, adeptly using the resulting flash and clouds of smoke to distract their enemies and cover their escape.
Ninja are also known for their use of shuriken, or concealed metal weapons with sharpened ends that were used for daunting and wounding enemies. Shuriken are sometimes called “throwing stars” in English but, in fact, there are various shapes including straight, stick-shaped shuriken as well as cross-shaped models. Ninja had a very advanced understanding of poison and pharmaceutical knowledge as well, and were known to coat shuriken blades with poison to fatally wound their targets from a distance.
Shuriken, one sort of ninja’s important weapons, are thrown at one’s enemy. (Koka Ninja Village)