The ninja were a group of individuals who had special skills and were good at war because of their espionage skills. In other words, ninja were basically the same as modern espionage corps or guerrilla forces. Thus, their bosses or clients of ninja are the people with power at that time, and ninja worked for them.
History of Ninja
Their history started from around 592, and they were very active from Kamakura to Edo era which is from about 1185 to 1868; however, most of them became extinct around the end of Edo era as the wars not happened for a long while.
Originally, in Asuka period that is from about 592 to 710, a local ruling family in a rugged mountain area acquired hit-and-run tactics and collected information skills in which they used to take advantage of the mountainous landscape as it was much more different from flat land. This is said to be the origin of ninja, as in it is believe to have started from this family.
In the Sengoku era which is a war-torn era in Japan from about 1467 to 1590, powerful lords (大名; daimyo) had ninja as espionage corps or a guerrilla forces work on espionage, spying, subversion, and assassination.
If a war happens, all the powerful lords needed ninja to collect information of their enemy. Knowing the enemy was important, so any information about an enemy was very valuable, thus the ninja’s most important role was to collect the information.
Many of the powerful lords outsourced to recruit ninja.
These ninja were mostly from Iga and Koga on the west side of Japan.
According to a manual for Samurai, 軍法侍用集; Gunpoujiyousyu, it was recommended that each samurai family hire a person from Iga or Koga.
Iga or Koga was a province where ninja lived and trained at that time, so if people were to say Iga/Koga, that meant that they were talking about ninja.
Tokugawa clan, the rulers of the Edo era, also had ninja from Iga and Koga.
As Japan completely closed itself off from the world and stabilized into a time of peace, the ninja’s roles changed to be as like the security of samurai families.
Because it was a time of peace, ninja had little use and many lost their jobs, they didn’t need to use the art of ninja , so manuals of the art of ninja, such as 忍秘伝; Shinobihiden, 万川集海; Manseishukai, 正忍記; Shoninki,were written to record them before ninja became completely extinct.
服部半蔵; Hattori Hanzo
Since ninjas were hidden being, not so many ninjas are known.
However, Hattori Hanzo is the most famous ninja in history.
He was from Iga and worked for Tokugawa clan (the rulers of the Edo era) with 200 ninjas from Iga under his command.
忍刀; Shinobi tou
This sword was specifically for ninja. It was smaller and more straight than the typical sword used by samurai, as for the ninja’s operation of reconnaissance and subterfuge, a long sword was both impractical and unnecessary. The scabbard was also matte so that it could be inconspicuous.
Ninjas were one with the shadows and were good at getting close to enemy without a sign of presence.
手甲鉤; Tettukou kagi
Iron knives that had a variety of shapes
The ninja throw the shuriken as a disposable weapon to enemies to injure them, and get out from the dangerous situations while the enemy struggled to pursue with their injuries.
This was very useful as it was used like a knife or shuriken. Also, it was used to make a hole on wall or ground or to climb over walls. It must be like a survival knife for them.
These are pepper or ash in it to throw to enemies’ eyes, so ninja can escape while their enemies struggled to see. Most of the time it was important for them to escape rather than fight with enemies.
This is developed from agricultural tool, sickle, having metal chain with heavy iron weight at the end.
Throw the weight to the enemy and twist the chain around the sword and pull toward themselves so detain the enemy. During the chance that enemy cannot move, the ninja slash with the sickle.
Nekote means cat’s hands in Japanese.
They put poison at the top of the nekote and put on their finger tips and scratched enemies.
There are so many other weapons besides the above. Many of them were small weapons that were able to conceal and blind enemies.
印 In (九字護身法; Kujikiri)
This hand gestures are that express 9 deities of Shinto and Buddhism were used by ninja for self protection (to get rid of evil split) and concentration.
Each word has an amazing power of a god and of Buddha.
臨 Rin・兵 Pyou・闘 Tou・者 Sha・皆 Kai・陣 Jin・烈 Retsu・在 Zai・前 Zen
Some studies show that doing these hand gestures before doing something, such as exams, reading, or work, can relax your mind and get rid of stress similar to meditation.
It can be cool and can make you a more productive person, so try to get into the habit of doing it before you work on something.
This is the demonstration of the Kujikiri ↓
Ninjutsu – Art of the Ninja
They had a lot of special skills to hide themselves and collect information as spies as well as to escape from enemies. One of their skills was called 火遁の術; Katon no jutsu, a trick with fire. They were good at using fire, so many of their skills used fire. Katon no jutsu was to light a bamboo cylinder stuffed gunpowder so it could create smoke and set fire.
They also could walk without making any noise so that they were able to get close to their enemies without being caught.
Kunoichi is a female ninja.
Kunoichi didn’t work on the subversive act and assassination, but they assigned as the spy to go to the enemy’s castle or house to collect information.
so, they didn’t fight and acted like a ninja.
Many people believe that they conducted spy activities with a romantic overture, but they actually used more certain and well-thought-out and through techniques to collect information.
After would-be Kunoichi became adolescent, they’d get into the enemy’s castle or house where usually for ninjas difficult to get into. The Kunoichi go into the castles as a servant or a secondary wife. And then, they can hear and see to gather the information to tell their fellows.
As the messengers to receive the information from Kunoichi, a knickknack shop owner or a kimono (Japanese traditional cloth) shop owner so that they can contact each other naturally without no suspicions.
Also, Kunoichi could tell the information during the time they go back to their home towns to see their families. Their families are usually ninjas and they conduct undercover work at the same time they interact with neighbors or other normal people as they are normal citizens. Thus, they are seemingly trustworthy and couldn’t be figured as ninja easily.
Another way Kunoichi used to communicate with their peers is 隠れ蓑の術; kakuremino-no- jyutsu. The secondary wife of lord ask to get furniture and clothes from her family, then the big wooden box would arrive. The bottom of the box is made as dual, so when you open the box, you can see the regular clothes, but under the bottom, a ninja is hidden, so the ninja can go through the security at the entrance of the castle to go inside. This ninja was called 忍; Shinobi, and the Shinobi could do a variety of activities in the enemy’s place. This kakuremino-no- jyutsu was one of the most likely to success way of the incursion.
望月千代女; Mochizuki Chiyome
She worked for 武田信玄; Takeda Shingen, high class Samurai in Sengoku era (a war-torn era in Japan from about 1467 to 1590) as a kunoichi.
She was also from Koga and collected information at the same time as working as a Shinto priestess. According to a historical record, she was a leader of the priestess in Japan and trained the priestesses to use as kunoichi; however, not many things about her are known.
Some Ninja Experiences
Today, there are some amusement places that you can have ninja and kunoichi experiences in Japan!
You can also find Ninja and Kunoichi in movies, TV shows and video games.
A university for ninja studies
http://www.human.mie-u.ac.jp/en/index.html (mostly in Japanese)
https://www.kentei-uketsuke.com/ninja/ (in Japanese only)
Featured image is from asoview.com/item/activity/pln3000028527/