If you mention the word “ninja”, what would you imagine? The figure of Hattori’s ninja in the anime Ninja Hattori, Naruto‘s figure and his friends in Naruto anime, various ninja-themed movies such as American Ninja and Ninja Turtles, or maybe others? Whoever it is, certainly the figure of the ninja is one of the aspects in traditional culture and Japan’s most mysterious history.

The mystery of the ninja makes it fascinating to be adapted in modern pop culture, which ultimately raises the curiosity of the real ninja figure and invites anyone who are interested in the ninja to come and travel to Japan, the country of the “birth” of ninja.

Anime Naruto Shippuden, An example of the adaptation of a ninja figure in modern pop culture
Anime Naruto Shippuden, An example of the adaptation of a ninja figure in modern pop culture, via uwants

The problem is, not a few who consider the ninja is merely a myth, and the special ability possessed by a ninja is just a redundant creation of the ancient literary works. Whereas, the ninja was (never) exist in Japan.

Even to this day you can still visit some relics that affirm the existence of ninja in Japan. For those who want to know more about the ninja and how to visit the various historical relics associated with ninja, you must first make acquaintance with ninja in Japan, so let’s go!

 

About ninjas, the espionage and secret weapons experts from Japan

Ninja (also be read as “shinobi” in kanji, is a name for soldiers who have “unusual” skills compared to soldiers in general. A new person can be called a ninja if he has mastered ninjutsu, the strategy and combat technique which is a combination of spionage and survival skills.

For example, one of the special skills possessed by a ninja is to use a variety of secret weapons skillfully, being an expert to infiltrate the opponent’s residence, to move silently, to walk on water, to perform various visual manipulations, to fly using kites, and many more; Something that can not be learned at ordinary martial arts.

Because his core skill is espionage, this ninja profession is enveloped in secrets, all mysterious, identical to “tricks and pitfalls”, and that’s what makes a document that reveals ninja’s life is hard to be found.

Ninja
Ninja, via worsal

Actually it’s unclear when was this ninja profession exists. The profession of spies and killers in Japan is suspected to have emerged since the 4th century, though there is no definitive record about it

Only then in the 10th century, some of the tactics and skills commonly used by ninjas began to be mentioned in the literature. The ninja profession grew in the 11th century, and by that time the reputation of the Iga and Koga clan as the best ninja clan was increasingly acknowledged.

There are many daimyo who take advantage of the ninja services of Iga and Koga for various purposes (especially to win a battle), primarily in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when Japan politics was unstable.

After the Edo period begins (year 1603), ninjas are employed specifically by the Tokugawa shogun to spy on the daimyo in each region. Many famous ninjas ended up serving the Tokugawa clan, one of them being Hanzo Hattori (you must have heard of that name, right?).

 

Characteristics and expertise of the ninja

There are several different interpretations of ninja in various literatures and modern adaptations to the reality. For example, in terms of costumes. Nowadays ninjas are often depicted wearing all-black costumes with almost closed faces.

In fact, because of the secretive nature of the profession, there is no specific evidence nor official documentation that the ninja has a black all-round costume as it is known today. On the contrary, the original ninja costume allegedly resembles a samurai (so not flashy) costume which is modified to facilitate the movement.

And, while executing a mission, a ninja will not wear a tight black suit that will stand out in the moonlight. The original ninja will wear dark blue tight outfit which is considered more visually adaptive to various situations and conditions on the ground.

Some girls try ninja-style costumes in a tourist spot
Some girls try ninja-style costumes in a tourist spot, via selasar

So also in terms of weapons. Ninja is often depicted with shuriken, a star-shaped secret weapon that can be catapulted whenever desired. But it is said that the original ninja do not always bring shuriken because it will make their identity as a ninja exposed if there is an inspection during their spionage mission.

The real ninja will carry weapons that are similar to the easily found objects in everyday life, such as kama or sickle grass (if given extra rope can be used as a wall climber), ashikaga or special hooked shoes to step on slippery surfaces on fields (Which can be used to climb walls or give special kicks), and many more.

And of course there are weapons that are really used in combat such as katana (long sword), shuriken, kunai (spear-shaped blade), and so on.

A small variety of weapons commonly used by ninja
A small variety of weapons commonly used by ninja, via Julio Ponce / pinterest

 

Tracing the ninja trail in the modern era

Frequently asked questions by ninja fans are: Does the ninja currently exist? If so, where can we see them directly?

To answer whether the ninja is still there or not, let’s go back to a few hundred years ago. As Japan’s politics stabilizes, slowly but surely the ninja profession disappears. Currently the ninja is suspected to have become extinct, although in fact this can not be ascertained accurately.

Remember, ninjas are spies and professional assassins, so their true identity is very secretive (and in fact, there are still some who claim to be the ninja and last ninja in Japan).

However, you can visit some places that witnessed the existence of the ninja profession that scattered in various places in Japan. At least, you can visit various places in Japan that sell “ninja” as the main attraction. Here are some of them:

 

1. Iga Ueno City, Mie prefecture

  • Iga Ninja Museum aka Ninja Museum of Iga-ryu.
Ninja Museum of Iga-ryu

The Iga clan, along with the Koga clan, is known as the most powerful and famous ninja clans in the whole of Japan. And, the existence of Iga clan is not nonsense because in fact this Iga city is really exists. But since 2004 the city is often referred to as Iga Ueno because it is formed from the merger of Iga, Ueno, and several other villages.

Currently, Iga Ueno is famous for its ninja-themed attractions. The most famous tourist attraction in this city is Iga Ninja Museum or Ninja Museum of Iga-ryu; A small museum that is interesting because full of information about the real life of the ninja, especially the ninja of the Iga clan.

In this museum there is Iga-ryu Ninja House, aka a ninja-style house. From the outside the house looks like an ordinary house, while in the inside there are many hidden doors, secret escape routes, turning walls, a place to store weapons, to traps and pitfalls for the opponent.

A kunoichi (female ninja) showing the secret weapons store in Iga-ryu Ninja House
A kunoichi (female ninja) showing the secret weapons store in Iga-ryu Ninja House, via 222

Moreover, in this museum visitors can see various weapons owned by ninja, various secret codes, the introduction of ninja’s life, to see the various performances and demonstrations of the use of ninja weapons. And to end the time of visit, there are various original trinkets that are sold in souvenir shops.

Ninja show
Ninja show, via arabnews

Plus Point from this museum:

Its location is near to other attractions in Iga Ueno, namely Ueno Castle and Danjiri Museum. In Danjiri Museum tourists can also rent ninja costumes and wear it while strolling around the city.

 

Technical details:

Address: 117-13-1 Ueno Marunouchi, Iga-shi, Mie-ken

Operational hours: 09.00-17.00, closed every December 29-January 1st.

Ticket price: 756 yen (adult), 432 yen (children). There are special discounts for groups of over 30 people, and there are special tickets for those who want to see a ninja show.

Google maps: < click >

Access:

< click > 5-10 minutes walking from Uenoshi Station.

< click > to access from Tokyo.

< click > to access from Kyoto.

 

2. Koka City, Shiga Prefecture

  • Ninja Village
Become a ninja in Ninja Village
Become a ninja in Ninja Village, via go.biwako/flickr

Besides Iga clan, the Koka clan (or Koga) is also famous for its ninja-themed attractions. That’s because both Iga and Koga have a reputation as the most powerful ninja clan in the past.

Although the ninja attraction in Koga has not been as maximized as the city of Iga, however there are some ninja-themed spots that can be found in this city. One of them is Koka Ninja Village (aka Koka Sato Ninjutsumura).

As the name implies, Ninja Village is a ninja-themed attraction which designed with the concept of a ninja village. The village location is quite remote (you have to walk for 30 minutes from the nearest station to reach this village), but it is quite interesting because in this place there are many attractions that will make you more familiar with the life of ninja.

There is also a museum that displays various manuals and equipment that used to be utilized by ninja Koga, a house which equipped with a variety of traps and hidden doors, throw shuriken attractions, moreover visitors can try walking on the water just like usually done by a real ninja. Of course with the help of special equipment so you will not be splashed and get wet.

Trying to walk on water like a real ninja
Trying to walk on water like a real ninja, via go.biwako/flickr

Plus Point from this place:

There are many choices of attractions that can be performed by visitors, so a visit to this place will not be boring.

 

Technical details:

Address: 394 Kokacho Oki, Koka, Prefektur Shiga 520-3405

Operational hour: 10.00-16.00 (wekdays), 09.00-17.00 (weekends and holiday seasons). Closed every Monday, or the next day if Monday coincides with a national holiday).

Ticket price: 1030 yen*

Google maps: < click >

Access:

< click > 30 minutes walk from Koka Station, or take the free shuttle bus to Ninja Village. If there is no shuttle bus, please call 0748-88-5000 to request for a bus.

< click > access from Tokyo Station to Koka Station, then take shuttle bus to Ninja Village.

< click > access from Kyoto Station to Koka Station.

  • Ninja Mansion
Ninja Mansion
Ninja Mansion, via higorono.blogspot

Another interesting themed ninja attraction that can be found in this Koka is Ninja Mansion, or Ninjutsu Yashiki. This place is a shelter which formerly owned by Mochizuki Izumonokami who comes from more famous Koga ninja family compared to other Koga ninja family, and the building age has reached 300 years.

And, as you can expect from the home of a ninja, this mansion is filled with a variety of interesting equipment such as various secret doors, hidden paths, to a variety of traps. Tourists can also try to throw shuriken in the special lane that has been provided.

Plus Point from this place:

Although the place is relatively remote and you have to walk quite far from the nearest station, but the typical small town-style atmosphere that you can see when heading to the mansion is quite interesting to observe. In addition, this place provides pamphlets in English.

 

Technical details:

Address: 2331 Konancho Ryuboshi, Koka, Prefektur Shiga 520-3311

Operational hour: 09.00-17.00, closed every 27 December-1 January.

Ticket price: 600 yen*

Google maps: < click >

Access:

< click > 20 minutes walk from Konan Station (via JR Kosatsu Line).

< click > access from Kyoto Station to Konan Station..

 

3. Nagano City, Nagano Prefecture

In addition to the city of Iga Ueno and Koka, Nagano city is also known as one of the cities that have a close relationship with the ninja world.

In the past, a school called Togakure Ninja School ninja was existed in this city (built by soldiers who learn the science of ninja from Iga clan), so do not be surprised if the aura of ninja’s world is still quite felt here.

There are at least 2 ninja places that can be visited in Nagano, namely Togakure Ninpo Museum and Kids Ninja Village.

  • Togakure Ninpo Museum

In the past, at the end of the twelfth century a samurai named Nishina Daisuke studied the ninjutsu of the Iga clan after being defeated in a war. He then combined the science of Iga clan-style ninjutsu with martial arts from China and Tibet, and eventually created the science of ninjutsu ala Togakure.

Ninjutsu Togakure then became one of the most famous ninjutsu sectarian, and a ninja school was built to teach the sectarian of Togakure ninjutsu called Togakure School of Ninpo.

Togakure Ninpo Museum
Togakure Ninpo Museum, via minkara.carview

Apparently Togakure School of Ninpo is not exist anymore, however to commemorate the history of the ninja in the city of Nagano whose age reaches 800 years, a Museum of Togakure School of Ninpo aka Togakure Ninpo Museum had been established.

The museum consists of several buildings, one of which is a ninja house. From the outside, this ninja house looks like an ordinary house. But when you come to the inside, it turns out to be complicated paths with many hidden doors.

One of the secret ways in the ninja house
One of the secret ways in the ninja house, via yoshi / blog.goo.ne.jp

Besides a ninja house, this museum is also equipped with various displays related to ninja Togakure, such as various photographs and typical ninja equipment.

Display in ninja museum
Display in ninja museum, via yoshi/blog.goo.ne.jp

Interesting Points from this place:

This museum is located in the same complex with the Museum of Tagushi Folklore, a museum featuring a variety of tools and equipment that commonly used by local residents in the past.

Another addition is, this museum is the most charming when visited during summer. Its location in the mountain will provide a little coolness in the middle of summer heat in Japan.

 

Technical details:

Address: 3688-12, Togakushi, Nagano City

Operational hour: 09.00-17.00, ticket sales until 16.30.

Ticket price: 500 yen*

Google maps: < click >

Accsess: take a bus number 70 or 71 from Nagano Station to Togakushi (travel time approximately 65 minutes).

< click > 1.5 hours from Tokyo Station to Nagano Station, via shinkansen.

***

  • Kids Ninja Village
Kids are trying to be a ninja at Kids Ninja Village
Kids are trying to be a ninja at Kids Ninja Village, via 4travel

If Togakure Ninpo Museum targeting adult visitors, then children can visit Kids Ninja Village (aka Chibiko Ninja Mura). This place is a ninja theme park designed for children, although there are also some attractions that are suitable for adults. In this theme park there are various ninja style dexterity attractions, mansion with optical illusion, and many more.

 

Technical details:

Address: 3193, Togakushi, Nagano City 381-4101

Operational hour: 09.00-17.00, ticket sales until 16.30.

Ticket price: 500 yen* (entrance ticket only), 300 yen*/attraction, 800 yen* (ninja costume rental).

Google maps: < click >

Akses: take a bus number 70 or 71 from Nagano Station to Togakushi (travel time approximately 65 minutes).

< klik > 1.5 hours from Tokyo Station to Nagano Station, via shinkansen.

4. Tokyo

Tokyo has always been a favorite city for foreign tourists who visited Japan. Unfortunately, Tokyo is relatively far from Iga Ueno, Koka, and Nagano. Tokyo also does not have the culture and traditions of ninja like those three cities.

However, it does not mean that you can not feel the experience of being ninja while in Tokyo. Just try to stop by to the following two places, hopefully this can entertain your curiosity on ninja in Japan.

  • Sainenji Temple/Hanzo Hattori cemetary

Ninja is a mysterious figure because the main task is related to the spionage. However, who does not know the figure of Hanzo Hattori? This one can be one of the most recognizable ninja of all time and the most often adapted in modern works. Ninja and samurai which also known as Hattori Masanari often described as a great strategist and very adept at using the spear.

By the way, Hanzo Hattori character is not a fictional character. The ninjas from the Iga clan are real, and even their graves can be visited in Tokyo. You can try to visit Sainenji temple (now named Anyoin temple) which located in Shinjuku area.

This temple was founded by Hanzo Hattori after being retired from the battle world and became a Buddhist priest. This temple preserves one of the proofs of the existence of the famous ninja, that is the spear which was once used by Hattori (2.58 meters in size and 7.5 kg in weight).

In this temple there is also a tomb of Hanzo Hattori, and the tomb of Nobuyasu (Oda Nobunaga’s son-in-law) which built by Hattori.

Hanzo Hattori’s tomb
Hanzo Hattori’s tomb, via gabuchan.wordpress

Tips:

If you want to see Hattori’s spear, come in during daytime. This spear can only be seen if there is no Buddhist ceremony, nor if the priest in this temple is not busy.

 

Technical details:

Address: 2-chome 9-Wakaba, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0011

Operational hour: 24 hour

Ticket price: free

Google maps: < click >

Access: < click > 8 minutes walk from Yotsuya Station.

***

  • Ninja Restaurant Akasaka
A ninja costume waitress is preparing a menu at the Akasaka Ninja restaurant
A ninja costume waitress is preparing a menu at the Akasaka Ninja restaurant, via twistedsifter

Okay, this place may not offer a real ninja experience because the Akasaka Ninja is just a restaurant that adopts the ninja theme and life.

But at least in this place you can relax while enjoying the food and drinks that have been ordered and enjoying the atmosphere that carefully designed according to ninja village style, with ninja-clad waiters who often appear suddenly from the secret doors. Amazingly, while enjoying the dish, you will be entertained by “ninja” who are adept at performing various magic tricks.

 

Technical details:

Address: Akasaka Tokyu Plaza 1st floor, 2-14-3 Nagatacho, Chiyoda, Tokyo 100-0014

Operational hour: 17.00-01.00 (Monday-Saturday), 17.00-23.00 (Sunday)

Google maps: < click >

Access: < click > 4 minutes walk from Akasakamitsuke Station.

***

5. Others

In fact there are many other cities that are also have a ninja culture and still exists to this day. For example in Kyoto there is Toei Eigamura who has a ninja-themed attraction and rent out ninja costumes that can be used while exploring the theme park.

Then there is Nijo Jinya, a former inn that has been built since the Edo Period (1603-1868) which equipped with various secret doors and traps like a ninja’s house. The point is, do not be discouraged if you are interested in the ninja but do not have time to travel to Iga Ueno, Koka, Nagano, and Tokyo, because who knows in your destination city there are also ninja themed attractions which you can visit.

 

read also :

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Planning to Travel to Japan? Note These Various Safety Tips!

Tracing the Trails of Takeshi’s Castle