My Trip To Ninja Land
When someone says the word "ninja" all sorts of stuff can creep into your mind. Guys running around in black pajamas. The same guys using swords and cool gadgetry to evade capture and detection. Or a guy in black pajamas and a gruff voice answering all of your most pressing inquiries that you post to his website. Whatever your mind's eye shows you, ninjas are a subject of legend. As it turns out, the birthplace of Japanese ninjistu is about four hours away from my house and I went there yesterday.
Terri and I had talked about going there for some time and while I was on vacation, Terri decided what day we were to embark on our little adventure to a small farming town called, Iga. Iga is in Mie prefecture, halfway between Osaka and Nagoya. It is a lush, green place that at some point was home to a farmer who decided he had enough of rice growing and wanted to become a master of stealth and deception. Basically, he was a man like most other men.
Ninjitsu did not start in Japan. It actually has roots going back to India and the birth of Buddhism. As Buddhism spread throughout Asia, so did some of the base theories of ninjitsu. It was not until it reached Japan though that people took those theories, militarized them, and devoted their lives to studying how to make their fledgling art more lethal. You have to love the Japanese.
Within the formal art of ninjitsu, there were really only two families that excelled at their craft. These were the Iga and Koga ninja clans. Both clans were farmers by trade and lived in areas surrounded by small mountains. Being a farmer was an excellent profession for the ninja. The clothing that Japanese farmers traditionally wear allows for excellent movement and protection from the elements. The tools of the farmer make for very able weaponry. Sickles, chains or rope, and small knives were all readily accessible and when coupled with the knowledge of a skilled woodsman or hunter, became lethal. During the time when ninjitsu blossomed in the countryside of Japan, it was illegal for anyone who was not a samurai to carry a sword. This made the need for other weapons even greater. The other nice part about being a farmer is that you were almost totally ignored by anyone other than farmers. This made for the ultimate disguise.
Over time, the ninjitsu became adept at spycraft, concealment, the use of a little known substance called, gunpowder, and swords. For the most part, everything you may know and love about ninjistu is true. They were some of the earliest recorded snipers, they were some of the best swordsmen, and they were experts at using anything in their immediate vicinity to kill, maim, or confuse people. Ninjas were indeed badass.
Here are three often overlooked ninja facts: 1) Ninjas did not dress in black, they preferred clothing with a navy blue tint because in real world nighttime conditions, black stands out. Navy blue blends in much better and it was believed to deter vipers. Both good things when sliding through the underbrush in the dark. 2) There were female ninjas and at times, they were much more useful than men because women were more often overlooked and underestimated by their male counterparts. 3) Ninjas were all about family and community. Very few people outside a ninja village were ever privy to their secrets or training. If you were born into a family or village of ninja, then you would also be a ninja. Many ninja secrets died with the last person in a ninja family's bloodline.
Now that I have reaffirmed all of your ninja beliefs, I am going to shatter them. It is very true that ninjas rocked but sadly, all of the things that made them superior assassins and spies are now used to make money and entertain children. The once thriving ninja headquarters of Iga is now a tourist trap riddled with hourly performances, cute cartoon visages, and souvenir shops offering to dress up your kids like ninjas for only five dollars. If there was ever such a cool profession turned into such a dorky sideshow, I have yet to see it. The ninja museum was very cool but the whole atmosphere was ruined by the corny ninja combat exhibition complete with video game sound effects and cheesy jokes. If the true ninja were around today, the streets would flow with the blood of the shameless marketers and tourism officials that capitalize on their once respectable and envied craft. To be able to see the truly remarkable and ingenious tools and training of such a somber profession and then to have it marred by women showing you around the area in hot pink ninja outfits is just kind of pathetic.
I came away from the experience with two outlooks:
1) What a sucky waste of money.
2) I just saw the birthplace of modern ninjitsu. Cool.
It was at least a fun day trip to a place that most people don't get to see and I enjoyed it for that. I just wish the journey could have had more substance. But, I did get some fun pictures.
This is the "ninja train" that takes you to the area of the ninja museum. It is also the commuter vehicle for the everyday ninja in all of us that have to go to work and don't have a car.
Yup, you are looking at a ninja manhole cover. No exploitation going on in this quiet town.
This is a member of the much feared Wee Brigade of The Yellow Dragon Clan. I barely escaped this encounter with my life.
Dressing up like a ninja isn't just for kids. I can't imagine being married to this man. Then again, in stealthy garb like that, maybe no one sees him and she can pretend to be a normal woman.