| Ninja: The
Original "Men in Black"
You have probably heard of ninja--the
silent, deadly Japanese spies dressed in
black, who cling to walls and are able to
disappear in a cloud of smoke. A ninja is
a master of ninjutsu, a martial
art involving stealth and spying. The
most famous ninja in Japan was Sarutobi
Sasuke, who fought for Sanada Yukimura,
the chief of the Sanada Clan of Ueda, in
what is now Nagano.
The origins of the ninja are unknown,
but they were quite active during the
wars of the 15th and 16th centuries. Much
like today's spies, they carried out
duties including surveillance and
stealing secrets. But it is doubtful that
they really had the amazing abilities to
change their appearance instantly into
that of another person or even an animal,
or to disappear with a chanted prayer and
a flash of light. But no matter how far
their image in modern movies and comic
books is from reality, it is a popular
one among today's children--just look at
the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!
Ninja were warriors who trained very
hard both physically and spiritually.
They would gather into
"schools" to learn their craft,
including how to use the tools they are
famous for--the braided hat (amigasa)
for camouflage, a rope with a hook (kaginawa)
to climb high walls, and throwing stars (shuriken).
One famous ninjutsu school was
located in the Togakushi region of
Nagano, which is now home to a
ninja-related theme park where people can
learn about and act like the ancient
soldiers. It seems these dark warriors
remain fascinating to this day!