NAGANO '98 Kids' Info Center



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!