Ninja art, weapons, and real ninja heroes in history


Ninja's special abilities

Ninjutsu was not a collection of incredible, empty wishes. It consisted of superior combat skills made possible only through hard training and rational methodology. Below are some of the familiar arts they used to fulfill their goals.

• Art of disguise

Ninja disguised themselves as every walk of life to gather information in enemy territories. A priest standing before the gate waiting for an offering, shugenja selling talismans and medicine, a candy vendor, a stallkeeper, a street performer, and so forth. When they went into a closely-watched area or the area where they knew each other, they changed faces, builds, and voices.

• Art of climbing

image-kaginawa There are many tools left which were used to sneak into the enemy compound over the walls, but they preferred free climbing. For this reason they pursued nimbleness and trained fingers and toes. When it came to using a tool, they seemed to have used a simple tool like kunai (see the figure in the ninja tool section below) which could be used for many purposes. And they also had an option of using tools of daily use.

Impersonating a farmer, he approached the target. He then took several sickles and rope from his back pack basket, and improvised kaginawa swiftly. After seeing that no one was around, he ...

• Art of flying

Anyone was afraid of jumping down from a height. Ninja were no exception. Then they trained to conquer their fears, and tried to make a soft landing using limbs like a cat.

• Art of intrusion

In addition to using a variety of cracking tools, they were mindful of keeping flexible body and learned how to dislocate body parts freely so that he could pass through a space as small as a human head. It was for this reason that a person of delicate form was cut out to be ninja.

They could use a feint like starting a fire or throwing a snake into the maid's room. In the confusion they could move around easily. There was a method using a monkey. A trained monkey could sneak into the inside of the room and unbar the door.

• Art of hiding

Once they were found, they disappeared or hid away well to be more exact. Iga-ryu ninja were said to become a stone. It means they were good at overcoming their fears to be found and killed, and then becoming a stone.

• Art of escape

There were roughly three major escape methods : ten-ton, chi-ton, and jin-ton. Each method had ten specific methods. Ten-ton took the help of heavenly objects and climate phenomena: the sun, the moon, star, cloud, fog, thunder, lightning, wind, rain, and snow. For example, nitton (escape using the sun) meant to escape with the help of the glaring backlight of the sun.

Chi-ton used things related to the ground: timber, grass, fire, smoke, ground, roof, gold, stone, water, and hot water. Katon (escape using fire) included the use of a smoke screen caused by powder.

Jin-ton helped ninja run away using living things: man, woman, senior, child, noble, tramp, bird, animal, bug, and fish. Dan-ton (escape using man) taught ninja to run away pretending to be the chaser.

While some of them may look childish, it was truly the art of ninja to evaluate the situation quickly under imminent pressure and pick out the best method from among available options. And this art tells us a great deal about how closely they interacted with the surrounding natural things and people.

• Art of mnemonics

Ninja memorized what they knew by association method. For example, one corresponds to top of head, two to forehead, three to eye, four to nose, five to mouth, six to throat, seven to chest, eight to belly, nine to buttocks, and ten to legs.
To memorize critical information, they hurt themselves so that they should never forget,

• Art of transmission

Stones or colored rice grains which were arranged in a predetermined manner conveyed much information to peers. On some occasions, a piece of knotted rope hanged under the eaves of a deserted farm house to tell something.

Letters were also used, but they were written with unreadable characters. Ninja belonging to different groups could not read too, because the characters were specific to each ninja group.

• Art of discerning friend from foe

image-warifu When operating with other ninja of the same group without knowing the existence of the peers, they were at risk of fighting and hurting each other in enemy territories. One method of avoiding this used passwords or a gismo called warifu shown in the left.
In Sengoku, when yesterday's ally was today's enemy, they changed password daily.

• Art of fire

Since niter, a basic ingredient of powder, was extremely scarce in Japan, explosives were not so widely used as weapon. But ninja, with their traditional expertise in powder, knew how to extract niter from such things as the old soil around shrines and latrines, and horse dung.

Their flaming arrows spiraled down in the enemy position to create a fire and confusion, their horoku-dama or hand grenade gave them a chance to run away, their uzumebi or land mine made the chasers hesitate to chase after. Powder was also used as signal fire or to make a water-resistant torch.

• Art of running

Ninja had another name, 'fast walker'. They were said to be able to travel a distance as long as 200 km per day. Before jumping to the conclusion that it was impossible, it should be worth thinking about the possibility that they ran differently.

The Meiji government led the Japanese people with enthusiasm to change their way of walking into the western way, Before then, most people seemed to have walked with the right arm and the right leg swung in the same direction at the same time. Ninja may have invented an art of running by combining this Japanese way of walking with their skills and hard training,

Ninja tools


• Shuriken

Also called a ninja star, and was said to be the most advanced throwing weapon. There were also stick shuriken. Poisoned cutting points dampened enemy's fighting strength. Throw it, get away, and wait the enemy's debilitation.


• Makibishi

Scatter around a fistful of makibishi behind your way out. The chasers will run them into their feet, and cry out 'Ouchy'. Makibishi made from the dried seed pod of water chestnut were most common, being lightweight and expendable.


• Kunai

A multi-functional weapon the size of a knife. Its uses include digging a pit, climbing up the wall, stabbing, a thronged throwing knife. What made kunai especially useful was a ring provided at the end. For example, you could knock kunai into the gap of the stone wall and get the rope through the ring so that the peer ninja climb the wall quite easily.


• Kusarigama

A weapon originating from a farm tool. Using the weight attached to the chain end, they hit the enemy on the head, face, hands, or winded the chain around the opponent's weapon to snatch. The finishing blow was done by the sickle part. Watch out not to hit yourself.


• Senrin (or Chakram)

A throwing weapon with a razor-sharp edge slits up the opponent's throat. Its origin dates back to ancient India. No one would ever want to fight with trained ninja equipped with such a fearsome weapon.


• Tekkokagi

Worn on a hand, it took the opponent's blow, stabbed him, or scratched with the poisoned tips. It was also used to pit a hole in the wall, open the heavy sliding doors, or climb a tree by driving it to the trunk.


• Mizugumo

The name means water spider. It looks like you could walk on the water wearing it. Many people of today tried it and all failed. It was most likely to be used to cross the muddy swamp surrounding the enemy fortress at night.

Real ninja heroes

Ninja were basically the agents working in the shadow, but talented leaders and ninjutsu masters left their marks on history. The following are some of them.

• Hattori Hanzo(1542 - 1596)

Born to a local ruling family in Iga area, Hanzo commanded his subordinates and took part in many battles for the Tokugawa family. Particularly in the siege of Nishigoori Castle, he did work a lot leading his sixty ninja agents, for which he was rewarded with a Ieyasu's own spear. As Hanzo continued to work for the Tokugawa family in the fields here and there, he gained the confidence of Ieyasu as a unique military commander versed in the ninjutsu art of war.

In June 1582, when Oda Nobunaga was killed in Kyoto by one of his generals, Ieyasu was in the biggest mess of his life. At that time, Ieyasu was near Kyoto enjoying sightseeing with a few followers in tow. He was very likely to be killed too. And it was Hanzo that saved Ieyasu's life. Hanzo negotiated with the local rulers and guided the group of Ieyasu through the dangerous, moutainous Iga area to Ieyasu's home base, Okazaki Castle.

Partly because of this merit, Hanzo was given a status of taishin hatamoto or a high-ranking direct retainer of the shogun when Ieyasu open the military government in Edo (present-day Tokyo). Hanzo and his family was in charge of one of the gates of Edo Castle, and since then the gate was called Hanzo-mon. The replica Hanzo-mon stands today where it was, to the east of the Imperial Palace.

• Fuma Kotaro ... date of birth and death unknown

In Sengoku, there were a group of ninja called rappa which served the Hojo family in Odawara. Rappa, most of them formerly being stray samurai and bandits, were good at leading night attacks and causing confusion among enemy soldiers. They were said to be able to see very well in the dark. One group of rappa was led by Fuma Kotaro, and it was called Fuma-to or Fuma clan. Kotaro was known as a monster-like man who, being seven feet tall, had a powerful physique and formidable look.

Takeda Katsuyori, the successor of Shingen, carried out a war against the Hojo family from the west, and the war over the Kise River lasted several years. During the war, the two hundred rappa agents divided into four groups repeatedly crept in the enemy camp across the river and put them into confusion. In particular, the activities of Fuma-to were remarkable. Under cover of darkness, they often times abducted enemy soldiers, stampeded horses, set fire, and gave a shout of triumph up and down.

• Kato Danzo ... date of birth and death unknown

In the castle town of Kasugayama-jo in Echigo, a man earned acclaim in the streets by showing off various magical things. The man, Kato danzo, wanted to serve Uesugi Kenshin, one of the major warlords in Sengoku. His art should be called magic rather than ninjutsu, focusing on creating an illusion in people's mind to manipulate them. In time, the talk of the street reached Kenshin, and Danzo was called up before him.

On the occasion, Danzo boasted to him that if only he had a short sword he could sneak into any compounds, no matter how strongly they were guarded. And it was decided that Danzo would break into the residence of Kenshin's senior retainer and fetch his sword.
The retainer built a watertight defense and put the best watchdog in place to prevent the intrusion on his honor, to no avail. The watchdog was killed with poison, the sword stolen, and the wife's maid kidnaped on his way back.

Rather than admiring Danzo's wizardry, Kenshin was downright scared and ordered to kill him. Danzo, catching a scent of danger, took swift action to vacate the area. After a while, Danzo turned up in the territory of Takeda Shingen, Kenshin's old rival, and sought a career under him, but he was said to be killed by Shingen's man instead.

• Momochi Tanba ... date of birth and death unknown

The Iga area, which had developed a unique, independent dominion called so, stood squarely against Oda Nobunaga. The local ruling families in Iga had made a cocerted effot to ward off several attacks by the Oda troops. Momochi Tanba was one of the leaders who had played a central role in those defensive wars.

In the first large scale battle, when Oda Nobukatsu, the oldest son of Nobunaga, ordered his troops on his own to attack the Iga area, the Iga local samurai and zohyo fought a guerrilla war and led them by the nose. Exasperated by his son's poor performance, Nobunaga mobilized a five-million-man army and advanced into the Iga area two years later in 1581. All the roads leading to the area were blocked by his commanders.

Nobunaga allowed rebels no mercy. The Oda troops rolled into the mountain villages and valleys, and thoroughly destroyed the forts, temples, shrines, and houses, big and small. They combed the mountains to find and kill all those that escaped with their loved ones. There were no ways out.

Driven by the merciless Oda soldiers, the remaining 1,700 samurai and zohyo gathered in Kashiwara Castle to fight to the last. Momochi Tanba and other soldiers harassed the besiegers many times by launching night raids, but the resistence approached the limit. One month passed. Tanba and other remaining leadered decided to surrender unconditionally. Details of how Tanba fought in this war were not known.

It is no accident that a self-generated form of democratic society called so was born in the area having a strong tadition of ninjutsu. Ninja having excellent fighting capability and shrewd political awareness required a flexible environment to exploit their abilities to the full. The so system seemed to have provided them with an self-governing environment which focused on information distribution and interaction among people. Momochi Tanba was one of the high-ranking ninja who lived and died in such a special environment.