Whether you are interested in Japanese history or not, you have to admit that there is something very intriguing about a ninja. Despite many popular folktales, historical accounts of the ninja or shinobi (male ninja) are very scarce. What we do know is that a ninja was a covert agent or mercenary in feudal Japan. He specialized in espionage, sabotage, infiltration, assassination and open combat. A ninja’s covert methods of waging war contrasted with the strict rules of combat employed by the samurai. The shinobi appeared during the Sengoku period, in the 15th century, but predecessors of the ninja may have existed in the 14th century and possibly even in the 12th century.
The Sengoku period, also known as the Warring States period, was marked by social upheaval, political intrigue and nearly constant military conflict. Mercenaries and spies for hire became active in the old Iga Province and the adjacent area around the village of Koka during this time and much of our knowledge about the ninja is drawn from these areas. Iga City located in central Kii Peninsula in western Mie Prefecture was a noted center for ninjutsu, the strategy and tactics of unconventional warfare and guerrilla warfare purportedly practiced by the shinobi.
It is said that there were about fifty different ninja schools scattered across Honshu, Japan’s main island. There are several places today that are still known as “lands of the ninja,” areas where the different schools were based back then. Although Koka in Shiga Prefecture and Iga in Mie Prefecture are the most famous, you cannot exclude Togaku shi in Nagano Prefecture, where the Togakure-ryu ninja were based.
Today, visitors to Iga can get a taste of a ninja’s lifestyle by visiting the Ninja Museum of Iga-ryu (Ninja Hakubutsukan). Established in 1964, the museum is located in Ueno Park which was developed around the Iga Ueno Castle. The museum is dedicated to the history of the ninja and ninjutsu . The grounds consist of a ninja residence, two exhibition halls and a stage on which ninja shows/ demonstrations are given.
At first glance, the ninja residence appears to be nothing more than an ordinary thatched farmhouse, however, it is fitted with revolving walls, trap doors and hidden compartments. Visitors are given a guided tour of the house with explanations about its various contraptions. The exhibition halls display ninja tools, gadgets, costumes and weapons. Signage for the exhibits are in both Japanese and English. The shows/ demonstrations are given in Japanese only but as most of the action speaks for itself, one does not have to know Japanese to appreciate them.
The museum is open daily with the exception of the New Year holiday (Dec. 29- Jan.1). Admission is ¥756 for adults and ¥432 for children. Please note that the museum only accepts cash (yen only). For those wanting a souvenir to take home, there is a gift shop where ninja related items can be purchased.
Web page: http://www.iganinja.jp/en/
Address: 117-13-1 Ueno Marunouchi, Iga-shi, Mie-ken
Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM.