Say the word “ninja” and you will instantly have the undivided attention of locals and tourists alike in Japan. Legends surrounding ninja culture are well known around the world and one of the best places to learn about these stealthy fighters is Nagano, where deep within the forested mountains, ninja masters perfected their craft. The Togakushi area of Nagano is the legendary home of the Togakure School of Ninja who were active during Japan’s Sengoku period or the Warring States period. Today, the area is home to the Togakure Ninpo Museum and the Chibiko Ninja Mura (The Kids Ninja Village).
It is said that during the 12th century, a warrior from Nagano fled to Iga in Mie Prefecture after fighting on the losing side of the war between the Minamoto and the Taira clans. Iga was considered the birthplace of the ninja and the warrior acquired his skills there before returning to Nagano to start his own school. The Togakure Ninpo Museum memorializes the local Togakure School of Ninja. Located just an hour by bus northwest of central Nagano City, the museum consists of several buildings which showcase the tools and weapons used by the Togakure Ninja. There is also an interesting photo exhibit of the ninja practicing various techniques of warfare.
One of the buildings is a ninja house, appearing rather ordinary on the outside but built with numerous secret doors, passages and contraptions on the inside. There is also a shuriken (throwing star) range. For a nominal fee visitors can try their hand in throwing shuriken at target boards.
The Kids Ninja Village is a ninja theme park featuring a maze, a ninja slalom, obstacle courses and jungle gyms where visitors can pretend to undergo ninja training. You can really get into the spirit by renting ninja costumes in either red or black, children or adults sizes, before taking part in your training. The costumes have to be returned before departing the park but the souvenir shop has ninja costumes for sale so you can relive the ninja experience after returning home.
If you get hungry, there is a restaurant on the premises serving tasty hot dogs, burgers, curry and soft serve ice cream. The menu also includes a variety ninja themed sweets that are particularly popular with visitors.
The park operates from late April through late November between the hours of 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM. It is closed on Thursdays except during summer vacation from mid-July to the end of August, where it is open daily. The area is prone to heavy snowfall necessitating the closure of the park during the remainder of the year.
Web page: http://www.ninjamura.com/