Ninja: The Japanese Agent
The ninja has become a cultural symbol of Japan through Japanese manga and anime. When a ninja is mentioned, an image of a stealthy man or woman dressed in black and wearing a mask comes to mind. As cultural symbols, ninjas have been given a number of stereotypes. People believe that ninjas move without leaving a trace and have the magical ability to kill people swiftly. Are these facts or just fiction?
What Makes a Ninja?
Ninjas (also known as shinobi) were professional agents in feudal Japan who could serve as spies, infiltrators, and assassins. Ninjas practiced ninjutsu (the art of stealth), which included combat techniques, weapons technology, military strategy, zoology, meteorology, geometry, and so on. Typically, ninjutsu was passed down within the family and kept secret from the public, which explains why there is little factual information about ninjas, leading to many stereotypes about them. Ninjas have mastered free running, archery, camouflage, and concealment to gather information while remaining undetected and misleading their enemies. It can be said that ninjas are a group of special warriors known for their unconventional warfare, equipped with a wealth of knowledge and combat skills.
Because ninjas valued stealth over combat, they often used unconventional methods such as deception and forgery. Their methods were contrary to the spirit of bushido. As a result, their missions were considered dishonorable, and ninjas were not granted the same respect as samurai. The samurai were upper class, while the ninja were primarily lower class citizens. In feudal Japan, the body of ninja was made up of rejected samurai and the lower classes from the Iga and Koga regions, which are in modern Mie and Shiga Prefectures.
It is important to note that ninjas were not limited to males - female ninjas were called kunoichi. They learned the same ninjutsu as male ninjas, except that kunoichi would take advantage of their gender to achieve their goals. They would disguise themselves as non-threatening performers, prostitutes, and servants to gain the trust of their enemies, as some examples.
History of Ninja
It is not documented when the first ninja existed. However, ninjutsu began to develop around the year 600. It is said that Prince Shotoku (574-622) employed ninjas to keep track of his people. In the 11th century, the people of Iga and Koga were known for their skills in unconventional warfare. Iga and Koga were located in rugged terrain that provided ideal hiding places for refugees and bandits. Many ninja families had to live in autonomous communities and developed martial arts for self-defense.
It was not until the 15th century that people were specifically trained to become ninjas. During the Warring States period (1467-1568), ninja skills were highly valued due to the constant warfare. Many warlords hired Iga and Koga ninjas to steal information and confuse their enemies. This was the heyday of the ninja. After peace was established in the 17th century, there was no outlet for ninjas to do their thing. Some ninjas changed careers, and their vast knowledge allowed them to pursue a variety of professions. Other ninjas were mainly employed by the Tokugawa shogunate to spy on the feudal lord and guard Edo Castle.
The Weapons of Ninjas
The weapons used by the ninja are very diverse. But a ninja's primary weapon is a katana, which may be shorter and less curved than the average sword. Ninjas usually carry katana on their backs in order not to impede their movement. Other ninja weapons are:
Kusarigama: It consists of a scythe and a weighted end held together with a chain. The ninja will swing and throw the weighted end to damage and knock down the enemy’s weapon.
Shuriken: They are weapons, usually in a star shape, but also of varying shapes and sizes, usually imbued with poison.
Bomb: There are two types of bombs. A soft-shell bomb that emits smoke or toxic gas and a hard-shell bomb with iron or ceramic cover.
Others: poison, blowpipe, fumibari / fukumibari (metal needles), tekagi (metal finger gloves), hokode (hand claws), etc.