A brief attempt to sort out a sort of history of the Ninja. Beware the beat of the cloth-wrapped feet!

'Ninja?' What is this 'Ninja?'

The short version of the origin of the Ninja, retold many times in books and on film, goes something like this:

The Ninja arts originated in ancient China, then traveled to Japan during the Tang Dynasty. The Japanese developed the Ninja arts to the utmost, creating deadly assassins, who can enter any place undetected and strike when least expected.

Which unfortunately seems to be complete nonsense. So we have to go back, and look into the history books, to see just what they're talking about in the passage above, and not only that to see what a more fact-based history of the Ninja might look like.

And before we do that, we need to define some terms. Just what is a ninja, anyway? The word itself derives from the Japanese Shinobi-no-mono, which is written with two kanji characters that can also be pronounced as nin-sha, if the Chinese pronunciation is used instead. The first character, nin, suggests concealment, while the second, sha, means person. Ninja: a person who hides his presence. In Japanese, the word is applied to a person who does covert, military operations.

We cannot leave the term with such a broad definition, though, else the CIA, the FBI, and the marines could all be considered ninjas. And though I'm sure there are many marines who would like to believe that they are, I'm afraid it just isn't so. When speaking of the Ninja, then, we also imply that they are a secret organization, fraternity, or clan, whose skills and knowledge have been passed down in secrecy from generation to generation. And finally, they have to occasionally wear that cool black outfit.

In sum, to be considered a ninja, as we understand it through popular entertainment and modern ninjutsu masters, a ninja must:

  • practice the art of concealment
  • engage in covert military operations
  • belong to a secret fraternity of ninja
  • wear black, and lots of it.

As we shall see, the first two points have historic practitioners in Japan, though this is hardly suprising, since these are common acts in warfare around the world and hardly justify a unique ninja mystique, while the last two points have more of a mythic quality and may have very little basis in truth. Nevertheless, a careful study of the history does indeed reveal ninjas of a sort operating in Japan, at the very least during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. But before we arrive there, we must first take a look at claims of an ancient heritage of ninja arts, beginning as far back as ancient China.

The Ninja History that Wasn't

When the claim is made that Ninja arts originated in China, what is really being said is that Sun Tzu's The Art of War was written there around the fifth century BC, and contains a chapter about the importance of espionage. Some of the tactics described in this book, specifically the espionage chapter, were eventually put into use by the ninja. For this reason, ninja skills are often described as Chinese in origin. On the other hand, there was nothing particularly secret about this book, and the strategems were widely known, once the book finally made it over to Japan sometime in the seventh or eighth century AD. The Chinese often referred to it, and many other books which followed it, when planning for warfare and studying tactics. The Japanese, too, came to use the book and many of its teachings, not just the espionage chapter. Samurai battles used tactics laid out in The Art of War. Yet no one claims that the Way of the Samurai originated in China. It's sort of like claiming that Mormonism began in Israel thousands of years ago. While it's true Christianity did, Mormonism did not. A school of thought may have begun in China with Sun Tzu's The Art of War, but the system created in Japan which included some of this information and was known as the Ninja arts must be said to be a unique creation of Japan.

So for those who prefer an ancient Japanese origin for the ninja, there is another myth. This story involves the legendary hero Prince Yamato and is recorded in two of the oldest written texts in Japan, the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki. Both tell origin myths and early history of the Japanese people, and are a mix of folklore, fact, and legend. Both were written in the early eighth century AD for the imperial household. The story of Prince Yamato is usually pointed to as an illustration of how old the arts of the ninja are, the events allegedly taking place in the first century AD. But not even the firmest believers in the Prince Yamato story can call him a ninja for it, rather he is a 'proto-ninja.' The story which interests ninja historians concerns Prince Yamato's mission to subdue the Komaso. He arrives in the Land of Kumaso, and the story continues as follows (as translated by W.G. Aston):

Now the Kumaso had a leader named Torishi-kaya, also called the Brave of Kahakami, who assembled all his relations in order to give them a banquet. Hereupon Prince Yamato let down his hair, and disguising himself as a young girl, secretly waited until the banquet should be given. Then with a sword girded on him underneath his inner garment, he entered the banqueting muro of the Brave of Kahakami and remained among the women. The Brave of Kahakami, enchanted with the beauty of the young girl, forthwith took her by the hand, and made her sit by him. He also offered her the cup, and made her drink, and thus amused himself with her. By and by the night grew late, and the company fewer. Also the Brave of Kahakami became intoxicated. Hereupon Prince Yamato drew the sword which he had in his inner garments, and stabbed the Brave of Kahakami in the breast.

After which, before dying, the Brave imparted on Prince Yamato the name Yamato-Takeru, or "Yamato the Courageous." But what does this have to do with ninjas, you may ask? Beats me, unless of course ninjas are infamous cross-dressers. Unfortunately, in the historic literature, there are no references of any ninja disguising themselves as a woman, at least that I have been able to verify. It is considered a "ninja-like" tactic, but perhaps the best that can be said of this example is that this is the sort of assassination the ninja would like to have been known for. Sadly, no records indicate they ever were.

Moving forward in history about four hundred years, a ninja-like night raid does show up in the Heike Monogatari, which documents the battles between the Taira and Minamoto clans for command of the nation in 1182. A couple samurai warriors secretly sneak into the enemy's camp. But even though by this time Sun Tzu's The Art of War has been lying around for hundreds of years, apparently they didn't read it, since the first thing they do is shout a challenge to announce their arrival, and are promptly killed for their trouble. Clearly, no one had figured out that whole ninja thing yet.

So, when exactly do ninjas show up in the historical record? Do they ever? They do. And it seems the earliest reference to a band of ninja occurs in the Taiheiki, written around 1360 and referring to an event which took place in 1338. And unfortunately, it's an unmitigated disaster -- the ninjas are discovered before the raid is even carried out and they are slaughtered to a man. Not an auspicious beginning! From that point, references to ninja activity increase in the histories and romances written at the time, with ninja activity finally coming into its own during the age of Sengoku, when all of Japan was plunged into war, a state of affairs which lasted throughout the sixteenth century, with the most ninja activity seemingly occuring around the Iga and Koga provinces.

Iga and Koga Ninja

The Sengoku era marks a century of warfare in Japan, during the latter half of which the powerful daimyo Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu struggled for dominance, sometimes allied together, sometimes dramatically opposed, until at last Tokugawa Ieyasu was named Shogun in 1603, following his decisive victory at the Battle of Sekigahara, and Japan was united once again. During this time, documented ninja activity was at its peak, a peak that would not be reached again until the 1980s.

Ninja raids, attempted assassinations, reconnaisance missions, and other military operations were recorded in semi-historical documents such as the Hodo Godai-ki, a chronicle of the Hojo clan who once ruled Japan as regents to the shogun, the Shinchoko-ki, a biography of Oda Nobunaga, and the Iran-ki, the chronicle of Iga province. These references, when taken as a whole, reveal exactly what role the ninja played in warfare of the time.

Siege Warfare: This is by far the most often referenced skill of the ninja. The ability to enter into a castle by means of stealth, and launch a suprise attack on the inhabitants, causing confusion within while the main army storms the castle from without. Typically the ninja party would scale the walls of a castle under the cover of night, then start lighting everything in sight on fire. They would not wear black, but rather, wear the costume of the castle defenders, making it difficult to tell friend from foe, and so make it seem like there is a rebellion within the ranks. Once chaos reigns inside the castle, the army lays siege on its walls from without. If there was any special skill, then, that these ninjas were famous for, this was it. These ninjas were also able to perform valuable services if they were part of the force under siege in a castle. The ninja could sneak out of the castle at night, and steal the banner of the opposing army, and hang it on the battlements in the morning to demoralize the attackers. One source tells of the ninja going out nearly every night from a castle to frighten and harass the attacking army, without doing any physical damage -- however, the troops had to always be on the alert, and being unable to ever get a good night's sleep, the soldiers constantly on edge waiting for an attack all night, they were ineffective when the time came to launch an assault on the castle.

Scouts: Ninjas were often employed to assay the relative strength of the enemy. By one account, a ninja would lay in the tall grass just outside an enemy encampment and remain there until dawn before returning to report. In most cases, however, the scout simply goes on horseback, and is indistinguishable from scouts used in warfare anywhere in the world.

Assassins: This is what the Ninja is known for now. Even in the seventeenth century, the Daimyo feared assassination attempts by ninjas. All of the major generals seemed to have an assassin make an attempt on their life at some point or another. Of course, not all of these attempts are by ninjas, and the most well-known assassination, of Oda Nobunaga, was carried out by one of his generals, and not a ninja at all. In fact, nowhere have a found a single documented successful assassination carried out by a ninja. They were feared throughout Japan for the possibility, but it seems that possibility never became reality. Perhaps it's just like murder today -- everyone fears being killed by some stranger who randomly targets them, but in fact most people are killed by someone they know. The ninja really did try to kill people, though, they just weren't very successful at it. One tactic was to lie down on a battlefield, and when your mark rides through, looking at all the dead bodies, the ninja suddenly springs up and attacks. Nobunaga had some close calls before he met his fate, once being shot twice in the chest, the bullets being stopped by his armor. Later, perhaps learning from the previous attempt, Nobunaga is suprised by three cannon weilding ninjas who try to take him out with a bang. They miss, but kill seven of his retainers. Most ninja assassins were hired by rival daimyo to kill their opponent, without much success. It is this element of ninja skill which has been most over emphasized in our modern understanding of ninja warriors.

In many, but not all, of these accounts the ninjas in question originated from Iga or Koga province, now modern day Mie Province. This is considered the ancestral homeland of the ninja arts, and it does indeed seem to be the main area of ninja activity. Oda Nobunaga finally decided they were too dangerous and crushed Iga in a punitive expedition in 1581. Legend has it that surviving ninja dispersed to all parts of Japan after their defeat. Wherever they went, their usefulness was soon at an end. But where Oda Nobunaga looked at the ninja and only saw a threat, Tokugawa Ieyasu saw an opportunity, and soon he had a group of Koga ninja in his employ. They participated in the battle of Sekigahara, though without particularly distinguishing themselves. They worked for Tokugawa again in 1614-15, during the campaigns against the last Toyotomi heir, and one last time in 1638 against the Christian daimyo of Kyushu in the Shimabara Rebellion, in both cases operating in their traditional role as masters of seige warfare.

After the Shimabara Rebellion, there was peace at last. And lots of it -- over a hundred years worth. What's a ninja to do? Well, start a martial arts school, publish some weapon guides, and sit back and let the storytellers take over.

Ninja Myths and Legends

During the relative quiet time of the Edo period, under the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the arts flourished. Stories, woodblock prints, and plays all told dramatic stories from the past. In these tales, the ninja became semi-mythical beings, whose ability to hide, stay silent, to siege castles, and to kill, grew to superhuman heights, and so the only explanation for their powers became sorcery.

In one play a ninja is able to turn himself into a rat. Stories tell of another ninja who knows 'Toad Magic,' and rides on the back of a giant toad. In another tale, a ninja meets a sorcerer on the road, and when the ninja cuts the sorcerer open, and his intestines continue to attack the ninja, the ninja begs him to teach him the magic arts. In the face of such powers as these, the ability to fly or turn invisible seems commonplace.

Part of the mystical aura which surrounds the ninja may be due to their longstanding association with monks, especially the yamabushi, who would take long, mountain pilgrimages in the belief that such hardship combined with worship and fasting would reveal their religion to them, and at the same time be granted powers beyond that of ordinary humans. Iga and Koga provinces, being very mountainous, were both destinations for yamabushi. Add to this the rumours that ninjas often disguised themselves as wandering monks for purposes of concealment on intelligence missions, and it is easy to see how the magical powers ascribed to one can so easy be passed to the other.

As the legend of the ninja grew, so to did the amount of historic figures that were newly assigned ninja status. Any samurai who had an unaccounted for period of wandering in the mountains became a possible candidate: the warrior Yagyu Jubei, who served the Tokugawa but then took an unaccounted for ten year leave of absence, is a prime example. Hundreds of tales have been written about those unknown years and the events surrounding it, so much so that it is generally not questioned that Jubei, and in fact the entire Yagyu clan, were ninjas. And it could be true. Much less likely is the claim that Minamoto Yoshitsune, brother of the twelfth century shogun Yoritomo, was a ninja. Yoshitsune was forced to flee from his brother, who was trying to consolidate his power and make sure there would be no other claimants to the title of shogun. Yoshitsune has to disguise himself as a yamabushi to escape. But despite this ninja-like disguise, it would be several hundred years before ninjas really appeared in the historic record. But that doesn't stop ninja believers, who even go so far to claim that he founded a school of ninja arts, the Yoshitsune-Ryu.

In addition to the ninjas abilities in maritial arts and magic, one other power remains to be mentioned -- which is, they were legendary in the sack. As far back as the late eighteenth century, erotic art was being printed of ninja antics in the sack. Usually, the images were ones of violent entry and rape. The ninja, using his strength, his ability to gain entry to any place, would tie up or slay men and rape women at their pleasure. Japanese Ninja literature and cinema still contain a powerful element of the erotic. At first it seems odd, but consider the romance novels on the shelves of any bookstore in America -- hundreds of them feature rough and violent pirates and scoundrels, who rape the heroine, then ultimately fall in love with her in the romantic end. Swap that hairy-chested pirate with a black garbed ninja, and it's essentially the same story.

With all of these stories of the ninja being written, it was only a matter of time before they appeared on the Kabuki theater stage. And then, the actors had a dilemma -- how does one portray a ninja? And more importantly, what kind of costume should be used? Sometimes, they wore garb not dissimilar to any other samurai when playing a ninja on stage. But the ninjas reputation as masters of stealth and invisibility suggested a costume to the actors. Because there already were people on stage, in many performances (especially of the Bunraku or puppet theater), who were supposed to be invisible. They were the kurogo, or stage-hands. The stage-hands, to indicate to the audience that they were not meant to be seen and should be ignored, wore black from top to bottom. And here, at last, we have the famous ninja uniform -- those black pajamas that seem to provide little protection from weapons, little cover in pitch darkness, and foolishly advertise to the entire world who you are. It makes little sense for an outfit such as this to be used in the real world, but in the conventions of Kabuki theater, it was the perfect costume. And to this day, every ninja movie, no matter how authentic they attempt to be, includes the Kabuki stage-hand's costume as an unquestioned and vital part of ninja outerwear.

And so, during the Edo period, the ninja moved from the battlefield into the imagination, and have remained there ever since. While popular plays were presented to lay audiences of ninja exploits, those who believed they carried on the tradition of the ninja continued to practice their skills in various schools throughout the country. Many of them kept secret books which showed weaponry, medicines, and food recipies. As the long peace wore on, however, the need to keep these books secret became less and less, and eventually, many of them were published. It is these guides which have been used ever since as reference for the many weapons and other equipment used by the ninja.

Ninja Weaponry

Much of the mystique of the ninja lies in their arsenal of weaponry. Books published as long ago as 1676 illustrate many of the ninja weapons and techniques that were in use. The main weapons used by the ninja were the same weapons employed by samurai: the sword, the small sword, the bow and arrow. Other weapons, however, seem to have been unique to the ninja art.

Clawed Weapons: There are two principal kinds: the neko-te or "cat's claws," and the shuko or "tiger's claws" (image right). The neko-te consists of sharp pieces of metal extending from the end of each finger, like the claws of a cat. This is supposedly a defensive weapon, used mainly by female ninjas. The shuko, on the other hand, has many applications. In addition to use in combat, they can also be used to assist in scaling walls and climbing trees. A matching pair can go on the feet.

Sickle Weapons: The short handled sickle, or kama was a weapon that could be put to good use by ninja operatives. Since owning a weapon was banned to all but samurai, a ninja walking around with a utility belt full of swords and shuriken may stick out a bit. But the kama was a common farming tool, and a ninja carrying such a weapon would not call attention to himself. It can also be attached to a chain and becomes a much more complicated and dangerous weapon then, with greater range and utility.

Shuriken: No discussion of the ninja is complete without mentioning the famous shuriken, or "throwing stars." There were many different styles of the weapon, but all of them would still look pretty nice on top of a Christmas tree.

Invisibility Weapons: The ability to disappear or become invisible is one of the legendary traits of the ninja. To aid in this ability there was developed metsubushi, or "sight removing" techniques. A powder concoction would be created, the recipie of which differed from clan to clan, ninja to ninja, but usually included a variety of eye irritants (like our modern day pepper spray), and placed into an egg shell or nut shell for quick use. Combined with small explosives, the shock and suprise and itchy, running eyes should have been enough to allow a ninja to make his escape.

Mudras: Part of the mystic side of the ninja arts is the forming of various hand signals called "Mudras." These Mudras are now a core component of the spiritual ninja's training, and can be seen in many films. In ninja legends and myths, these hand signals would usually be made to perform magic. However, these hand signs have very little connection to the ninja. Probably they became part of ninja mythology as part of their association with the yamabushi, the mountain pilgrim monks.

Ninja Movies

In Japan, Ninjas first really became popular in cinema, books, magazines, and TV in the 60's. The success of Shinobi no Mono is but one instance of this ninja craze. At the same time, Ian Fleming was visiting Japan to do research for his latest Bond book: You Only Live Twice. It was only natural that ninjas played a part in it, such was the craze when he was there he couldn't help but have taken interest. The screenplay for the movie You Only Live Twice was penned by children's book writer Roald Dahl, who further added excitement to the ninja idea.

But this was all before the martial arts craze of the seventies, and the ninja in film had yet to really catch on in America. But after Bruce Lee and the dozens of copycats came and went, and the TV miniseries Shogun captured the nation's imagination, it remained only for a small independent production company to release Enter the Ninja for a full blown craze to begin in the west.

The second big ninja boom began with Enter the Ninja in 1981 and fizzled out under the weight of a constant barrage of low budget, poor quality pictures which came after it, made all over the world, by the end of the decade. But in that early eighties ninja slam, some really fine, entertaining ninja pictures were made, one stand-out being the Hong Kong production Duel to the Death.

By 1990, the ninja craze in America had shifted from action pictures to comic books and cartoons, with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles effectively ghettoizing the ninja film to Saturday morning kids programming. And so the American craze comes full circle, having started with a children's writer, and ended with a comic book.

But the ninja lives on, in Japan at least, where historical fantasy films are once again popular. And with the new popularity in America of martial arts, and of Croutching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, can the ninja be far behind?

[Click here for a list of all the ninja movies reviewed at The Illuminated Lantern.]

Posted by Peter Nepstad on June 01, 2001.


i really thougt the info of ningas was cool thanks it helped me with my school asignment

Posted by: alice at May 26, 2004 10:01 PM

thanx you helped me alot

Posted by: shadow at June 9, 2004 06:51 PM

thanks alot, funny how everyone needs this for assingments. thanks

Posted by: Ryu at June 24, 2004 10:58 AM

Heh, yes, funny. Either way I find this article very interesting. If the ninja did play a major part in a war per se, I could see why warlords would not want everyone to know that they killed the other side's general using dishonorable tactics like assasination in the dark. It would be nice to know when someone first decided on making it an "art".

Posted by: Marco at August 9, 2004 10:54 AM

this site needs work it tells of all the basics and barely more.

Posted by: shoadowwarrior at September 2, 2004 02:19 PM

Thank you for the information, it helped alot. Its hard to find good information like this, even if it isn't much.

Posted by: Vincent at September 13, 2004 07:16 AM

funny stuff on her . Blessings to whomever wrote all his crap. It is awesome, oh yeah i need it for school too, thanks.

Posted by: Sasuke at September 15, 2004 02:05 PM

dude, the whole they dress in all black thing is not true!!!! the whole cross dressing thing was one of the arts that they knew!!!! they would be able to diguese themselves as anything they needed!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: nightmare at October 8, 2004 03:45 PM

Nice information. I didnt know the ninja's were so unsuccessful in their endeavors

Posted by: Mike at December 2, 2004 11:30 AM

yeah sasuke right they dress like anything they wanted i got ure back sasuke of uchia

Posted by: abumi at December 6, 2004 06:02 PM

I love this Helped me with some info I needed on the ancient Japanese Ninjas!!

Posted by: Hayabusa at December 11, 2004 09:32 AM

I love this Helped me with some info I needed on the ancient Japanese Ninjas!!

Posted by: Hayabusa at December 11, 2004 09:32 AM

dumbass he said that. before you open YOUR mouth go READ THE WHOLE PAGE.

Posted by: Jacko at December 14, 2004 08:32 AM

Hi please can you help?

i'm stuck on a history question.

what was the first ninja leaders name?

Many thanks


Posted by: sarah at February 11, 2005 11:51 AM

eporgkseropkgsopergkopergk stupid

Posted by: jkih at February 13, 2005 04:12 PM

ok nightmare obviously didnt read the article properly, that or he does not have the ability to read, let alone know anything about ninja's

very interesting piece, thank you.

Posted by: et at March 28, 2005 03:58 AM

Why does everyone pick Ninjas to write papers on?

Thanks a bunch.

Posted by: Christian Farber at March 30, 2005 05:58 PM

This was the kind of information we were looking for. Thank you, you are our hero. This is going to be an A.

Posted by: H, J and K at April 1, 2005 12:03 PM

Good site. I appreciate the information. It is well researched.

Posted by: Lazy Paws at April 10, 2005 03:36 PM

thank you for the information, i am depseratly seeking info on how the ninja lived and what they believed in. so far the info that i have come across has all been similar. is there really nothing more on this shadowed subject??

Posted by: poison at April 14, 2005 08:07 AM

thank you so much for this information, it really helped me with my report on ninjas.

Posted by: aaron at May 18, 2005 08:25 AM

Nice write up on the history of the ninja. It was nice to read some true facts of a romantacised history.

Posted by: Steve at November 3, 2005 05:57 PM

thx i needed that information for my school assignment!

Posted by: Some Guy at November 6, 2005 03:28 AM

THNXS! ^_^ I needed info so badly for this assingment!

Posted by: TheEvilPenny at January 19, 2006 06:37 PM

What other bizarre ninja myths are there though, aside from the postmortem intestinal retribution and 'toad magic'?

Posted by: Xeyo at February 15, 2006 04:52 PM

hi..thanks alot for the info about ninja's it helped me alot regarding my research paper..thanks to the author of this website...
ahm....can u post some facts of real assassination done by ninja's...

again thank you and morepower!!!:)

Posted by: jerico at March 8, 2006 05:19 AM

thank you so much. i have just started my newest book after the release of my latest book Learning To Live Again, and you have surely helped me reasearch this new topic. u have been the most imformitive and funny of them all. thanks again.-Akia

Posted by: Akia at August 30, 2006 02:04 PM

thank you for your info t was most informative , you saved my ass

Posted by: zeek hutchins at August 30, 2006 04:58 PM

Would like to know highest and the best stealth tactics of a ninja

Posted by: serafin at September 12, 2006 09:18 AM

Thanks for the information- It was useful for a project in school I'm working on right now.

Posted by: Julia at October 1, 2006 05:37 PM

Awesome article, but in the history section you say that because of the lack of historical information ninjas weren't good at assassination and that the Iga ninja became ineffective after they scattered. Don't you think that lack of historical records might indicate more successful ninja activity because their preseance wasn't detected? Just a thought.

Posted by: Ryan at October 21, 2006 01:59 PM

Thank you for the article, I found it very clear and well structured. It is better to know the facts than what we see on movies.

Posted by: Ismael Ávila at October 25, 2006 12:33 AM

I agree with Ryan. Like our own branch of espionage, The CIA does not document its success, however its failures are public. There fore, wouldn't it make sense that if the shoguns were allways living in fear of being assasinated it was because there were many successful ones? Its bad for business if you document the incompitency of your security when someone is killed, all you do leave a few thing out of the report and no one is the wiser. So ninjas must have been good at killing if shoguns were fearful of them.

Posted by: Tony at October 25, 2006 10:25 AM

So lack of evidence of ninja success = evidence of ninja success. Got it.

Reminds me of an old joke:

Why do elephants paint their toenails red?

To hide in cherry trees.

Have you ever seen an elephant in a cherry tree?

[No.] Exactly!

Posted by: PTN at October 25, 2006 01:48 PM

Thanks for the info. Although there is 1 error. If i'm not mistaken, ninja didn't usually wear black, but instead they wore dark blue, other earth/camo colors or they dressed as peasants.

Posted by: spork2 at October 28, 2006 09:49 PM

ninjas don't have to wear black they were whatever helps them best disguise themselves so why put that false information. they would wear blck at night time just as they would wear white if there was snow.

Posted by: billy billby at December 13, 2006 12:59 PM

Do you have any additional information on Mizu Gomo? What about the explosives used in the bamboo cannons?

Posted by: Latrice at January 10, 2007 02:50 PM

Trace back gunpowder to China's history...

Posted by: Hattori Hanzo at March 4, 2007 11:56 PM

awesum ninja everybody else this helped me with my skol assignment

Posted by: soultrafic at March 5, 2007 08:44 AM

i think that the shinobi should not be taken lightly. its horrible how the media prtrays them and i think that america needs to get the image of the ninja right.

but this was helpfull info for my book. hopefully if it gets published i'll mention this site

Posted by: sakura at March 6, 2007 03:12 PM

thx much. As most of the people before me, this will help greatly for my speech paper. With all the mythical as well as just plain made-up nonsense floating around, it was nice to finally find something worth reading. Since you're interested in this, I would like to recommend a book I found. It is "The Ways of the Samurai" by Carol Gaskin and Vince Hawkins. It makes for some pretty interesting reading. Again thx a mil!

Posted by: Ieyasu at March 18, 2007 04:18 AM

Thank you, this helped me very much with my essay on samurai and ninja. I found it very interesting to read :)

Posted by: Tsubaki at April 19, 2007 05:52 AM

the ninjas are coollllllll

Posted by: pranav at April 27, 2007 12:05 AM

You have mentioned the Iga and Koka but you have missed out the Fuma
Remember, Fuma, Iga and koka where the first 3 Ryu out
Fuma Worked for Hojo Soun (Samurai Family) and the leader was Grandmaster Fuma Kotaro.
Fuma means (Fu)Wind (Ma)Demon
They never wore black, always Dark blues, Dark reds and Dark browns when on covert missions.
Farmers and peasant clothing during the day

There main battlefield weapons were the Naginata and there main missions were on the sea. (Pirates)

Posted by: Fuma at May 11, 2007 05:51 AM

YOU ARE AWESOME!! Thank you. Even though it's long, you have a strong voice in writing that actually made it INTERESTING! :D thank you so much for all this information.

Posted by: sprinkledonuts at May 27, 2007 06:47 PM

It sounds like the arcticle is right on. I would have to agree with the writer that most if not all assasination attempts were a failure, if not for one point... history is written by the victors. So if anyone were assasinated it may have been reported as suicide, natural causes etc. In that era perception was everything to a warlord. If someone were killed, they may not have given a true account or if poisoned, may not have know any better immediately. On the other hand you are talking about a group that were not known, assumed to be peasants, if so can't carry swords, and therefore probably couldn't use them very well if they had them. I'm sure there were no secret cave training camps LOL. Either way fact is none of us were ever alive then, and in a Shogun controlled society like Tokugawa era Japan we would be so controlled down to our clothing that if a hit were ordered on anyone, someone would have taken credit for it even if it were just the local warlord.

Posted by: Liddle at June 10, 2007 12:38 AM

i agree with one thing stated above, successful assiantion attempts were not written, simply because at that time a fallen warlord who were killed by an unknown assassin would have brought bad publicity for a monarchy militiary republic.

Posted by: yagyu clan at June 24, 2007 04:08 AM

I read "The Ninja History that Wasn'". The ninja ARE known for those types of assassinations. Being the masters of concealment also includes disguise. AND OF COURSE YOU DIDN'T FIND RECORDS! If you didn't want to be found would you leave records of your work? Would you make it known what your people have done possibly leading them back to your village which still may be hidden to this day? I don't think you would.
Therefore. Never rely on written record. Rely on what the subject has to say on the matter. If not the 16th century ninja, try the ninja of today.

Posted by: Hayai Mishima at July 19, 2007 04:56 PM

The internet is the only place where people think something is true because of a lack of evidence :p

Good article, thanks!

Posted by: Crane at July 27, 2007 07:37 AM

Sumimasen Mishima-san, I could not agree with you more. You cannot take such a "hardfact approach. Possible you could go to nippon or do some snooping around. Ignoreing ashida, bujinkan, genbukan, neoscum and all the other crap out there you might get a better picture.

Posted by: Igamono at August 7, 2007 01:19 PM

hi this stuff is gr8 and well researched, but just 4 reference sake of course there is no info on suscessful assasinations because the code of the ninja is the art of concealment and deception, so it would b a controversy to leave clues about the assasin himself and expose the ninjas 4 what they r, even if the ninjas where known about, firstly the people live in fear and dont want to b troubled, and secondly there would b more than troubly 4 he who spills the beans....

Posted by: james at August 15, 2007 07:41 AM

this article was great. i was wondering what a ninja was b4 i become one. i wonder do u know anyone who teaches ninjitsu? and are there ninja's out there today? cuz i never saw any, guess they are really invisable. haha

Posted by: mana at August 19, 2007 09:03 PM

nice work. but don't u think if the ninjas weren't successful assassins then most japanis war lord would not keep employing them to carry out assassin jobs? i think there should some element of truth when it comes to assassination.

Posted by: michael lili at October 1, 2007 04:05 PM

Thank you for all this information. I am an avid ninja enthusiast and this has proved very useful for a school speech.
One again, many thanks.

Posted by: Erik at October 10, 2007 09:47 PM

the info seems to doubt the ninjas abilities. They were highly skilled at what they did learning loads of hand to hand combat techniques and weaponry skills. they did not only dress in black tho i agree on you with that, they also dressed in dark shades of other colors such as maroon or navy blue.

Posted by: Naruto at October 25, 2007 07:29 PM

Hey dude this is Tyler your page is soooooooooo long i cant even say. OMFG!!! My group in social Studies is studying the ninja so i went 2 google and clicked on your page because it looked interesting. lol. Yeah well you should think about making links or something to make each page shorter and more inviting.

Posted by: Tyler Huck at October 26, 2007 12:49 PM

Great article, very informative. Could you cite some of the sources you used?

Posted by: Paul at December 13, 2007 03:42 PM

Good page, I enjoyed reading it and found it very interesting. Also I find it quite interesting the responses some people have posted. I have done a bit of research into the background of this subject. I feel though I have to respond to some of them though and I apologise if I’m pissing on any ones chips here. If anyone disagrees with what I’ve written here I would like you to disprove my statements. Note the word disprove. Not post some conjectured junk you got from a mate down the pub or that guys who fleeces you for $30 a week for 1 hour on ‘how to be a real ninja’. Objective/repeatable are the key words.

First off my understanding of the term ninja is "one who uses the art of remaining unperceived." In my opinion this covers a lot of people. If the term ninja was first used in the 8th century and there are still ninja around today and we are covering anyone who fulfils the statement above then I believe that the number of ninja would be in the millions. I think a modern equivelent would be “someone who uses steatlh” which I sure most would agree covers an awful lot of people in a variety of roles. Due to this I think it becomes very diffiuclt for anyone to say, ‘the ninja did this’ or ‘the ninja wore this and came from here’.

It would be difficult to conceive that all ninja had the same level or skill or indeed purpose. For example many persons who called themselves samurai and followed bushido especially during the later stages of the edo period never used a sword in anger. Also compare the ninja to a modern counterpart such as the SVD. Here is an organisation over 100,000 strong with expertise in dozens of different fields. Its agents vary from cheap informers who walk in off the streets, to clerks, technicians and including those who are arduosly trained from birth to be exceptional agents.

If the basis for the justifcation of the use of ninja by daimyo is Sun Tzus art of war then it is probable to surmise that the main role of ninja was information gathering. As with current organistations such as SVD, CIA, etc it make sense that those people who have already practised the skills required for espionage are the ones best equipped to conduct assassinations and covert special operations. The principle of a special operation is to use a small amount of force precisely applied to cause maximum disruption and damage as noted in the text above.

According to the article the most referenced skilll of the ninja is siege warfare. Applying knowledge about Japanese defensive structures and referencing battles from as far back as the siege of troy, through Roman, medieval, napleonic and current day siege warfare in terms of how attacks were effected and keeping in mind the methods by which nations recruit armies in times of war including the Japanese there is one thing that seems glaring obvious. When the attack begins the aggressive force will have to breach the defences. Even if this is done by destroying a wall the attacking army will always use surprise to reduce the enemies force multipllier of the choke point. As Sun Tzu stated, surprise is critical to victory. A napleonic parrallel would be the forlorn hope. The attacking force would form up under darkness and prior to dawn the forlorn hope would attmept to sneak through any gaps in the defences and hold an opening whereby the rest of the force could travel through. As the name suggests survival was unlikely but they were key to disrupting the defence long enough for the other components of the army to form up prior to assaulting. In all examples I have heard of the probabilty of survival of the initial force who infilitrates is very low. Those who are given this mission are often selected from the ranks of military personnel in the beseiging force and selected for qualities such as bravery, ability, determination. Given my understading of the Samurai mindset it would be quite an attractive proposition to die heavily outnumbered whislt storming a castle since the glory and rewards for those who survive is great and the prize those those slain is a glorious death. Soldiers specifcally trained to storm beseiged fortifications are rare. In fact I cannot think of a standing force who is trained is such a role. Certainly there are many forces who have done so such as the paratroopers at eben eamel, the rangers at the point du hoc, the silver shields, etc but these have always been formed from existing soldiers for a specific purpose and trained at the time to conduct their role. Keeping in mind that Japense fortifications are considerably easier to breech than their european counterparts of the same period. Siege warfare was not something that was considered desirable by Japanese warlords.

In terms of assassinations, once again the concept of a ‘born and bred’ assassin is a flase one. Histroically assassins come from various sources but are most often driven by either greed or vendetta against an individual or group. Those who would be most succesful as assassin are morally ambigious types with the requisties of stealth and the ability to commit acts of violence and murder against vulnerable persons. A prime example of this would be a thief, criminal or soldier (note: it is not my intent to offend anyone, merely to give informed and reasoned points of view. There is evidence that clans purported to be ‘ninja’ resorted to piracy and brigandage when out of favour or during hard times). These people would have the necessary charactersitcs in so much as greed, the ability to remain undetected and moral ambiguity to got against Bushido. This parallels other areas of the world and periods of time. The word assassin is said to come from the Hashim, persons of arabic decent who operated in the middle east during the times of the crusades. They were famous for their abilities as assassins which were used against the arab armies facing the crusades. Also in renaissance Italy many mercenaries and citizens alike could be hired to attempt assassinations. Even in current times many security services rely on captured criminals to aid in intelligence work. It would be very easy for a Daimyo to offer criminal elements or his own soldiers rewards for the death of an enemy Daimyo knowing that the majority will fail (this in itself will effect the enemy) but if someone succeeds then the effect will be massivly disproportionate to the cost. [one of the key tenets of special operations warfare]. The actual act of assassination itself is very straight forward requiring little skill whereas getting into a position whereby you can effect it is the art form.

A number have comments have stated that the lack of historical evidence of succesful ninja assassinations implies they were good at their job. If you want to believe this then fine, but remember if you have no proof then all you are doing is taking it on faith that these assassinations occurred. It is more logical to say there is limited evidence of assassination by ninja hence there were rare. You can’t make up reasons without evidence just to make the world conform to the way you would like it to be. Looking at other periods of history where assassination was prevalent (such as renaissance italy, medieval europe, crusade period middle east, post wwii europe and middle east) it’s pretty difficult to effect and disguise an assassination regardless of what methods you use. This is because the number of people who would be targetted for assassination is small, there would be aware of it and would be in a position to defend themselves effectively. Take for example the methods employed by Chinese food tasters or the lengths members of the Medici family went to protect themselves from assault.

If you did want to confirm or deny one method would be to examine the geneology of important japanese family lines (my understanding is that lineage was very important in feudel Japan to the extent that a genelogy was one of the most precious things a family could possess) to look at suspicious, ie premature deaths which would fit the profile of a covert assassination. How successful this would be though I don’t know.

Also I would love to see the source evidence for comments decribing what ninja did or didn’t wear, what equipment they used, how they were trained etc.

I’m not trying to annoy anyone here but I think people need to ask themselves. Is this true or is this want other people want me to believe? I have heard a lot of people say a lot of things about ninja and martial arts and using the statement ‘everybody knows’ or it is ‘common knowledge’. If you say a lie enough times people will believe it to be true. I would love to believe that there are these uber guys capable of everything I’ve heard they can do but to date all I’ve got is that certain sections in Japanese soceity a few hundred years ago used stealth techniques fairly common to the rest of the world and were called ninja, and that some time later (much like ian fleming with james bond franchise) people started romanticising it and making plays and films about these people.

Posted by: 2bears at January 1, 2008 11:33 PM

Is this essay copied from

If it is, that is plagiarism. please give them some credit.

Posted by: Asakura Jin at January 20, 2008 09:47 PM

This is what I love about the Internet -- one of the few places where you can be accused of plagarizing yourself. Alas, Shaolin Society copied the original version of this page, which I wrote many, many years ago, and posted it, without permission, along with screenshots I took of various Ninja weapons, on their site.

Here's the first version, courtesy of the Internet wayback machine, which I wrote and published way back in 2001:

The Illuminated Lantern is specifically a place for my writing about Asian Cinema and culture, and I assure you that every word of every article and review posted here was written by yours truly.

Posted by: PTN at January 20, 2008 09:58 PM

Did you know that the is now a website that offers online video lessons in ninjutsu?

Posted by: joe at January 28, 2008 11:15 AM

A lot has been written and said about "historical" ninjas but unfortunately almost nothing can be proved or confirmed in historical referenses (that is text from the said time). All known written information (that claims to be true) is post 1950 and comes mainly directly or indirectly from one source - Masaaki Hatsumi. It is of course possible that all and any period information has been destroyed but if the ninja had the impact on Japanese warfare that is mentioned here that is highly unlikely. If you ask me, you might as well switch "ninja" with Santa Claus or the Flying Spagetti Monster - we can see why warlords did everthing in their power to conceal why they had them on their side.

Posted by: Stumpan at January 31, 2008 10:54 PM

Very interesting and well done report on Ninjas. Again, like many others, this has helped me greatly on a school report. It was something that i enjoyed reading very much just for pure fun! Good job!

Posted by: Kailey at February 21, 2008 01:26 PM

Haha, I'm almost glad I'm not the only one stupid enough to do a paper on ninjas. On a more serious note, I chose this topic because I knew it'd be a challenge, and I could finally discover what kind of people my childhood heroes really were and what they did.

Posted by: Master Son at February 27, 2008 06:46 PM

wow, thanks! i'm working on a movie about Ninjas and that really helped.

Posted by: Aidan at February 28, 2008 08:57 AM

As always, I enjoyed the article, it works for me. But I must admit; delving into Oriental culture is both fascinating and an a let down. I recognized the stage hand/ninja costumes on my own but it's the same thing as finally learning enough kanji to read the side of my prettily painted old tea canister from China. Instead of the poem I was sure would be there was the legend, "Golden Tea co. Houchou. Freshest Teas are our pride"

Oh well.

Posted by: nokomarie at February 29, 2008 10:38 AM

they dressed in black when they went on night missions outside, so the enemy wouldn't see them.they only disguised themselves when they went into castles,which wasn't all the time.and they're suits shinobi shinozu were white on the inside

Posted by: tikiwiki at February 29, 2008 10:44 AM

Thanks you really helped me out on my assignment

Posted by: Tokugawa at March 18, 2008 03:16 AM

Thanks! This was the only source I found that was easy to read and understand. It helped a lot.

Posted by: Michelle at April 1, 2008 03:59 PM

Thank you so much for this because i have a school assignment and i info on ninjas and wikipedia was being retarded and couldn't make up it's mind on things that had happened in the past.
thanks ;D oh by the way can you email the things where yo got your content from because it had to come somewhere and even if it isn't translated
KFC the quad riding ninja signing out

Posted by: KFC at April 29, 2008 08:55 PM

your awsome.. you just saved my butt from my mothers wrath.. woot! im doing a huge project on ninjas....

Posted by: joe at May 19, 2008 03:05 PM

but 4 me,i really believe in ninjas,,4 me they are feared assassins in the past,,perfect assassins,,but not frontline warriors,,

Posted by: ShinoBi JugZ at July 27, 2008 02:23 AM

I've always supposed that ninja were spies with deep cover. The original meaning of the character 'shinobi' (nin) was to endure or persevere. I suspect that the original ninjas were double agents that married into prominent military families, and then subsequently communicated information back to their employers through seemingly-innocuous channels such as letters about the weather, and poems. There is ample historical evidence for this, and its one of the few instances where a woman could play an effective role at the top of Japanese society.

Certainly, if your enemies knew your exact battle plan and the location of all your top generals and leaders before you even gave the orders yourself, it would seem like a magic power to be able to be ready for it.

Also, it's not true that assassinations were covered up. To the contrary, some good assassins became famous, and they were almost all samurai by birth and training. For example, Kawakami Gensai, Kirino Toshiaki, Tanaka Shinbei, and Okada Izo were famous assassinations during the Japanese Civil War of the 19th century. Earlier assassinations are well documented and almost always the work of family members hungry for power than outside forces.

Posted by: blahblah at July 28, 2008 04:25 PM

Don't you think it's quite an unconsidered statement to make that ninja assassination missions have never been successfull just because there is no information on. Or the point is the public not finding out about if it was a ninja. And they were so good that we wouldn't find out. Plus I don't think it would be publicised if it already made people fear the ninja without it being released in the press. Its a foolish thing to disrespect a history a martial art. The main aspect of ninjutsu is deception. When a ninja dressed up as a normal person and asked to be hired by the target to work as a slave in his house for a hotplate and shelter. sweep and wash up. He has already infiltrated. All is left is gain trust and backstab. they were not feared for nothing.

Posted by: haver2002 at September 3, 2008 10:47 AM

great- helped me with my assignment and has aided me in my jouney of becoming a ninja!


Posted by: master_of_the_darkness at September 24, 2008 09:08 PM

Thanks a lot! That was well written. I am very interested of ninjas right now and this article was super helpful.

Posted by: Ninja at October 9, 2008 02:04 PM

dude almost every1 need this for work

Posted by: master of night at October 20, 2008 07:35 PM

Read the statement. I am not saying that ninja assassination did not occur because there is no evidence of them, just that you cannot make any conclusions of ninja activity if you have no evidence. I have spent many years researching special forces activity, and when it comes to far eastern, specifically ninja activity, one thing becomes apparent. The symptomatic data, which is present in most cases is lacking in respect to this one. As in my statement I am making no comment on whether events happened or not, just that I want someone to provide objective proof. If you cannot provide objective proof then how do you know? Regarding ‘unconsidered’. As I said, look at the genealogy histories. If you can find no proof how can you say they were successful? I have spent many years waiting for someone to prove the mythical ninja. It has not happened. I am left with stories about people such as frank dux and the legendary ‘death touch’ and how he was subsequently embarrassed on numerous occasions in public by instructors he hired then failed to pay. You might say that he was an exception but I have lost count of the number of times I have challenged ninja to an open contest [any time, any place and they don’t have to tell me when they attack] and they have embarrassed themselves thinking that the jugular notch was some secret death touch that only they knew. [Most police force teach nerve points these days!]. if you want to have an informed discussion on this topic then I suggest you study how other nations at various different times conducted themselves and several key facts will become apparent.

Regarding the disrespect of a martial art. I have spent many years training in various forms of hand to hand combat, from military forms to historic. Hand to hand is about defence and evade. As many people will tell you, the first thing you do in unarmed combat is arm yourself. The way the casa nostro or Hamas or PIRA or gangsters in 1930s Chicago conduct their business is a good indication of how modern assassins work.

Simply put, I am a historian and a fighter. I have spent most of my life pursuing these arts in both an academic and a practical vein. I cannot in good conscience talk about a group of people that have no proof of existence, have left no symptoms of activity, nor no mark on current times. If they are good then they are very good, because the people they have assassinated, they have erased from history.

The main point that winds me up is the number of “instructors” who claim to teach ninjitsu but in fact teach nonsense. I have seen many proponents of ninjitsu demonstrate their art and get very upset when numerous persons have pointed out why they skills were deficient. They have even been more upset when those same persons have given a physical demonstration in which areas they were lacking. Simply put, a ninja attacks weakness [ie when someone is asleep] a thai boxer, or a jujitsuka attacks someone on equal terms [ie, in a ring, when they are fully aware and expecting attack]. I have met many people who claim to be ‘ninjas’ forget this.

And from a sophist point of view, “hire a slave” hmm? I thought slaves were bought. And in Japan slavery was not as big as it was in the Mediterranean.

A challenge I have issued many times before and will issue again. Ninjitsu is a way of thinking, not a martial art. Prove me wrong. If you want to become adapt at hand to hand combat, learn jujitsu, krav maga, thai boxing, akido, join the armed forces or the police, etc. The best instructors I had were ones who had practised their skills for real [bouncers, policeman, soldiers]. Their skills are tempered by the need to survive. Trust me, a good teacher will not hold back and doesn’t care about how much he gets paid.

And finally. I am here for discussion not argument or recrimination. If you can expand my knowledge then I will not only agree with you but inform others.

Posted by: 2bears at October 31, 2008 08:22 PM

to get started: YOU are a god damn moron, second: you are showing of with some facts that you read somewhere,but infact you don't know if that's true or not 'cause you weren't alive back then perhaps that's what ninjutsu is all about, jackass, did you ever think that ninjas didn't want for the dumbasses like you or anyone else to know anything about them accept for the people who deserve to, the CIA doesen't give away informations about their missions or tactics to the general public, why would ninjas be any different, think about it and stop acting like you know everything, arigato

Posted by: bakikatana at November 25, 2008 12:05 PM

Hi !
Thanx 4 the information...
it helped me a lot...
the information is so clear and complete...

Posted by: Kousuke at December 9, 2008 07:15 AM

Omg! thx for the information!it was actually very intiresting! lol i wish i was a ninja!
It totally helped with my assignment!

Posted by: Someone Strange at December 14, 2008 05:19 PM

you left out hypnosis and mind control,just a suggestion...

Posted by: uchiha at January 3, 2009 06:21 PM

Thnx 4 the article

i didnt know that they wern't actually good at killing

i guess im the product of american pop culture


Posted by: me! at January 8, 2009 04:09 PM

thx this helped me do my speech :P

Posted by: I R WIN at February 4, 2009 08:07 PM

Where I can find larger info?

Posted by: Done at February 5, 2009 12:27 PM

WOW thanks gave me lots of useful info for my assignment for global. now i can make a story on the ninjas. funny how every1 has to do a project on ninjas....

Posted by: Kenny at February 18, 2009 07:04 PM

This is great! I have to give a speech for class and I picked ninjas and this website helped a lot!

Posted by: Klare at April 28, 2009 09:05 PM

Wow. You do have some of your information right. However, you failed to mention these things:

1- Ninja wouldn't make it into much recorded history. Shogun Bob's family would rather write off his defeat as something else other than "deafeat by a peasant"

2- Ninja tactics are still used to this day by Special Forces. Not to mention, many credit the Ninja for their innovative guerilla tactics.

But hey, at least they aren't like pirates. Peter Pan killed pirates.

Posted by: Jesse at May 27, 2009 09:12 AM

The most facinating aspect of this imo is the huge response rate. Placing the ninja as a real concept. A universal architype men strive to achieve that existed before the word ninja was concieved.

Posted by: nonya at June 6, 2009 05:35 AM

How can i hire a real ninja from japan to help me assonate all of are planet world leaders

Posted by: David hickle at June 17, 2009 05:10 PM
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