You are on page 1of 7


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

For other uses, see Ninja (disambiguation).

"Shinobi" redirects here. For other uses, see Shinobi (disambiguation).

Jiraiya, ninja and title character of the Japanese folktale Jiraiya Goketsu Monogatari.

In the history of Japan, a ninja (忍者 ninja?) was someone specially trained in a variety
of unorthodox arts of war. The methods used by ninja included assassination, espionage,
and a variety of martial arts.

In the Japanese culture, they were usually trained for dangerous missions.[citation needed]Their
exact origins are still unknown. Their roles may have included sabotage, espionage,
scouting and assassination missions as a way to destabilize and cause social chaos in
enemy territory or against an opposing ruler, perhaps in the service of their feudal rulers
(daimyo, shogun), or an underground ninja organization waging guerilla warfare.[citation

Ninja is the on'yomi reading of the two kanji 忍者 used to write shinobi-no-mono (忍の
者), which is the native Japanese word for people who practice ninjutsu (忍術,
sometimes erroneously transliterated as ninjitsu). The term shinobi (historically sino2bi2
written with the Man'yōgana 志能備), has been traced as far back as the late 8th century
when Heguri Uji no Iratsume wrote a poem[1][2] to Ōtomo no Yakamochi. The underlying
connotation of shinobi (忍) means "to steal away" and—by extension—"to forbear,"
hence its association with stealth and invisibility. Mono (者, likewise pronounced sha or
ja) means "person."

The word ninja became popular in the post-World War II culture. The nin of ninjutsu is
the same as that in ninja, whereas jutsu (術) means skill or art, so ninjutsu means "the
skill of going unperceived" or "the art of stealth"; hence, ninja and shinobi-no-mono (as
well as shinobi) may be translated as "one skilled in the art of stealth." Similarly, the pre-
war word ninjutsu-zukai means "one who uses the art of remaining unperceived."

Other terms which may be used include oniwaban (お庭番 "one in the garden"), suppa,
rappa, mitsumono, kusa (草 grass) and Iga-mono ("one from Iga").

In English language, the plural of ninja can be either unchanged as ninja, reflecting the
Japanese language's lack of grammatical number, or the regular English plural ninjas.[3]

Historical period of origin

The ninja use of stealth tactics against better-armed enemy samurai does not mean that
they were limited to espionage and undercover work: that is simply where their actions
most notably differed from the more accepted tactics of samurai. Their weapons and
tactics were partially derived from the need to conceal or defend themselves quickly from
samurai, which can be seen from the similarities between many of their weapons and
various sickles and threshing tools used at the time.[4]

Ninjas as a group first began to be written about in 15th century feudal Japan as martial
organizations predominately in the regions of Iga and Koga of central Japan, though the
practice of guerrilla warfare and undercover espionage operations goes back much
further.[citation needed]

At this time, the conflicts between the clans of daimyo that controlled small regions of
land had established guerrilla warfare and assassination as a valuable alternative to
frontal assault.[citation needed] Since Bushido, the Samurai Code, forbade such tactics as
dishonorable,[citation needed] a daimyo could not expect his own troops to perform the tasks
required; thus, he had to buy or broker the assistance of ninja to perform selective strikes,
espionage, assassination, and infiltration of enemy strongholds.[citation needed]

There are a few people and groups of people regarded as having been potential historical
ninja from approximately the same time period. It is rumored that some of the higher-
ranking daimyos and shoguns were in fact ninja, and exploited their role as ninja-hunters
to deflect suspicion and obscure their participation in the 'dishonorable' ninja methods
and training.[citation needed]
Though typically classified as assassins, many of the ninja were warriors in all senses. In
Stephen K. Hayes's book, Mystic Arts of the Ninja, Hattori Hanzo, one of the most well-
known ninja, is depicted in armor similar to that of a samurai. Hayes also says that those
who ended up recording the history of the ninja were typically those within positions of
power in the military dictatorships, and that students of history should realize that the
history of the ninja was kept by observers writing about their activities as seen from the

"Ninjutsu did not come into being as a specific well defined art in the first place, and
many centuries passed before ninjutsu was established as an independent system of
knowledge in its own right. Ninjutsu developed as a highly illegal counter culture to the
ruling samurai elite, and for this reason alone, the origins of the art were shrouded by
centuries of mystery, concealment, and deliberate confusion of history."[5]

A similar account is given by Hayes: "The predecessors of Japan's ninja were so-called
rebels favoring Buddhism who fled into the mountains near Kyoto as early as the 7th
century A.D. to escape religious persecution and death at the hands of imperial forces."[6]

Historical organization
In their history, ninja groups were small and structured around families and villages, later
developing a more martial hierarchy that was able to mesh more closely with that of
samurai and the daimyo. These certain ninjutsu trained groups were set in these villages
for protection against raiders and robbers.

"Ninja museums" in Japan declare women to have been ninjas as well. A female ninja
may be kunoichi (くノ一); the characters are derived from the strokes that make up the
kanji for female (女). They were sometimes depicted as spies who learned the secrets of
an enemy by seduction; though it's just as likely they were employed as household
servants, putting them in a position to overhear potentially valuable information.[citation

As a martial organization, ninja would have had many rules, and keeping secret the
ninja's clan and the daimyo who gave them their orders would have been one of the most
important ones.[citation needed]

For modern hierarchy in ninjutsu, see Ninjutsu.

Historical garb, technique, and image

There is no evidence that historical ninja limited themselves to all-black suits. In modern
times, camouflage based upon dark colors such as dark red and dark blue can be used to
give better concealment at night. Some cloaks may have been reversible: dark colored on
the outside for concealment during the night, and white colored on the inside for
concealment in the snow. Some ninja may have worn the same armor or clothing as
samurai or Japanese peasants.

The stereotypical ninja that continually wears easily identifiable black outfits (shinobi
shozoku) comes from the Kabuki theater.[1] Prop handlers would dress in black and
move props around on the stage. The audience would obviously see the prop handlers,
but would pretend they were invisible. Building on that willing suspension of disbelief,
ninja characters also came to be portrayed in the theater as wearing similar all-black suits.
This either implied to the audience that the ninja were also invisible, or simply made the
audience unable to tell a ninja character from many prop handlers until the ninja character
distinguished himself from the other stagehands with a scripted attack or assassination.

Ninja boots (jika-tabi), like much of the rest of Japanese footwear from the time, have a
split-toe design that improves gripping and wall/rope climbing. They are soft enough to
be virtually silent. Ninja also attached special spikes to the bottoms of the boots called

The actual head covering suggested by Sōke Masaaki Hatsumi (in his book The Way of
the Ninja: Secret Techniques) utilizes what is referred to as sanjaku-tenugui, (three-foot
cloths). It involves the tying of two three-foot cloths around the head in such a way as to
make the mask flexible in configuration but securely bound. Some wear a long robe, most
of the time dark blue (紺色 kon'iro) for stealth.

Associated equipment
The assassination, espionage, and infiltration tasks of the ninja led to the development of
specialized technology in concealable weapons and infiltration tools.

Specialized weapons and tactics

Ninja also employed a variety of weapons and tricks using gunpowder. Smoke bombs
and firecrackers were widely used to aid an escape or create a diversion for an attack.
They used timed fuses to delay explosions. Ōzutsu (cannons) they constructed could be
used to launch fiery sparks as well as projectiles at a target. Small "bombs" called
metsubushi (目潰し, "eye closers") were filled with sand and sometimes metal dust. This
sand would be carried in bamboo segments or in hollowed eggs and thrown at someone,
the shell would crack, and the assailant would be blinded. Even land mines were
constructed that used a mechanical fuse or a lit, oil-soaked string. Secrets of making
desirable mixes of gunpowder were strictly guarded in many ninja clans.

Other forms of trickery were said to be used for escaping and combat. Ashiaro are
wooden pads attached to the ninja's tabi (thick socks with a separate "toe" for bigger toe;
used with sandals). The ashiaro would be carved to look like an animal's paw, or a child's
foot, allowing the ninja to leave tracks that most likely would not be noticed.
Also a small ring worn on a ninja's finger called a shobo would be used for hand-to-hand
combat. The shobo (or as known in many styles of ninjutsu, the shabo) would have a
small notch of wood used to hit assailant's pressure points for sharp pain, sometimes
causing temporary paralysis. A suntetsu is very similar to a shobo. It could be a small
oval shaped piece of wood affixed to the finger by a small strap. The suntetsu would be
held against a finger (mostly middle) on the palm-side and when the hand was thrust at an
opponent using the longer piece of wood to target pressure points such as the solar

Ninja also used special short swords called ninjaken, or shinobigatana. Ninjaken are
smaller than katana but larger than wakizashi. The ninjaken was often more of a
utilitarian tool than a weapon, not having the complex heat treatment of a usual weapon.
Another version of the ninja sword was the shikoro ken (saw sword). The shikoro ken was
said to be used to gain entry into buildings, and could also have a double use by cutting
(or slashing in this case) opponents.

In popular culture
Main article: Ninja in popular culture

Ninja appear in both Japanese and Western fiction. Depictions range from realistic to the
fantastically exaggerated.

• In the mid-1960s the Japanese TV series The Samurai created a major wave of
popularity for the ninja in Japan, and this was replicated in several other countries
where the series was screened, most notably in Australia, where the program's
popularity rivaled its following in Japan among children.

• In Masashi Kishimoto's popular manga/anime Naruto, ninja are the main focus
and ruling power.

• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) originally was intended to satirize the
characterizations of ninja in the Western comics, primarily drawing on the
fictionalized representations created by Frank Miller in Marvel's Daredevil
comics of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

• Many sources, including books, television, movies, and websites are portraying
ninja in non-factual ways, often for humor or entertainment. Popular examples
include the Real Ultimate Power website and book, the Ninja Spirit parody video
series, and the Ask a Ninja podcast and website which are satirically written,
feigning obsessive over-enthusiasm for ninja. Ninja Burger presents a fiction in
which Ninja can be hired to deliver fast food in 30 minutes or less without being
seen, or, on failure, commit seppuku, or ritual suicide.
• More popular western fictional ninja have appeared in the popular 1980's ninja-
oriented films of Japanese actor and martial artist Sho Kosugi, the American
Ninja series, and the TMNT franchise, among others.

• Ninja frequently appear in videogames (i.e. Tenchu, Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi,

Shinobido), where they have gained as strong a following among gamers as they
have among movie-goers.

• In the movie You Only Live Twice, James Bond is brought to a government ninja
training camp by the head of the Japanese secret service, Tiger Tanaka, and
survives several assassination attempts there.

• Kawasaki Heavy Industries adopted the name "Ninja" for one of their lines of
sportsbikes (See Kawasaki Ninja).

• During 2007 and early 2008, an American burglar reported to have used nunchaku
on one of his victims was known by the media as The Staten Island Ninja.

1. ^ Takagi, Man'yōshū poem #3940; page 191
2. ^ Satake, Man'yōshū poem #3940; page 108
3. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed.; American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed.; Unabridged (v 1.1).
4. ^ 'Ninja?' What is this 'Ninja?'; last accessed December 31, 2007
5. ^ The Historical Ninja (PDF); last accessed December 31, 2007
6. ^ Ninjutsu: The Art of Invisibility (Google Books); last accessed December 31,

• Takagi, Ichinosuke; Tomohide Gomi, Susumu Ōno (1962). Nihon Koten Bungaku Taikei:
Man'yōshū Volume 4. Iwanami Shoten. ISBN 4-00-060007-9.
• Satake, Akihiro; Hideo Yasumada, Rikio Kudō, Masao Ōtani, Yoshiyuki Yamazaki
(2003). Shin Nihon Koten Bungaku Taikei: Man'yōshū Volume 4. Iwanami Shoten. ISBN
• Hatsumi, Masaaki (June 1981). Ninjutsu: History and Tradition. Unique Publications.
ISBN 0-86568-027-2.
• Turnbull, Stephen (February 2003). Ninja AD 1460-1650. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-

External links
• Iga Ninja Museum
• How Ninja Work at How Stuff Works
• History of the concept of the Ninja, especially in theatre

Retrieved from ""

Related Interests