Kallie Szczepanski is a history teacher specializing in Asian history and culture. She has taught at the high school and university levels in the U. Kallie Szczepanski Updated July 18, The ninja of movies and comic books—a stealthy assassin in black robes with magical abilities in the arts of concealment and murder—is very compelling, to be sure. But the historical reality of the ninja is somewhat different.
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Kallie Szczepanski is a history teacher specializing in Asian history and culture. She has taught at the high school and university levels in the U. Kallie Szczepanski Updated July 18, The ninja of movies and comic books—a stealthy assassin in black robes with magical abilities in the arts of concealment and murder—is very compelling, to be sure.
But the historical reality of the ninja is somewhat different. In feudal Japan, ninjas were a lower class of warriors often recruited by samurai and governments to act as spies. Origins of the Ninja It is difficult to pin down the emergence of the first ninja, more properly called shinobi—after all, people around the world have always used spies and assassins.
Japanese folklore states that the ninja descended from a demon that was half man and half crow. However, it seems more likely that the ninja slowly evolved as an opposing force to their upper-class contemporaries, the samurai , in early feudal Japan. Prince Shotoku, who lived from to , is said to have employed Otomono Sahito as a shinobi spy. By the year , the Tang Dynasty in China had fallen, plunging the country into 50 years of chaos and forcing Tang generals to escape over the sea to Japan where they brought new battle tactics and philosophies of war.
The First Known Ninja School For a century or more, the blend of Chinese and native tactics that would become ninjutsu developed as a counter-culture, without rules. It was first formalized by Daisuke Togakure and Kain Doshi around the 12th century. Daisuke had been a samurai, but he was on the losing side in a regional battle and forced to forfeit his lands and his samurai title.
Ordinarily, a samurai might commit seppuku under these circumstances, but Daisuke did not. Instead, in , Daisuke wandered the mountains of southwest Honshu where he met Kain Doshi, a Chinese warrior-monk.
Daisuke renounced his bushido code, and together the two developed a new theory of guerrilla warfare called ninjutsu. Who Were the Ninja? Some of the ninja leaders , or jonin, were disgraced samurai like Daisuke Togakure that had lost in battle or had been renounced by their daimyo but fled rather than committing ritual suicide. However, most ordinary ninjas were not from the nobility.
Instead, low-ranking ninjas were villagers and farmers who learned to fight by any means necessary for their own self-preservation, including the use of stealth and poison to carry out assassinations. As a result, the most famous ninja strongholds were the Iga and Koga Provinces, mostly known for their rural farmlands and quiet villages. Women also served in ninja combat.
Female ninja, or kunoichi, infiltrated enemy castles in the guise of dancers, concubines, or servants who were highly successful spies and sometimes even acted as assassins as well.
Samurai Use of the Ninja The samurai lords could not always prevail in open warfare, but they were constrained by bushido, so they often hired ninjas to do their dirty work. This system also transferred wealth to the lower classes, as the ninja were paid handsomely for their work.
The Rise and Fall of the Ninja The ninja came into their own during the tumultuous era between and The ninja were an important tool during the Sengoku Period , but also a destabilizing influence.
When warlord Oda Nobunaga emerged as the strongest daimyo and began to reunite Japan in —, he saw the ninja strongholds at Iga and Koga as a threat, but despite quickly defeating and co-opting the Koga ninja forces, Nobunaga had more trouble with Iga.
While their base was destroyed, the ninja did not vanish entirely. Some went into the service of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who became shogun in , but the much-reduced ninja continued to serve on both sides in various struggles. Ninja skills and legends survived, though, and were embellished to enliven the movies, games, and comic books of today.
A ninja was nothing if not well armed with a variety of weapons suitable for every occasion. This term was typically applied to male ninjas and was the term used before the popularisation of the word ninja. The origin of the ninja Some of the first ninja to be recorded in history were from the famed Iga and Koga schools. These ninjas were typically family memebers, with the Iga and Koga clans really being a series of families passing down skills from generation to generation. Of course once these highly honed skills became known to the rulers of the time, their value was obvious to them. This was then the training of the ninja became much more prevalent, and a new class of warrior in feudal Japan was truly born.
The Ninja: Ancient Shadow Warriors of Japan (The Secret History of Ninjutsu)
Historically, the word ninja was not in common use, and a variety of regional colloquialisms evolved to describe what would later be dubbed ninja. Along with shinobi, some examples include monomi "one who sees" , nokizaru " macaque on the roof" , rappa "ruffian" , kusa "grass" and Iga-mono "one from Iga". Woodblock print on paper. Kunisada , Despite many popular folktales, historical accounts of the ninja are scarce. Historian Stephen Turnbull asserts that the ninja were mostly recruited from the lower class, and therefore little literary interest was taken in them.
The ninja : ancient shadow warriors of Japan