A ninja (Japanese: 忍者, lit.'one who is invisible'; [ɲiꜜɲdʑa]) or shinobi (Japanese: 忍び, lit.'one who sneaks'; [ɕinobi]) was an infiltration agent, mercenary, or guerrilla warfare and later bodyguard expert in feudal Japan. They were often employed in siege, espionage missions, and military deception.[1] They often appear in the historical record during the Sengoku period,[2] although antecedents may have existed as early as the 12th century.[3][4]

Drawing of the archetypical ninja from a series of sketches by Hokusai. Woodblock print on paper. Vol. six, 1817.

During the Japan's warring state period, jizamurai clans of peasant-warriors in Iga Province and the adjacent Kōka District formed ikki – "revolts" or "leagues" – as a means of self-defense.

Following the Tokugawa shogunate in the 17th century, the ninja faded into obscurity.[5] A number of shinobi manuals, often based on Chinese military philosophy, were written in the 17th and 18th centuries, most notably the Bansenshūkai (1676).[6]

The word "ninja" in kanji script

Ninja is the on'yomi (Early Middle Chinese–influenced) the two kanji "忍者". In the native kun'yomi reading, it is pronounced shinobi, a shortened form of shinobi-no-mono (忍びの者).[7] The word shinobi appears in the written record as far back as the late 8th century in poems in the Man'yōshū.[8][9] The underlying connotation of shinobi () means "to steal away; to hide" and—by extension—"to forbear", hence its association with stealth and invisibility. Mono () means "a person".[citation needed] The word ninja was uncommon, and a variety of regional colloquialisms evolved to describe what would later be dubbed ninja.[5] The first known English use of the word ninja was in 1964.[10] Kunoichi (くノ一) is, originally, an argot which means "woman";[11]: p168  it supposedly comes from the characters くノ一 (respectively hiragana ku, katakana no and kanji ichi), which make up the form of kanji for "woman" (女).[11]: p168  In fiction written in the modern era kunoichi means "female ninja".[11]: p167 

By the time of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, shinobi had become a topic of popular culture in Japan which featured in many legend and folklore, where they were associated with many supernatural abilitiles.


It was believed the espionage activities of Ninja were attributed to Chinese military strategy, such as The Art of War by Sun Tzu.[12] According to traditional evaluation, The ninja were stealth soldiers and mercenaries hired mostly by daimyōs.[13]

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.[14] The social origin of the ninja is seen as the reason they agree to operate in secret, trading their service for money without honor and glory.[15] The scarcity of historical accounts is also demonstrated in war epics such as The Tale of Hōgen (Hōgen Monogatari) and The Tale of the Heike (Heike Monogatari), which focus mainly on the aristocratic samurai, whose deeds were apparently more appealing to the audience.[16] Historian Kiyoshi Watatani states that the ninja were trained to be particularly secretive about their actions and existence:

So-called ninjutsu techniques, in short are the skills of shinobi-no-jutsu and shinobijutsu, which have the aims of ensuring that one's opponent does not know of one's existence, and for which there was special training.[17]

However, some ninjutsu books described specifically what tactics ninja should use to fight, and the scenarios in which a ninja might find themselves can be deduced from those tactics. For example, in the manuscript of volume 2 of Kanrin Seiyō (間林清陽) which is the original book of Bansenshūkai (万川集海), there are 48 points of ninja's fighting techniques, such as how to make makibishi from bamboo, how to make footwear that makes no sound, fighting techniques when surrounded by many enemies, precautions when using swords at night, how to listen to small sounds, kuji-kiri that prevents guard dogs from barking, and so on.[18][19]

This diagram from the Bansenshūkai uses divination and esoteric cosmology (onmyōdō) to instruct on the ideal time for taking certain actions.

Later in history, the Kōga ninja would become regarded as agents of the Tokugawa bakufu, at a time when the Shogunate used the ninja in an intelligence network to monitor regional daimyōs as well as the Imperial court.[20] During this time, there are some definitive terms to classify their activities such as spying (kanchō), scout (teisatsu), ambush (kishu), and Agitprop (konran).[21] The ninja clans organized into larger confederation, with their own respective territories.[20] A system of rank existed. A jōnin rank ("upper person"). Followd by the chūnin rank ("middle person"), which task was personal assistant to the jōnin. genin rank ("lower person"), field agents drawn from the lower class for field operations.[22] Ninja trainees also studied survival, poisons and explosives.[23] Physical training involved long-distance runs, climbing, stealth methods of walking[24] Training to disguise themselves also taught.[23] Some evidence of medical training can be derived from one account, where a Iga ninja provided medical to Ii Naomasa, general of Tokugawa who was injured by gunfire the Sekigahara battle.[25]

The skill sets of ninja agents known in modern times as ninjutsu (忍術), which comprised a variety of espionage and survival skills with each its own unique characteristic for each ninjitsu schools. Some view ninjutsu as evidence that ninja were not simple mercenaries because texts contained not only information on combat training, but also information about daily needs, which even included mining techniques.[26] The guidance provided for daily work also included elements that enable the ninja to understand the martial qualities of even the most menial task.[26] These factors show how the ninjutsu established among the ninja class the fundamental principle of adaptation.[26]


A page from the Shōninki (1681), detailing a list of possible disguises

Ninja usually worked in team to scale a wall by providing a human platform to assist their team members in reaching the top of the wall.[27] The Mikawa Go Fudoki gives an account where a coordinated team of infiltratiors usually using passwords to communicate to recognize their team members during the disguising operations as they dressed in the same clothes as the enemy.[28]

In his Buke Myōmokushō, military historian Hanawa Hokinoichi writes of the ninja that they travelling in disguise into foreign territories to scout and enemy forces and setting enemy castle on fire attack, carrying assassinations,[29] and Infiltration tactics.[15][29] Espionage was the chief role of the ninja. With the aid of disguises, the ninja gathered information on enemy terrain and building specifications, as well as obtaining passwords and communiques. The aforementioned supplement to the Nochi Kagami briefly describes the ninja's role in espionage, as Stephen Turnbull stated that the Iga and Kōka ninja usually infiltrated enemy castles.[30] Turnbull further added, Ninja gained notability as hired mercenaries during the 15 century to use many asymetrical warfare tactics such as scoutings, raidings, arsonists and even terrorism. which considered abhorrent by Amongst samurai class members. During the Sengoku period, demands for such unconventional operations were increased.[31][1] Meanwhile, Turnbull also stated there is no evidence to prove that Ninja actively employed as professional assassins, as it could be argued they could be just hired bandits.[32] Modern historian Tatsuo Fujita opined that based on the historical texts in 16 century by Naito Munekatsu, vassal of the Miyoshi clan, ninja warriors was actually feared as mercenaries who were proficient in the castle siege warfares.[33] Buildings were constructed with traps and trip wires attached to alarm bells to prevent enemy ninja infiltrations.[34] In battle, the ninja were also used to cause confusion amongst the enemy.[35] A degree of psychological warfare in the capturing of enemy banners can be seen illustrated in the Ōu Eikei Gunki, where a ninja once stolen the banner of samurai lord Naoe Kanetsugu and hoist it to next day to demoralize Kanetsugu's army in the war.[36]

Most ninjutsu techniques recorded in scrolls and manuals revolve around ways to avoid detection, and methods of escape.[6] These techniques were loosely grouped under corresponding natural elements. Some examples are:

  • Hitsuke: The practice of distracting guards by starting a fire away from the ninja's planned point of entry. Falls under "fire techniques" (katon-no-jutsu).[37]
  • Tanuki-gakure: The practice of climbing a tree and camouflaging oneself within the foliage. Falls under "wood techniques" (mokuton-no-jutsu).[37]
  • Ukigusa-gakure: The practice of throwing duckweed over water to conceal underwater movement. Falls under "water techniques" (suiton-no-jutsu).[37]
  • Uzura-gakure: The practice of curling into a ball and remaining motionless to appear like a stone. Falls under "earth techniques" (doton-no-jutsu).[37]

The use of disguises is common and well documented. Disguises came in the form of priests, entertainers, fortune tellers, merchants, rōnin, and monks.[38] The Buke Myōmokushō states, that their missions were to disguise themselves as firewood gatherers and gaining information about the enemy[30] A mountain ascetic (yamabushi) attire facilitated travel, as they were common and could travel freely between political boundaries. The loose robes of Buddhist priests also allowed concealed weapons, such as the tantō.[39] Minstrel or sarugaku outfits could have allowed the ninja to spy in enemy buildings without rousing suspicion. Disguises as a komusō, a mendicant monk known for playing the shakuhachi, were also effective, as the large "basket" hats traditionally worn by them concealed the head completely.[40]

Tools & weaponries

Antique Japanese gappa (travel cape) and cloth zukin (hood) with kusari (chain armour) concealed underneath

Ninja were believed to use used a large variety of tools and weaponries, which described and illustrated in the 17 century record Bansenshūkai,[41] including climbing equipment, extending spears,[25] rocket-propelled arrows,[42] and small collapsible boats.[43] Although it was believed the ninja wearing black garb (shinobi shōzoku) during their work, as depicted in modern media, there is no evidence for such attire.[44] instead, ninja usually operated in disguise of civilians.[29]

The accounts about Ninja's armor existence cannot be verified. Depictions of famous persons later deemed ninja often show them in Japanese armour. with concealable types of armour made with Kusari (Japanese mail armour) and Karuta (armour) that could have been worn by ninja including katabira (jackets) made with armour hidden between layers of cloth. Shin and arm guards, along with metal-reinforced hoods are also speculated to make up the ninja's armor.[29]

A page from the Ninpiden, showing a tool for breaking locks

Tools used for infiltration and espionage are some of the most abundant artifacts related to the ninja. Ropes and grappling hooks were common, and were tied to the belt.[41] A collapsible ladder is illustrated in the Bansenshukai, featuring spikes at both ends to anchor the ladder.[45] Spiked or hooked climbing gear worn on the hands and feet also doubled as weapons.[46] Other implements include chisels, hammers, drills, picks, and so forth.

Ninja also using mizugumo to walk on the water.[43] This pair of footwear distributing the wearer's weight over the shoes' wide bottom surface, allowing the wearer to walk on the surface of water. The name of this equipment mizugumo was derived from the native name for the Japanese water spider (Argyroneta aquatica japonica). A similar footwear ukidari, also existed in the form of a flat round bucket, although arguably more unstable to use.[47]

Goshiki-mai (go, five; shiki, color; mai, rice) colored (red, blue, yellow, black, purple)[48] rice grains were used in a code system,[49][50] and to make trails that could be followed later.[51][52][53]

Ninja often used the katana as weapon of choice, which carried on the back.[40] The scabbard of katana sword of Ninja could be extended out of the sword, and used as a long probing device.[54] The sword could also be used to scale the wall, usingtsuba.[55] there's no known historical information about the straight ninjatō pre-20th century. The first photograph of a ninjatō appeared in a booklet by Heishichirō Okuse in 1956.[56][57] Ninja also using darts, spikes, knives, and shuriken as weapons,[58] The chain and sickle (kusarigama) was also used by the ninja.[59] Variant explosives such as Soft-cased grenaed designed to release smoke or poison gas, along with iron or ceramic shrapnel explosives also reportedly used by them.[27]


In Sakura doki onna gyoretsu, this onnagata is attended by three kuroko.
In Nise Murasaki Inaka Genji, Ashikaga Mitsuuji is approached unknowingly by a ninja.
Two prints depicting kabuki plays. In Japanese theatre, ninja are often dressed as kuroko, stagehands in black suits, to make their attacks seem more surprising. This practice gave rise to their stereotypical black outfits.[60]

Early history

Yamato Takeru dressed as a maidservant, preparing to kill the Kumaso leaders. Woodblock print on paper. Yoshitoshi, 1886.

The term of ninja was attributed retrospectively to 2nd-century prince of Japan Yamato Takeru.[61] In the Kojiki, Takeru disguised as woman and assassinated two leaders of the Kumaso group.[62] Although its unlikely related to the commonly known ninja of later era. Earliest recorded ninja activities were traced during the reign of Prince Shōtoku in the 6th century.[31] An adolescent espionage agent Hasetsukabe no Koharumaru was executed for spying against the insurgent Taira no Masakado.[63] Later, 14 century chronicle Taiheiki recorded many ninja activites[61][64]

In 1541, the Tamon-in Nikki (16th century)—a diary written by abbot Eishun of Kōfuku-ji temple—describes a sabotaging operation An Iga ninja squad entered Kasagi castle in secret and set fire to a few of the priests' quarters. They also set fire to outbuildings in various places inside the San-no-maru. They captured the ichi-no-maru (inner bailey) and the ni-no-maru (second bailey).[65]

In 1558, Rokkaku Yoshikata employed a ninja squad of 48 ninja to burn Sawayama Castle, which led by a chūnin (ninja term for squad's captain). To conduct their operation, the ninja squad also stole a lantern which drawing of family crest (mon) belongs to the enemy clan, and recreate replica lanterns with the similar crest. By wielding these lanterns, they were allowed to enter the castle by the guards. As they entered the castle, they immediately set fire to the castle.[66]

In 1561, Kizawa Nagamasa generals hired 3 Iga ninja during the capture of a castle in Maibara, which was owned by Rokkaku Yoshitaka, who was also the employer of Iga Ninja previously.[67] However, those ninja agents refused take orders and threatened to desert the operation if they were not allowed to conduct the operation on their own way. As the fire was eventually set, allowing Nagamasa's army to capture the castle.[67]

Iga and Kōga clans

The plains of Iga, nested in secluded mountains, gave rise to villages specialized in the training of ninja.

The Iga and Kōga ninja were actually jizamurai clans inhabited Iga Province (modern Mie Prefecture) and the nearby region of Kōka District, Shiga named after a village in modern day Shiga Prefecture.[68] The remote location of Iga may contributed ninja's secretive development.[22] The chronicle Go Kagami Furoku stated the origin of those ninja clans were traced into the family of Kawai Aki-no-kami of Iga.[69] This also confirmed by the supplementary record to the Nochi Kagami, a historical record of the Ashikaga shogunate.[30]

The clans of Iga and Kōla, became professionals which specifically trained for the asymetrical warfare tactics of the ninja.[21] These ninja mercenary often hired by daimyōs between 1485 and 1581.[21] Specifically, the Iga professionals were sought after for their skill at siege warfare, or "shirotori", which included night attacks and ambush.[70] By the 1460s, the leading families in the regions had established de facto independence from their shugo.

in 1560, after Battle of Okehazama, Tokugawa dispatched a group of 80 Kōka ninja under the command of Tomo Sukesada, which was tasked to raid an outpost of the Imagawa clan. This assault is recorded in the Mikawa Go Fudoki chronicle, where those Kōka set fire to its towers, and killed the castellan along with 200 defenders of the garrison.[28]

In 1571, a Kōka ninja Sugitani Zenjubō attempted to assassinate Nobunaga with two Tanegashima (gun) rifles. However, his attempts was failed as his shots failed to penetrate the armor of Nobunaga.[32] Sugitani was captured 4 years later and tortured to death.[32]

In 1573, Manabe Rokurō, a vassal of daimyō Hatano Hideharu, attempted to assassinate Nobunaga by infiltrating Azuchi Castle. Although the mission failed and Rokurō forced to commit suicide.[32] According to a document, the Iranki, when Nobunaga was inspecting Iga province after Tenshō Iga War, 3 ninja attempted to assassinate him with rifles, but was failed and instead just killing 7 of Nobunaga's attendants.[71] The Kōka ikki persisted until 1574, when it was forced to become a vassal of Oda Nobunaga. The Iga ikki continued until 1581, when Nobunaga attack the Iga Province and destroyed those clans which rebelled against him.[72] The Iga clans survivors flee to the Kii Mountains, but others escapes to enter the service under Tokugawa Ieyasu.[73] Prior to the conquest of Kōka in 1574, the two confederacies worked in alliance together from at least 1487.[citation needed] After the suppression of the Iga province by Nobunaga, some of them escaped from the province and seek refugee to the Tokugawa clan. one of most prominent one was Fujibayashi Yasumasa, son of the Fujibayashi Yasutoyo from the Fujibayashi clan.[74]

Tokugawa Ieyasu's Iga crossing

After the assassination of Oda Nobunaga, Iga and Kōka ninja, according to tradition, helped Ieyasu undergo an arduous journey to escape the enemies of Nobunaga in Sakai and return to Mikawa. However, their journey was very dangerous due to the existence of "Ochimusha-gari" groups across the route.[a] During this journey, Tokugawa generals such as Ii Naomasa, Sakai Tadatsugu and Honda Tadakatsu fought their way through raids and harassment from Ochimusha-gari (Samurai hunter) gangs to secure the way for Ieyasu, while sometimes also bribed given to some of the more amenable Ochimusha-gari gangs.[78] As they reached Kada, an area between Kameyama town and Iga,[79]

The local Koka-Ikki ninjas and Iga-Ikki ninjas under Hanzo who helped Ieyasu to travel into safety were consisted 300 Ninjas.[80] Furthermore, Uejima Hidetomo, a researcher of Iga Ninja history, has stated there is research which revealed that Hattori Yasuji, one of the ninjas who accompanied Ieyasu on his journey in Iga province, also served as a bodyguard and espionage officer under Muromachi Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki.[81] The attacks from Ochimusha-gari finally ended as they reached the former territory of the Kōka ikki, who were friendly to the Tokugawa clan. The Koka ninja assisted the Tokugawa escort group in eliminating the threats of Ochimusha-gari outlaws then escorting them until they reached Iga Province, where they were further protected by another group from Iga-ikki which accompanied the Ieyasu group until they safely reached Mikawa. The Ietada nikki journal records that the escort group of Ieyasu has suffered roughly 200 casualties during their journey from Osaka.[82][83]

However, modern scholar such as Tatsuo Fujita doubted the credibility of Hattori Hattori Hanzō's ninja army theory, since it was first appeared in Iga-sha yuishogaki record which circulated in Edo period during the rule of Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune.[79] During his rule, Yoshimune were known for establishing the Oniwaban secret police institution which members hailed from the confederation warriors of Koka and Iga areas.[84][85][86] It has been argued that the circulation of the myth about Hattori Hanzō ninja army helping Ieyasu were created as propaganda to increase the prestige of Iga and Koka clan confederations in Tokugawa Shogunate.[79]

Further activities after 1582 onwards

In an undisclosed time, a ninja named Hachisuka Tenzō was sent by Nobunaga to assassinate daimyō Takeda Shingen, although it ended in failure.[87] There is a record that there is an assassination attempt were on Toyotomi Hideyoshi, although it was thwarted. A ninja named Kirigakure Saizō (possibly Kirigakure Shikaemon) attempted to assassinate Hideyoshi with a spear, but was unsuccessful, as his attempt was foiled by a ninja worked under the command of Hideyoshi who smoked his place.[88] However, the reliability of this story was considered fictional publications as it was the same publisher which depicted Saizō as one of the legendary Sanada Ten Braves.[89]

In 1600, during the Sekigahara Campaign after the Eastern Army's victory at Sekigahara, the Iga acted as guards for the inner compounds of Edo Castle, while the Kōka acted as a police force and assisted in guarding the outer gate.[90] It was said that at one occasion, a group of Mogami clan's ninja infiltrated the camp of Naoe Kanetsugu, stealing his battle standart, which later hoisted on the Hasedō Castle's gate, demoralized the Uesugi troops greatly in effect.[91]

In 1603, a group of ninja from Iga clan led by Miura Yo'emon were assigned under the command of Red Demon brigades of Ii Naomasa, the daimyo of Hikone under Tokugawa shogunate.[92][93]

In 1608, a daimyo named Tōdō Takatora was assigned by Ieyasu to control of Tsu, a newly established domain which covered portions of Iga and Ise Province. The domain at first worth of to the 220,000,[94] then grow further in productivity to the total revenue of 320,000 koku under Takatora governance.[95][96] It was reported that Tōdō Takatora employs the Iga-ryū Ninjas.[97][98] Aside from Ninjas, he also employs local clans of Iga province as "Musokunin", which is a class of part time Samurai who has been allowed to retain their clan name but does not own any land or Han. The Musokunin also worked as farmer during peace, while they are obliged to take arms in the time of war.[99][97][100]

In 1614, The Iga province warriors saw action during the siege of Osaka. Takatora brought the Musokunin auxiliaries from Iga province to besiege the Osaka castle during the winter phase.[101][97] Meanwhile the ninja units of Iga province were deployed under several commanders such as Hattori Hanzō, and Yamaoka Kagetsuge, and Ii Naotora, heir of Naomasa who also given control of Ii clan's Red Demons ninja squad after Naomasa died.[102][103] Later in 1615, during the summer phase of Osaka siege, The Ii clan Red Demons ninjas led by Miura Yo'emon, Shimotani Sanzo, Okuda Kasa'emon, and Saga Kita'emon saw action once again during the Battle of Tennōji, as they were reportedly fought together with the Tokugawa regular army storming on the south gate of Osaka castle.[104] In 1614, the initial "winter campaign" at the Siege of Osaka saw the ninja in use once again. Miura Yoemon, a ninja in Tokugawa's service, recruited agents from Iga province, and sent 10 of his members into Osaka Castle in an effort to spread rumors and misinformation to weaken the enemy forces internally.[105] Later On the Osaka battles, these hired ninja fought alongside regular troops at the Battle of Tennōji.[105]

Ninja historic illustration, Meiwa era, c. 1770

A final but detailed record of ninja employed in open warfare occurred during the Shimabara Rebellion (1637–1638).[106] The Kōga ninja were recruited by shōgun Tokugawa Iemitsu against Christian rebels led by Amakusa Shirō, who made a final stand at Hara Castle, in Hizen Province. A diary kept by a member of the Matsudaira clan, the Amakusa Gunki, relates: "Men from Kōga in Ōmi Province who concealed their appearance would steal up to the castle every night and go inside as they pleased."[107]

The Ukai diary, written by a descendant of Ukai Kanemon, has several entries describing the reconnaissance actions taken by the Kōga.

They [the Kōga] were ordered to reconnoitre the plan of construction of Hara Castle, and surveyed the distance from the defensive moat to the ni-no-maru (second bailey), the depth of the moat, the conditions of roads, the height of the wall, and the shape of the loopholes.[107]

— Entry: 6th day of the 1st month
The ruins of Hara Castle

Suspecting that the castle's supplies might be running low, the siege commander Matsudaira Nobutsuna ordered a raid on the castle's provisions. Here, the Kōga captured bags of enemy provisions, and infiltrated the castle by night, obtaining secret passwords.[108] Days later, Nobutsuna ordered an intelligence gathering mission to determine the castle's supplies. Several Kōga ninja—some apparently descended from those involved in the 1562 assault on an Imagawa clan castle—volunteered despite being warned that chances of survival were slim.[109] A volley of shots was fired into the sky, causing the defenders to extinguish the castle lights in preparation. Under the cloak of darkness, ninja disguised as defenders infiltrated the castle, capturing a banner of the Christian cross.[109] The Ukai diary writes,

We dispersed spies who were prepared to die inside Hara castle. ... those who went on the reconnaissance in force captured an enemy flag; both Arakawa Shichirobei and Mochizuki Yo'emon met extreme resistance and suffered from their serious wounds for 40 days.[109]

— Entry: 27th day of the 1st month

As the siege went on, the extreme shortage of food later reduced the defenders to eating moss and grass.[110] This desperation would mount to futile charges by the rebels, where they were eventually defeated by the shogunate army. The Kōga would later take part in conquering the castle:

More and more general raids were begun, the Kōga ninja band under the direct control of Matsudaira Nobutsuna captured the ni-no-maru and the san-no-maru (outer bailey) ...[111]

— Entry: 24th day of the 2nd month

With the fall of Hara Castle, the Shimabara Rebellion came to an end, and Christianity in Japan was forced underground.[112] These written accounts are the last mention of ninja in war.[113] After the Shimabara Rebellion, there were almost no major wars or battles until the bakumatsu era. To earn a living, ninja had to be employed by the governments of their Han (domain), or change their profession. Many lords still hired ninja, not for battle but as bodyguards or spies. Their duties included spying on other domains, guarding the daimyō, and fire patrol.[114] A few domains like Tsu, Hirosaki and Saga continued to employ their own ninja into the bakumatsu era, although their precise numbers are unknown.[115][116]

Many former ninja were employed as security guards by the Tokugawa shogunate, though the role of espionage was transferred to newly created organizations like the onmitsu and the oniwaban.[117] Others used their ninjutsu knowledge to become doctors, medicine sellers, merchants, martial artists, and fireworks manufacturers.[118] Some unemployed ninja were reduced to banditry, such as Fūma Kotarō and Ishikawa Goemon.[119]

Ninja employed in each domain, Edo period[120]
Han (domain) Number of ninja
Kishū Domain 200+
Kishiwada Domain 50
Kawagoe Domain 50
Matsue Domain 30
Hirosaki Domain 20
Fukui Domain 12
Hikone Domain 10
Okayama Domain 10
Akō Domain 5


In the early 18th century, shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune founded the oniwaban ("garden keepers"), an intelligence agency and secret service. Members of the oniwaban were agents involved in collecting information on daimyō and government officials.[121] The secretive nature of the oniwaban—along with the earlier tradition of using Iga and Kōga clan members as palace guards—have led some sources to define the oniwabanshū as "ninja".[122] In 1649 record Tokugawa shogunate law on military service, The shinobi was considered as profession, as only daimyōs with an income of over 10,000 koku were allowed to employ ninja or shinobi.[123] In the two centuries that followed, a number of ninjutsu manuals were written by descendants of Hattori Hanzō as well as members of the Fujibayashi clan, an offshoot of the Hattori. Major examples include the Ninpiden (1655), the Bansenshūkai (1675), and the Shōninki (1681).[6]

Notable Ninja

Many famous people in Japanese history have been associated or identified as ninja, but their status as ninja is difficult to prove and may be the product of later imagination. Rumors surrounding famous warriors, such as Kusunoki Masashige or Minamoto no Yoshitsune sometimes describe them as ninja, but there is little evidence for these claims.

Some well known examples include:

Kumawakamaru escapes his pursuers by swinging across the moat on a bamboo.[124] Woodblock print on paper. Kuniyoshi, 1842–1843.
  • Kumawakamaru (13th–14th centuries): a youth whose exiled father was ordered to death by the monk Homma Saburō. Kumakawa took his revenge by sneaking into Homma's room while he was asleep, and assassinating him with his own sword.[125] He was son of a high counselor to Emperor Go-Daigo, not ninja. The yamabushi Daizenboh who helped Kumawakamaru's revenge was Suppa, a kind of ninja.[126][127]
  • Kumawaka (the 16th century): a suppa (ninja) who served Obu Toramasa (1504– 1565), a vassal of Takeda Shingen.[128]
  • Yagyū Munetoshi (1529–1606): a renowned swordsman of the Shinkage-ryū school. Muneyoshi's grandson, Jubei Muneyoshi, told tales of his grandfather's status as a ninja.[13]
  • Hattori Hanzō (1542–1596): a samurai serving under Tokugawa Ieyasu. His ancestry in Iga province, along with ninjutsu manuals published by his descendants have led some sources to define him as a ninja.[129]
  • Ishikawa Goemon (1558–1594): Goemon reputedly tried to drip poison from a thread into Oda Nobunaga's mouth through a hiding spot in the ceiling,[130]
  • Fūma Kotarō (d. 1603): a ninja rumored to have killed Hattori Hanzō, with whom he was supposedly rivals. The fictional weapon Fūma shuriken is named after him.[citation needed]
  • Mochizuki Chiyome (16th century): the wife of Mochizuke Moritoki. Chiyome created a school for girls, which taught skills required of geisha, as well as espionage skills.[131]
  • Momochi Sandayū (16th century): a leader of the Iga ninja clans, who supposedly perished during Oda Nobunaga's attack on Iga province. There is some belief that he escaped death and lived as a farmer in Kii Province.[132] Momochi is also a branch of the Hattori clan.[citation needed]
  • Fujibayashi Nagato (16th century): considered to be one of three "greatest" Iga jōnin, the other two being Hattori Hanzō and Momochi Sandayū. Fujibayashi's descendants wrote and edited the Bansenshukai.
  • Katō Danzō (1503–1569): a famed 16th-century ninja master during the Sengoku period who was also known as "Flying Katō".
  • Tateoka Doshun (16th century): a purported Iga ninja during the Sengoku period.
  • Karasawa Genba (16th century): a samurai of the Sengoku period, in the 16th century of the common era, who served as an important retainer of the Sanada clan.
  • Wada Koremasa (1536–1571): a powerful Kōka samurai ninja who in 1568 allied with the Ashikaga shogunate and Oda Nobunaga, at which point he relocated to Settsu Province.
  • Shimotsuge no Kizaru (16th century): an influential Iga ninja who in 1560 successfully led an attack on Tōichi Castle.
  • Takino Jurobei (16th century): The commander of some of the final resistance against Oda Nobunaga in his invasion of Iga. Momochi Sandayu, Fujibayashi Nagato no Kami, and Hattori Hanzō served as his officers.

There is also recorded non Japanese ninja in history. On February 25, 2018, Yamada Yūji, the professor of Mie University and historian Nakanishi Gō announced that they had identified three people who were successful in early modern Ureshino, including the ninja Benkei Musō (弁慶夢想).[116][133] Musō is thought to be the same person as Denrinbō Raikei (伝林坊頼慶), the Chinese disciple of Marume Nagayoshi.[133]

Jiraiya battles a giant python with the help of his summoned toad. Woodblock print on paper. Kuniyoshi, c. 1843.

The image of the ninja entered popular culture in the Edo period, when folktales and plays about ninja were conceived. Stories about the ninja are usually based on historical figures. For instance, many similar tales exist about a daimyō challenging a ninja to prove his worth, usually by stealing his pillow or weapon while he slept.[134]

Modern era historical evaluations

A copy of the legendary 40-page book called "Kanrinseiyo" made in 1748

Between 1960 and 2010 artifacts dating to the Siege of Odawara (1590) were uncovered which experts say are ninja weapons.[135] Ninja were spies and saboteurs and likely participated in the siege.[135] The Hojo clan failed to save the castle from Toyotomi Hideyoshi forces.[135] The uncovered flat throwing stones are likely predecessors of the shuriken.[135] The clay caltrops preceded makibishi caltrops.[135] Archeologist Iwata Akihiro of Saitama Prefectural Museum of History and Folklore said the flat throwing stones were used to prevent the chasing enemies from moving.[135] The clay caltrops also believed could stop the besieging enemies. These weapons were hastily constructed yet effective and used by a squad of ninja.[135]

In 2015 report, a "Ninja Symposium" held in Iga City which involved forefront researchers of ninja and ninjutsu history, including Atsumi Nakajima, chairman of the Koryu Martial Arts Association; Jinichi Kawakami, the 21st head of the Koga Party and a professor of social cooperation at Mie University; Professor Yuji Yamada and Associate Professor Yuya Yoshimaru of the Faculty of Humanities of Mie university; and Toshitsune Watanabe, former chairman of the Koga Ninjutsu Research Association. The symposium discussed about the allegedy rivalry about the two most famous ninja groups based in Iga and Kōka. It was though that the reason of perceived rivalries between them due to the Iga ninja mostly known for their service to the Tokugawa clan, while the Kōka due to their service to the Toyotomi clan. The battles between two groups has been fictionalized and dramatized by modern media and entertainments, such as Yamada Futaro's novel "Koga Ninpocho," published in 1959. Ikeda Yutaka, a senior ninja at the Iga Ninja Research Group, who organized the symposium, said that the Iga and Koga ninja were actually allied and sometimes started uprisings. He further added that there were also many marriages between the two groups, and the Hattori family name, which represents Iga, is also found in many Koga families.[136]

In 2016, on December Iga city Mayor Sakae Okamoto, who is also a collector of local materials, discovered a catalog sent to him by a used bookstore in Kyoto. It was purchased with city funds, and designated a city cultural property in March of this year. This is a written pledge made when 10 representatives each from the Iga Sokoku Ikki and Koka Gunchuso, autonomous organizations of the Iga and Koka clans which gathered together to jointly adjudicate on the right to use the common land.[33]

In 2012, Jinichi Kawakami, the last authentic heir of ninjutsu, decided against passing on his teaching to any student, stating that the art of ninjutsu has no place in modern times.[137] Instead, Kawakami serves as the honorary director of the Iga-ryu Ninja Museum and researches ninjutsu as a specially appointed professor at Mie University.[138][139]

in 2017, Mie University founded the world's first research centre devoted to the ninja. A graduate master course opened in 2018. It is located in Iga (now Mie Prefecture). There are approximately 3 student enrollments per year. Students must pass an admission test about Japanese history and be able to read historical ninja documents.[140] Scientific researchers and scholars of different disciplines study ancient documents and how it can be used in the modern world.[141] Another medieval document that Mie professor Tatsuo Fujita is paying attention to is the "Koka-gun Magistrate-General and Iga Magistrate-General Rensho Kishomon" from 1573 (the first year of the Tensho era).[33]

In 2020, the 45-year-old Genichi Mitsuhashi was the first student to graduate from the master course of ninja studies at Mie University. For 2 years he studied historical records and the traditions of the martial art. Similar to the original ninja, by day he was a farmer and grew vegetables while he did ninja studies and trained martial arts in the afternoon.[140]

In 2022, on June, Kōka city in Shiga Prefecture released the copy of "Kanrinseiyo", the source of a ninjitsu art record called "Bansenshukai" from 1676 which was found Kazuraki Shrine warehouse.[142] The copy was produced in 1748.[143] The book describes 48 types of ninjutsu.[142] It contains information about some ninjitsu techniques such as attaching layers of cotton to the bottom of straw sandals to prevent noise when sneaking, self defense when surrounded by multiple opponents, throwing charred powder to hide one's presence, and spellcastings.[142] It also contain practical methods to manufacture and use tools such as cane swords and "makibishi" (Japanese caltrop).[142]


Many ubiquitous stereotypes about ninja were developed within Edo theatre. These include their black clothing, which was supposed to imitate the outfits worn by kuroko, stagehands meant to be ignored by the audience; and their use of shuriken, which was meant to contrast with the use of swords by onstage samurai. In kabuki theatre, ninja were "dishonorable and often sorcerous counterparts" to samurai, and possessed "almost, if not outright, magical means of camouflage."[60]

The growing popularity of Ninja ethics in manga medium also growing during 1960-1970s, witht he series such as Ninja Bugei-cho.[144] Ninja appear in many forms of Japanese and Western popular media, including books (Kōga Ninpōchō), movies (Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja Assassin), television (Akakage, The Master, Ninja Warrior), video games (Shinobi, Ninja Gaiden, Tenchu, Sekiro, Ghost of Tsushima), anime (Naruto, Ninja Scroll, Gatchaman), manga (Basilisk, Ninja Hattori-kun, Azumi), Western animation (Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu) and American comic books (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). From ancient Japan to the modern world media, popular depictions range from the realistic to the fantastically exaggerated, both fundamentally and aesthetically.[citation needed]

Legendary abilities

Actor portraying Nikki Danjō, a villain from the kabuki play Sendai Hagi. Shown with hands in a kuji-in seal, which allows him to transform into a giant rat. Woodblock print on paper. Kunisada, 1857.

Ninja were depicted with some Superhuman or supernatural such as flight, invisibility, shapeshifting, teleportation, splitting images, the summoning of animals (kuchiyose), and control over the five classical elements. These mythical stories believed to be stemmed from popular imagination of mysterious status and Japanese art of the Edo period. Such magical powers stories were believed to be the works in the ninja's own misinformation. For example, Nakagawa Shoshunjin, the 17th century founder of Nakagawa-ryū, claimed in his own work (Okufuji Monogatari) that he had the ability to transform into birds and animals.[123]

The ninja's usage of kites to fly and warfare to drop bombs from the sky also became another subject of legends.[43] Turnbull suggests that kites lifting a man into midair might have been technically feasible, but states that the use of kites to form a human "hang glider" falls squarely in the realm of fantasy.[145]

The use of Kuji-kiri passed onto certain bujutsu (martial arts) and ninjutsu schools, where it was said to have many purposes.[146]

See also



  1. ^ According to Imatani Akira, professor of Tsuru University, and Ishikawa Tadashi, assistant professor University of Central Florida, during Sengoku period a particularly dangerous groups called "Ochimusha-gari" or "fallen warrior hunter" groups has emerged. these groups were disenfranchised peasant or Rōnin who has been displaced by war. They formed self-defense forces which operates outside the law, while in actuality they often resorted to hunt samurais or soldiers who has been defeated in wars.[75][76][77]


  1. ^ a b Turnbull 2003, pp. 5–6
  2. ^ Stephen Turnbull (2003). Ninja Ad 1460–1650. Osprey Publishing. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-84176-525-9. Archived from the original on 6 May 2012. Retrieved 1 October 2011.
  3. ^ Crowdy 2006, p. 50
  4. ^ Frederic 2002, p. 715
  5. ^ a b Green 2001, p. 355
  6. ^ a b c Green 2001, p. 358; based on different readings, Ninpiden is also known as Shinobi Hiden, and Bansenshukai can also be Mansenshukai.
  7. ^ Origin of word Ninja Archived 2011-05-02 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Takagi, Gomi & Ōno 1962, p. 191; the full poem is "Yorozu yo ni / Kokoro ha tokete / Waga seko ga / Tsumishi te mitsutsu / Shinobi kanetsumo".
  9. ^ Satake et al. 2003, p. 108; the Man'yōgana used for "shinobi" is 志乃備, its meaning and characters are unrelated to the later mercenary shinobi.
  10. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed.; American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed.; Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1).
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  12. ^ Ratti & Westbrook 1991, p. 324
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  14. ^ Turnbull 2003, p. 5
  15. ^ a b Axelrod, Alan (2015). Mercenaries: A Guide to Private Armies and Private Military Companies. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. ISBN 978-1-4833-6467-4.
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Further reading

  • Fujibayashi, Masatake; Nakajima, Atsumi. (1996). Shōninki: Ninjutsu densho. Tokyo: Shinjinbutsu Ōraisha. OCLC 222455224.
  • Fujita, Seiko. (2004). Saigo no Ninja Dorondoron. Tokyo: Shinpūsha. ISBN 978-4-7974-9488-4.
  • Fukai, Masaumi. (1992). Edojō oniwaban : Tokugawa Shōgun no mimi to me. Tokyo: Chūō Kōronsha. ISBN 978-4-12-101073-5.
  • Hokinoichi, Hanawa. (1923–1933). Buke Myōmokushō. Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kōbunkan. OCLC 42921561.
  • Ishikawa, Masatomo. (1982). Shinobi no sato no kiroku. Tokyo: Suiyōsha. ISBN 978-4-88066-110-0.
  • Masaru Hirayama (平山優 ) (1964). 戦国の忍び [Ninja of the Warring States Period] (in Japanese). Kadokawa. ISBN 978-4-04-082359-1. Retrieved 14 July 2024.
  • Mol, Serge (2016). Takeda Shinobi Hiden: Unveiling Takeda Shingen's Secret Ninja Legacy. Eibusha. pp. 1–192. ISBN 978-90-813361-3-0.
  • Mol, Serge (2008). Invisible armor: An Introduction to the Esoteric Dimension of Japan's Classical Warrior Arts. Eibusha. pp. 1–160. ISBN 978-90-813361-0-9.
  • Nawa, Yumio. (1972). Hisshō no heihō ninjutsu no kenkyū: gendai o ikinuku michi. Tokyo: Nichibō Shuppansha. OCLC 122985441.
  • Nawa. Yumio. (1967). Shinobi no buki. Tokyo: Jinbutsu Ōraisha. OCLC 22358689.
  • Okuse, Heishichirō. (1967). Ninjutsu: sono rekishi to ninja. Tokyo: Jinbutsu Ōraisha. OCLC 22727254.
  • Okuse, Heishichirō. (1964). Ninpō: sono hiden to jitsurei. Tokyo: Jinbutsu Ōraisha. OCLC 51008989.
  • Turnbull, Stephen (2017). Ninja: Unmasking the Myth. Barnsley, S. Yorkshire, UK: Frontline Books. ISBN 978-1-4738-5042-2.
  • Watatani, Kiyoshi. (1972). Bugei ryūha hyakusen. Tokyo: Akita Shoten. OCLC 66598671.
  • Yamaguchi, Masayuki. (1968). Ninja no seikatsu. Tokyo: Yūzankaku. OCLC 20045825.