The History of the Japanese Ninja: Myths Legend and Reality

In this blog post, I will talk about the history of the Japanese Ninja. 

There are multiple myths and theories about who the Ninja was. One of them is that they were mercenaries or Japanese spies during feudal Japan. 

Another theory is that lords hired ninjas to capture enemy castles, but there is no objective evidence to support this claim. 

The last theory is that ninjas used their unorthodox skills (shinobi jutsu) to protect themselves and earn a living as traveling entertainers. 

According to this theory, ninjas were mainly farmers who specialized in different fighting techniques and could use their skills to make money when needed or for protection during times of war.

There is also no accurate proof that the ninja class existed in Japan, but many stories and documents support it.

There are also many fictional stories about ninjas created and spread by novels, movies, and games. 

The most well-known one is “The Legend of the Ninja” (忍者伝説) which was written by Jirai Yôseki (寂煕議兒星). 

This novel has been adapted into many movies, games, and manga. In the 16th century, the book became very popular and is still popular today.

Kanazawa Shintarô made another adaptation of this story in the 19th century. A very popular manga, anime, and movie series called “Naruto” were created by Masashi Kishimoto based on this storyline. 

But even though it was adapted into many other fictional stories, it doesn’t change the fact that there is no accurate historical proof of who the ninjas were.

“The Tale of the Genji” (源氏物語) is a book about court life and love in Heian period Japan. Many incidents contain ninjas in this novel, but most are fictional and have nothing to do with historical facts.

Even though no ninjas lived in Japan during feudal times, an open group of Shinobi people conducted espionage and assassinations. 

There is no evidence that someone calling themselves a ninja would have ever existed since Japanese folklore generally portrayed the Ninja as an assassin or spy from another country (China).

What is a Ninja, and what were they used for in feudal Japan

In feudal Japan, there was an organization of spies called Ninjas. The Ninja was paid to perform various tasks by their employers, who included the samurai lords and the shogunate government. 

Ninjas could be hired for anything from espionage missions to sabotage or assassinations. 

The ninjutsu fighting techniques later used in martial arts are varied, and the ninjas used them in their everyday lives. The primary weapons of these spies are still employed today in modern ninjutsu combat training.

A ninja’s job was gathering intelligence, sabotaging, and infiltrating castles occupied by enemies. 

They wore disguises and devised clever schemes to confuse the enemy about their numbers and the nature of their operations. 

They were experts in mastering every possible terrain or environment for their mission, from mountains to jungles. Their primary weapons were ingenious traps and poisons.

The Ninja’s arsenal consisted of items that could be found around any household and those that required a little more ingenuity to put together. 

The same principles apply today when creating your improvised weapons to fight off an assailant. Many different items can be used as a ninja-like weapons in case you find yourself living in a dangerous environment or facing imminent danger:

A ninja could use various tools, including firecrackers, smoke bombs, and flashbangs that stun an enemy by emitting a bright light and loud bangs. 

Ninjas also used poisons in many different forms, including powders and liquids. They often dipped their weapons into deadly poison from snakes, plants, and insects. 

The Ninja would use various projectiles in combat and items such as caltrops—small four-pronged spikes—which are deadly to the bare feet of an enemy.

Ninja practiced the-Jutsu or luring techniques, which involved manipulating the opponent into a vulnerable position using bait such as stolen swords or treasure.

Ninja was adept in hand-to-hand combat and used many other theatrical tricks to confuse enemies. 

The Ninja would learn techniques that included illusions, such as making figures appear on surfaces to look like people standing guard when no one was there.

Ninja was also known for living “the way of the warrior” (the code of Bushido)

They were trained in many different forms of combat but specialized in using a sword called a katana which they often used to deliver deadly blows to their enemies. 

The Ninja used a variety of other weapons as well, including the shuriken (Japanese darts), sai (metal claws that fit over the index and middle fingers), and kusarigama (sickle attached to a chain with a weighted ball on one end).

The History of the Japanese Ninja

The history of the Japanese Ninja is a subject that has been documented in historical texts and legends. 

The ninjas were warriors who would undertake various missions for the military.

Ninjas were trained to carry out strategic espionage, infiltration, and sabotage in battles. They wore clothing to match their surroundings and had weapons at their disposal, including darts, spears, and swords.

The ninjas are traditionally said to have emerged from the much older tradition of the Asobi, entertainers hired by lords during peacetime to amuse them with juggling or acrobatics at banquets, also covertly using these skills to commit acts of espionage.

Over time, they would become a well-known subset of people who worked behind the scenes or outside battle.

According to legend, ninjas came in various shapes and sizes, some short and others tall. They had different weapons, which depended upon their size.

For example, The more significant spies were given big swords and spears. The shorter spies were given bows and more miniature swords.

The art of ninjutsu is said to have origins in ancient India during the time of the Buddha. From there, it spread east into China, where it was known as “bu jing” or “shinobi no jutsu,” meaning “art of stealth. 

The ninja skill attracted the attention of various other countries, and an early historical record written during China’s Three Kingdoms era (220-280 AD) has a passage praising the skills of “shinobi.”

From China, ninjutsu spread to Japan. 

According to the Shōmonki, in 67 BC, the Kuchan Prince was murdered by his general, who then usurped the throne. 

The prince’s bodyguard (or possibly assassin), known as “shinobi no mono,” took up a disguise and spent two years gathering information on the traitorous general.

Finally, in 65 BC, he succeeded in assassinating him and restoring peace to Dong’an.

It’s worth noting that the word “shinobi” can have different meanings, such as Ninja, spy, or scout.

The event is recorded in a historical book called Shōmonki and has become regarded as the official start of the Japanese Shinobi no mono (“ninja”) tradition.

Masaaki Hatsumi, the head of the Bujinkan organization, used this account as a reference in his book on ninjutsu “Gukoden.” 

Although little is known about the methods they used to train or their general tactics and strategy, historical records provide insight into how and why these people were so influential.

Many ninja manuals can be found in the Tokugawa Collection. 

These are thought to have been passed down through Hayashiya-dono’s successors, but it isn’t easy to know whether this is true. T

here was an abundance of shinobi specialists, such as Koka no Masanobu, who passed down shinobi techniques in the past. Through them, these arts were handed down to people in the lower strata of society.

Why were Ninjas said to be undercover agents, spies, and martial art experts?

The Ninjas were said to be both undercover agents and spies, which is why they became famous for their stealth and martial art skills. The Ninjas also did this to help elevate themselves above the typical soldier-class.

In addition, the Ninjas were used as undercover agents because of their skill to fight and blend in quietly, while others may be alarmed by disturbances from swords clashing too loudly. 

This advantage was significant for martial art skills, and planning fights against enemies with large armies during wartime. They would either be sent out on a mission to kill someone or steal information about the enemy without notice.

The Ninjas were also masters of disguise and could alter their appearances with the skilled use of makeup or other methods. 

They could easily fool anyone into thinking they were someone else, which helped them get close to people who usually wouldn’t let others get near them. There were even instances of some Ninjas disguising themselves as women.

In addition, the Ninjas were experts at handling and using poison to kill their enemies without getting caught. 

They knew which animals could be found on the land in a particular country and what their body parts would do when mixed with other chemicals to create a deadly effect. 

The word “Ninja” evolved into something more than just a group of mercenaries or unorthodox artists.

It is a common misconception that Ninja refers to one group of people. It can be used as an umbrella term for specialist soldiers in feudal Japan. 

Ninjas were at the forefront of many conflicts and wars when there wasn’t much technology. The Ninja served various purposes, such as; espionage, sabotage, assassination, infiltration, and surveillance.

Ninjas were originally from Iga Province in Japan, located on the eastern side of Mie Prefecture near Kyoto. 

The name “Iga” became synonymous with the profession because there were many skilled Ninjas in Iga. They are also said to have migrated to Koka from Iga during this period and become part of the Koka Shinobi System.

There are many legends about Ninjas, such as “Shiro-game (白髪) dokuganryu (道独賢龍)” or White Hair, Wise Fool Dragon who was a brave warrior in ancient Japan who died in battle with the enemy. 

In the legend, “White Hair” was responsible for creating the art of Ninpo and is said to have trained with nin un (ninja masters). It’s essentially a story about how Ninjas came into existence.

What does the future hold for ninjas today after being popularized?

Japanese Ninjas today are slowly becoming more famous at the expense of actual ninjas. 

Video games and pop culture have given this title to people who are not Ninjas, which has caused a lot of confusion about what a Ninja is. 

The result is that many people now use the term Ninja as just another word for someone who performs espionage and vandalism.

Ninja is now more of a buzzword for job titles than the actual name for someone who used to be an undercover agent acting as a spy. 

It’s also not surprising that people think Ninjas can make cool moves with swords and shuriken (ninja stars). The real Ninjas in ancient Japan would have never cut down so freely on an enemy.

These days, actual Ninjas have become less popular in the eyes of young people, and former Ninjas are not treated with respect anymore. 

People have come to think that all ninjas today are imaginary characters like Naruto from the manga series or Sasuke Uchiha from the anime series Naruto Shippuden.

Ninja has lost its true meaning and is now just another word.

For real Ninjas in Koka and Iga, there are no signs of their art becoming more popular. 

This could be because people associate ninjas with fictional characters from anime or other media like video games. 

People tend to believe that the only place you can see real Ninjas is in these kinds of sources and are completely unaware that they still exist today. 

For those who may think that ninjas have already faded into history, it’s essential to know that there are still approximately 3,000 ninja-related sites throughout Japan. 

It might be a good time to explore and discover these hidden historical sites!

There are several things a person can do when attending ninja-related travel in Japan. 

One such activity is visiting Iga Ueno Castle Ruins, where visitors can learn about the castle’s history and its inhabitants and engage in other activities such as viewing samurai armor or practicing martial arts. 

A popular destination is Natori City, where visitors can enjoy the natural waterways and scenic views and visit a ninja museum. 

Several festivals are held commemorating the famous battle between the Ninja Hida and Sanada clans, such as the Hida Festival or Mt. Osore Festival.

Consider the following if planning your trip to a ninja village.

If you are a true fan of ninjas and ninjutsu, it’s worth visiting Koka or Iga and immersing yourself in this rich ninja culture. 

These are two of the best places to see authentic ninjas in Japan to provide a real sense of history.

1) Kōka Ninja Village, Shiga Prefecture

This village is between Kyoto and Nara, with a history of over 900 years. Koka is also a must-visit place for fans of the ninjas.

The Koka Ninja Village has many ninja events, such as demonstrations, Samurai Street performances, and tour courses. 

It’s fun to see the real thing rather than just read about them in books. If you have kids with you, they will surely love it too.

This village is easy to access, with the Koka train station just 10 minutes away by bus. 

It’s also a good base for visiting other famous places in Kyoto, such as Nijo Castle and Fushimi Inari Temple.

2) Iga Ninja Museum, Mie Prefecture

Not far from Koka is the Iga Ninja Museum, which has over 3,000 ninja tools. You can also enjoy ninja performances there.

It is said that most of these items are fundamental ninja tools from the Sengoku period and have been kept in the Wuo family for 400 years now. 

These collections show how much effort and thought went into making these tools.

Iga is a more rural location compared to Koka, but still easy to reach Kyoto by train or bus. 

It’s also close to Ise Shrine and Nagashima Spa Land, which are worth visiting.

3) The Gassan ninja house, Iga Prefecture

A little further down south from Iga is the Gassan Ninja House. This house was made by Yoshimitsu Yasukochi, who used to research ninjas and has written many books about them.

The building looks like any ordinary Japanese home, and you would never know that it’s a ninja house if not for the sign at the front. 

There are tools and ninja-related items on display inside, as well as books that you can read. The place is filled with a very relaxing atmosphere.

The Gassan Ninja House invites people to visit if they can speak Japanese because it’s not designated as a tourist spot by the government, so no English tour guides are available.

Once you have gone there, you will understand how essential artifacts from these ancient periods understand the true meaning of what it means to be a Ninja.


How do the ninjas dress?

Ninjas wear a head-to-toe robe-like garment known as the ikkyu and a mask covering the face.

Did ninjas exist in Japan?

The first mention of ninjas is from Feudal Japan and is referenced in Japanese texts. They are skilled assassins and spies trained from an early age.

What weapons did ninjas use?

Ninjas’ weapons are said to be bows, swords, and daggers. They use several different smoke bombs and explosives such as caltrops as well.

Did ninjas assassinate people?

They did; the weapons are said to be used as much for assassination as they were for defense. The Ninja used the bow and arrow for long-range attacks.

Where did they come from?

Ninjas originated from Japan and have been around for hundreds of years. They are also called Shinobi, which is another name for Japanese spies.

What was their training like?

The ninjas were trained early in the house of their lord or by monks.

Did they have any rules?

The ninjas are said to abide by several different laws that guide their use of the arts and discretion in combat. These rules are called the Tenets.

They include not killing women and children, not using poison, not sleeping at night, being honest with allies, and so on.

Why did ninjas kill people?

Ninjas were hired to carry out assassinations and other acts of espionage during the Feudal period in Japan. They sometimes conducted these actions for several different reasons. The most common motivation was to gain money or information.

Are there ninja schools today?

There are; they teach students the art of the Ninja. They also teach aspects of Japanese martial arts, including karate and swordsmanship.

Are ninjas still active in Japan today?

Not really; they are more a thing of the past. However, some groups teach the art to students and promote it as one of the most efficient martial arts.

Who is the last Ninja on earth?

The last Ninja on earth is thought to be the Mifune clan. They are also known as the Kasumi Ninja. However, they have mostly been superseded by modern warfare and espionage methods.

Why did ninjas have such a bad reputation?

Ninjas were regarded as ruthless assassins and spies due to their violent history with Feudal Japan. Their teachings became the foundation for the various martial arts of ancient Japan. They are said to have influenced even the samurai. However, their actual history is still a mystery.

How high could Ninjas jump?

Ninjas were known to be skilled in martial arts. They also specialized in espionage and covert operations, often infiltrating enemy territory. They could jump several feet into the air, making them incredibly agile and efficient warriors.

What is the name of the last living ninja?

The name of the last living ninja is said to be Hattori Hanzo. He has been leading a band of modern-day ninjas named the Shadow Warriors since 1965. However, there is some debate as to whether he exists or not.


Ninjas were initially referred to as Shinobi and took on a new title in the Edo period. 

The main difference between these two is that ninja masters existed in ancient times; they were not officially documented. 

In contrast, Ninjas from the Edo period had their names recorded, so it’s easier to refer to them publicly. 

The present-day ninja population is a mixture of both, and it’s difficult to say that it is entirely accurate in un left alive today.

Anyone can visit the villages in Koka and Iga and experience authentic ninja culture first-hand. 

For those who would like to see Ninjas for themselves, they should consider paying a visit to real historical sites in Japan. 

With all the hype surrounding Ninjas today, it’s not surprising that so many people would like to see them for themselves and in person.

Originally posted on July 13, 2021 @ 5:40 pm

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As a lifelong traveler and founder of, I, Alex Deidda, have always been driven by my passion for exploring new places and cultures.

Throughout the years, I have had the opportunity to live in various countries, each offering unique perspectives and experiences.

My love for traveling led me to create, a website and blog dedicated to helping people plan their trips.

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