On August 14th, hubby and I visited Iga-ryu Ninja Museum. The museum is dedicated to the history of Iga clan ninja and their art of warfare called ninjutsu. The museum was established in 1964 and is located in Iga-Ueno City of Mie prefecture. The authentic old house of the museum was actually inhabited by an Iga clan ninja, and was moved to the present location from its original site in the Takayama area of Ueno City. From the outside it appears to be an ordinary one-storied Japanese-style house with a thatched roof, but on the inside it is a complicated structure that is full of many traps and devices designed to protect against intruders. The house has revolving walls and doors, secret underground passages, trick windows, hidden rooms, rope ladders, and many more tricks and illusions to protect oneself from any outside attacks. The museum also has over 400 ninja tools on display, which includes original Shuriken that were actually used by the ninja. At the museum we can get the glimpse into the life of Iga clan ninja who were trained in disguise, escape, concealment, explosives, poisons, medicines, unarmed combat, and a large number of weaponry. The ninja trained, fought, and lived real lives in feudal Japan. In fact, there is a big difference between the superhuman image we have of the ninjas and what they really were.
Ninja were the warrior spies trained in a special kind of physical art called ninjutsu. Ninjutsu is the art of stealth that involved the ninjas to sneak unnoticed into enemy camps or people's houses, and also use visual tricks to escape. Ninja disguised themselves so as to conceal their identity. Ninja served those in power and carried out missions such as secretly finding out the strategies and military capabilities of enemies, destroying their weapons, and sabotaging and assassinating the enemy leaders. They no longer exist in Japan today. There were many schools of ninjutsu during the feudal era. The two most famous main styles of ninjutsu were Iga-ryu ninjutsu which originated in Mie prefecture and Koka-ryu ninjutsu which originated in Shiga prefecture. Hubby and I had visited Koka Ninjutsu Yashiki in January 2012 about which I have written earlier in this blog.
The Iga-ryu originated in Iga province in the area around the towns of Iga and Ueno (modern Iga City in Mie prefecture). During Nara period, Iga district supplied lumber to jisha (temple-shrines). But during Kamakura period, the influence of jisha declined while shugo governors and jito manor administrators grew dominant. Then the power of these functionaries also waned while that of warriors increased. During this time, Iga warriors developed specialized skills and guerrilla-like war tactics and kept peace in the region. These techniques developed by the Iga warriors were collectively named as ninjutsu. During the early Muromachi period, the people of Iga became independent of their feudal lords and established a republic named Iga Sokoku Ikki. In 1579, feudal lord Oda Nobunaga's son Kitabatake Nobukatsu attacked the Iga Republic but was unsuccessful. In 1581, Oda Nobunaga himself attacked the Iga Republic with a troop of 50000 soldiers, and slaughtered many Iga ninja and their families. The Iga warriors resisted to the end, but eventually they submitted and Nobunaga declared a ceasefire that allowed some of the ninja to escape.
The most famous groups of Iga ninja are Hattori, Momochi, and Fujibayashi who controlled western Iga, southern Iga, and northeastern Iga, respectively. Hattori Hanzo Masanari, Momochi Tambanokami, and Fujibayashi Nagatonokami are the three Iga Ninja Grandmasters of these groups. Following Oda Nobunaga's death in 1582, Hattori Hanzo advised Tokugawa Ieyasu to escape to Mikawa province through the Koka and Iga regions. Later when Tokugawa Ieyasu became the Shogun during the beginning of Edo period, he employed about 200 Iga-ryu ninja to supply intelligence as well as to guard Edo Castle, which was the headquarters of Tokugawa Shogunate. Hattori Hanzo’s sons and their descendants continued to serve the Shogunate until Tokugawa Yoshimune dismissed all ninja from his intelligence network. Later the ninja faded into obscurity.
Iga-ryu Ninja Museum is located about 110 kilometers southwest of hubby’s childhood home that we had visited earlier in the day. It took us about 2 hours of car ride to reach near the museum. We parked our car at a parking area located in front of Ueno-shi railway station. The museum is situated about 700 meters away from the railway station, and after about 10 minutes of walk we reached the museum. At a ticket counter near the museum, we purchased tickets worth 700 Yen per person as admission fee to enter inside the premises of the museum.
In front of Ueno-shi railway station
‘Ninja Museum of Iga-ryu’ engraved on a metal plate of a stone monument that stands in front of the museum
First we went to see the preserved Ninja House. The house is authentic and was once inhabited by an Iga clan ninja. It was moved to the present location in 1964 from its original site in the Takayama area of Ueno City. The house looks like a traditional Japanese style farm dwelling with a thatched roof but inside it has many surprises like secret escape routes, trick windows, revolving walls and doors, places to hide swords, and safe compartments. While waiting in a queue to enter inside the house, we saw a standing statue of Iga ninja at the entrance of the house, which seemed to be welcoming the visitors into the house. While taking off our shoes at the entranceway of the house, we saw traditional Kamado stoves and various cooking utensils displayed in a room in front of us.
The preserved Ninja House
Thatched roof of the house
Japanese style garden inside the premises of the house
Statue of a ninja at the entrance of the house
Display of Kamado stoves and various cooking utensils
Next we entered into a room inside the Ninja House that has many interesting tricks and hiding places. A female guide described to the visitors that one of the doors of the closet in the room is revolving type which was used by the ninja to hide inside the closet. However when closed, it looks like an ordinary sliding type door of the closet. The guide demonstrated that if she leaned against the door or pushed the door a little, it swung around and she disappeared in an instant. Afterwards, a little girl amongst the visitors also demonstrated the trick to all of us.
When closed, the doors of the closet look like any ordinary door
One of the doors of the closet is revolving kind. A little girl is entering inside the closet through the revolving door.
The girl is hidden inside the closet
The girl is coming out of the closet through the revolving door
In the same room, the guide told the visitors to look up and showed us the second floor of the house, which has a very low height and was designed this way to hide from the enemies as well as to entrap an intruder going upstairs. In fact, the height of the second floor is so low that we could see the head of a sitting statue of a ninja almost touching the roof. That is, the second floor is just high enough for a person to sit down or crawl and move stealthily. In addition, the second floor has no windows and is pitch-black inside. This was very useful for the ninja because they could effortlessly move in such darkness while the intruders were rendered helpless.
The second floor of the Ninja House (indicated by red arrow)
The head of a sitting statue of a ninja in pink robe almost touching the roof
Again in the same room, the guide showed us an interesting trick window. The window is usually in a closed mode because of a hidden hook in the left side sash that falls into a groove in the left side jamb due to gravity. An outsider is unable to see and understand such an intricate mechanism and finds it impossible to open this window. The trick to open this window is by sliding upward a thick paper or a sheet through the spacing between the side jamb and the window sash which unlatches the hook from the groove. It is a very simple trick technique but was very useful for the ninjas to escape.
The guide explaining about the trick window which is in the closed mode in the photo
The guide using a thick paper to unlatch the hidden hook
The guide escaping from the opened trick window
In the reception room of the house, the guide lightly pushed against a wall next to the Tokonoma alcove, and a secret underground passage with wooden staircase was revealed. In case of any enemy attack, the ninja could escape through this underground passage that leads outside the home.
A secret underground passage next to the Tokonoma alcove
Next, we went to another room of the house where the guide showed us several hidden places. This room opens into a verandah on one side. There is a trap door in the floorboards of the verandah. The access point of the trap door lies exactly in between the verandah and the room, and is well hidden by the Shoji sliding doors. Sliding the Shoji door away and opening the trap door leads to a secret underground passage under the verandah floorboards. In case an intruder broke into the house, the ninja could hide or escape through this secret passage.
The guide sitting in the room and explaining about the secret underground passage under the verandah floorboards
The guide opening the trap door in the verandah floorboards that leads to the underground passage
In the same room, there is a secret compartment under the floorboards which was used by the ninja to hide weapons for easy accessibility. The guide showed us the secret compartment by lifting a piece of the floorboard that revealed a hidden space underneath. Then with lightning speed she took out a sword from the hidden space. Such extremely quick attack by ninja was essential to fight the intruders.
The guide lifting a piece of the floorboard to reveal a secret space underneath
A sword kept in the secret space for easy accessibility
Again in the same room, there is an interesting hiding place behind a wall. The paneled wall opposite the verandah looks like an ordinary wall of a traditional Japanese house. But one of the wall panels is actually a revolving door. The guide demonstrated that if she leaned against this wall panel or pushed the panel a little, it swung around and she disappeared in an instant. This was useful for the ninja to hide or escape from intruders.
The wall panels look like a typical traditional wall of a room
One of the wall panels is a revolving door
I compiled a video of the guide demonstrating many tricks and illusions like the revolving door of the closet, trick window, secret passage, hidden compartment, and revolving wall of the Ninja House that were designed to protect against intruders.
A compiled video of the guide demonstrating various tricks and illusions of the Ninja House
Ninja Experience Hall
After the guided tour of the Ninja House, we went to an exhibition hall named Ninja Experience Hall. From the house, a fairly deep staircase leads to this underground exhibition hall. The hall features a display of over 400 ninja tools, weapons, gadgets, ammunitions, and costumes. In fact, the display cases and panels exhibit some original tools and weapons that were actually used by the ninja. Near the entrance of the exhibition hall, we saw seven statues indicating different disguises of a ninja. These disguises were: a straw hat clad Buddhist priest, a traveling priest, a novice priest, merchant, acrobat, street performer, and a commoner (farmer or warrior).
Staircase from the Ninja House leading to Ninja Experience Hall
A display panel showing the seven disguises of a ninja
Next, we saw a display case divided into three sections. The left section of the display case exhibits various kinds of ninja implements to open locks of storehouses and houses. Kuroro-kagi special passkey to open locks of storehouses, Karakuri-kagi and Banzo-kagi combination of master key instruments to open any kind of locks, and Tataminomi chisel to cut a locked pole or door are displayed. In addition, Kunai digging implement used when spying into storage and houses and also used as a hook or holder to fix a ladder, Tsubogiri gimlet used to bore holes into walls for secret observation or breaking into a house, and Shikoro double edged saw used to cut through hedges or open bolted doors are also displayed in the left section. The middle section of the display case exhibits climbing tools. The ninja used different kinds of ladders such as those made of bamboo or rope, as well as other tools resembling a pike pole. They also used anchors made from four sickles that were bound together. The right section of the display case exhibits a well-known tool named Mizugomo. The swampy moat surrounding the castles permitted neither walking nor swimming, which made it difficult for the ninja to cross the moat. By wearing Mizugomo shoes, a ninja’s weight was distributed to a wider area so that he could walk on mud, and not on water. Mizukaki mud sandals are also displayed in the right section of the case. These sandals were also used for crossing a swampy moat, but were smaller and more portable than Mizugomo. In addition, this section has a display of Gosun kugi large nails that were fixed by the ninja in the stone walls or rocks to climb by hands and feet.
Left section of the display case exhibiting tools 1) Kuroro-kagi, 2) Karakuri-kagi and Banzo-kagi, 3) Tataminomi, 4) Kunai, 5) Tsubogiri, and 6) Shikoro
Left side of the photo shows middle section of the display case exhibiting 1) bamboo and rope ladder, 2) anchor made from four sickles, and 3) pike pole like tool. Right side of the photo shows right section of the display case exhibiting 4) Mizugomo, 5) Mizukaki, and 6) Gosun kugi.
Yet another Mizugomo displayed inside the exhibition hall
For invading an enemy, the ninja were equipped with various kinds of tools and costumes. We saw two display cases with several such tools and a costume. The first display case exhibits a tool named Kaginawa, which is basically a rope attached to grappling iron. This tool was used for climbing fences, tying up an enemy, and tripping up an enemy. Another tool named Shinobi-gama ninja sickle is also exhibited in the first display case. It was used to cut ropes tying defensive implements such as clappers. In addition, cotton-soled Tabi socks and lightweight Waraji straw sandals are exhibited in the same display case. Tabi socks were used for silencing purpose to enter a house secretly and Waraji sandals facilitated walking and moving quickly. A second display case shows the costume that the ninja wore while invading. The basic shape of such a costume was the same as a farmer’s working clothes or everyday clothes. However, the ninja developed and modified the costume out of necessity. In Uwagoromo upper garment of the costume, a bronze or iron mirror was put in the front left and right parts to protect the heart. Around the lower back on the outside were two pockets to keep weapons. The left and right sides of Hakama culotte-like lower garment were made separately and sewn together near the obi sash, which enabled free movement of the legs and body. Straight shaped shuriken or thin long blades were hidden on the outer arms under Tekko that covered hand and wrist. Such weapons were also hidden in front of the shins under Kyahan leggings. These weapons could be easily removed and deployed during fights.
First display case with exhibited tools like 1) Kaginawa, 2) Shinobi-gama, 3) Tabi, and 4) Waraji
Second display case showing various parts of a Ninja costume: 1) Uwagoromo, 2) Hakama, 3) Tekko, and 4) Kyahan
The ninja were usually always armed with several hidden tools and equipped with armors. At the exhibition hall, there are a few display cases exhibiting such hidden tools and armors. The first display case exhibits several Shikomizue, which is a cane with hidden weapon. Usually a sword was hidden in a hollowed-out travelers’ cane or inside a priest’s staff. A chain, a chain with weights or blinding powder could also be stored inside the hollowed cane. Sometimes, the canes could be turned into spears. In addition, two interesting small tools named Hiuchigama and Kogama are exhibited in the same display case. Hiuchigama is fire-striking steel and was used with a flint to make fire. Kogama is portable small fire-striking steel. A second display case exhibits a tool named Kasugai clamp, which was used to climb to higher places. A third display case exhibits two types of armor that the ninja sometimes wore during a war. On the left side of the third case, Shinobi-katchu ninja armor is displayed. The ninja wore this chain linked hemp garment under their ninja clothing during war when spying in the enemy’s camp. Shinobi-katchu armor could be folded up to be portable. On the right side of the third case, Kusari katabira chain armor is displayed. Kusari katabira is effective for protection against swords or thrown daggers. However, it was not worn very often because of its weight.
First display case exhibiting tools like 1) Shikomizue and 2) Hiuchigama/Kogama
Second display case showing several Kasugai clamps
Left side of the third display case exhibiting Shinobi-katchu, and the right side of the display case exhibiting Kusari katabira
The ninja used various kinds of tools and weapons during fight and war. At the hall, there are several display cases exhibiting such tools and weapons. The first display case exhibits Shinobi-gatana ninja sword, which is a straight sword with a distinct rectangular guard. The ninja could climb a fence by driving the sword in the ground and stepping on the guard, leaving no evidence by retrieving it by its long sword knot. Another weapon named Tekkokagi hand-claw is exhibited in the same display case. This weapon let the ninja snatch the enemy’s sword or attack the enemy. In addition, there is a display of Tekagi spiked iron band, which was used as a climbing tool and also as a weapon. A second display case exhibits many weapons and tools used for fighting the enemy. There is a display of Makibashi caltrop that a ninja would scatter on the ground for his unsuspecting pursuer to stumble and fall over, which enabled the ninja to escape. In addition, weapons like Manrikigusari chain with weights at both sides used for self protection, Sojingama double edged sickle used to cut the enemy, Shuriken throwing stars used for assassination, Kusarigama sickle with chain used to intimidate, stab or cut the enemy, Fundo tsubute weights used for throwing at the enemy and also for pulling nails, and Fukiyazutsu blowpipe used for assassinating the enemy with poison applied on the tip of the dart, are also exhibited in the second display case. A third display case exhibits Shuriken throwing stars of different shapes such as straight, cross, and three to ten multi-pointed stars. Shuriken were used as a weapon for assassination by throwing them within a close range during night attacks at the enemy’s head. Usually aconite poison was used on the blades of the implement. A fourth display case exhibits gun, rocket, firecracker, gunpowder case, and a canon that were used by the ninja during a war.
First display case exhibiting 1) Shinobi-gatana, 2) Tekkokagi, and 3) Tekagi
Second display case exhibiting 1) Makibashi, 2) Manrikigusari, 3) Sojingama, 4) Shuriken, 5) Kusarigama, 6) Fundo tsubute, and 7) Fukiyazutsu
Third display case exhibiting Shuriken stars of different shapes
Fourth display case exhibiting 1) gun, 2) rocket, 3) firecracker, 4) gunpowder box, and 5) canon
The exhibition hall has many more tools and weapons on display. While moving out of the hall, we saw a fairly large model of the layout of Iga-ryu Ninja Village including tunnels that linked residences to the central training ground. Adjacent to the this exhibition hall, there is another exhibition hall named Ninja Tradition Hall where we can learn about secret codes and ninjutsu that are useful even in modern times. In addition, many scrolls and writings of the ninja are on display. But we skipped going to the second exhibition hall this time.
Model of Iga-ryu Ninja Village
Ninja Experience Plaza
Next, we went to a demonstration zone named Ninja Experience Plaza. Here a Ninja Show is held with a live demonstration of ninja weaponry, skills, and fighting techniques. We paid 300 Yen per person as admission fee to see the Ninja Show. We watched the spectacular show where ninja tools and weapons that were actually used in the ninja heyday are demonstrated. Shuriken, swords, and Kusarigama are used in this exciting display. I compiled a video of the Ninja Show demonstration.
Ninja Show about to begin at the demonstration zone
A ninja performer explaining about various souvenirs visitors can buy
The ninja performer demonstrating the use of a sword
A sword used to cut wooden structures
Kunoichi female ninja explaining about Shuriken stars
Another ninja performer doing a funny show with three sickles
A compiled video of the Ninja Show demonstration
In Ninja Experience Plaza, visitors get an opportunity to learn and try throwing Shuriken stars. Hubby paid 200 Yen as fee to learn the technique and tried his hand at throwing five Shuriken stars. He was thrilled after the experience. I compiled a video of hubby throwing Shuriken stars.
The area where visitors can learn and throw Shuriken stars
A compiled video of hubby trying his hand at throwing Shuriken stars
Just outside the museum, we saw several bright red Torii gates of Oinari-sama. We really loved visiting Iga-ryu Ninja Museum. It was a wonderful experience to see the Ninja House, the exhibition hall with display of many tools and weapons, and the Ninja Show demonstration. Afterwards we left the museum and visited a nearby castle named Ueno Castle, about which I will write in the next post.
Bright red Torii gates of Oinari-sama