The iconic all-black attire and silent movement of a Ninja has become a staple in popular culture today, but the true history of the Ninja remains something of an enigma. As a result, some major misconceptions have emerged. With roots in ancient Japan with history as elite spies, Ninja are every bit as exciting as we already knew they were. Below are some basic facts about Ninja.
Ninja became known as Ninja only after World War II. Before then, they were known primarily by their original name, Shinobi. Shinobi emerged after years of unrest in 15th century Japan. While different groups of Shinobi played by different rules, there was a distinct hierarchy amongst them. Generally, a Shinobi committed deeds that more reputable warriors, namely the Samurai, would not commit. For some, this meant open fighting, attacking, scouting and, of course, spying.
The Shinobi would be hired as mercenaries and warriors, playing significant roles in rebellions, wars, and battles. The Shinobi even split into two clans, the Kogi and the Iga, each of which would play different roles throughout Japanese history. For centuries, ninja served as warriors during war, until large rebellions came to an end, and Christianity infiltrated Japan.
As the 18th century grew nearer, the use of the Shinobi as mercenaries began to dwindle, and the rise of a new organization of elite spies took shape. The Oniwaban was an intelligence agency of sorts, employing specialized warriors, spies, and secret agents to guard, perform stealth, and provide intelligence for shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune’s palace.
Because Ninja were known primarily for their stealth and precision, the training required to become a Ninja was intensive. Training began during childhood, as Ninja are born into the profession. This specialized training included martial arts, survival techniques, the study of poisons, explosives, and weapons, running, climbing, and stealth walking and swimming. Ninja were also trained to disguise themselves, ensuring that enemies would be unaware of a specialized warrior in their midst.
While Ninja dominate pop culture today, getting to know what their lives were really like is a fun way to dissipate the mystic surrounding them. Their rich history, cultural origins, and secretive pasts make Ninja one of the most interesting ancient groups of people.