Getty Images/Vetta
Getty Images/Vetta

The period between the fifteenth and seventeenth century witnessed the rise of the ninja group. They were an important part of the illustrious history of Japan. Information about the ninjas continues to be passed on from generation to generation.

In the mid-fifteenth century, Japan experienced a national crisis that resulted in increased fighting among warlords. This provided a perfect opportunity for the ninjas to thrive. The affluent warlords paid for the undercover services that the mercenaries would offer.

The ninjas served as excellent spies who would pose as monks or common travelers. They fooled enemy troops and collected damning information from them. Once in a while, they would cause a brawl in enemy castles and make the most of the commotion to achieve their goals. Their disguises ensured that no suspicion was raised.

Their tactics were the complete opposite of how the samurai engaged in battle. Given that deceit was greatly looked down upon, generals who used them went to great lengths to cover up their tracks. Third parties were called upon time and again to make contact with the ninjas. It is no wonder that very little is known about them.

Ninja Groups

As the fifteenth century came to a close, the Iga and Koga clans were greatly implicated in the ninja activities. The two clans were based in inaccessible areas thanks to the mountainous terrains surrounding them. Their slyness and secrecy set them apart from the previous spies.

Warlords made contact with the jonin, the upper man in charge of a family, to hire a ninja. He was deputized by chunin, the middlemen. The mission was entrusted to genin, the lower men, who ran the actual show. They were subjected to rigorous training before being entrusted with the roles of going out.

War Times

When Ashikaga Yoshihisa attacked Omu Province in 1487, Rokkaku Takayori called on the ninjas to offer a helping hand. They were also instrumental when Tokugawa sought to end the hostility within Japan. He used them to bring down an Imigawa clan tower in the mid-1500s. They successfully accomplished this and were later used to create animosity in the Osawa castle.

When circumstances demanded it they gave up their spying tactics and engaged in real battle. This was evident when they defended the Fushimi castle in 1600 and took part in the Battle of Tennoji 15 years later.

Their final war engagement came in 1638 when they helped to quite the Shimbarara rebellion that culminated in the fall of the Hara Castle. This would usher in the Edo Period that was characterized by peace throughout Japan.

Times of Peace

Their services were no longer needed after the Shimbarara rebellion. Tokugawa repaid their loyalty by offering them jobs in the Edo Castle that was in present-day Tokyo. The ninjas also relocated from Iga and Koga villages. Most of them served in the police force. Their end came when Tokugawa VIII came to power. He sourced his police force from Kii Province and with time the ninjas were completely phased out.

Manuals and Legends

The Shoninki, Bansenshukai, and Ninpiden are among the most popular manuals that have been unearthed. They talk about the gadgets that the ninja used as well as their military strategy. The manuals allude to the use of spikes and collapsible ladders to gain access to the enemy territory.

Folklore was widely used in Japan to keep the memory of the ninjas alive. With time, the accounts became distorted depending on the imagination and creativity of the storyteller. Perhaps the most intriguing accounts are those that spoke of their ability to become invisible. Others went on to indicate that they could control animals. Much of these cannot be ascertained.

The ninja culture has all the same gained great popularity. A martial art, ninjustu, was developed based on the manuals available. It is has been taught and practiced in a number of countries since the 1970s.


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