International Ninja Day is observed annually on December 5.
Shrouded in mystery, ninjas have almost become more of an idea than an actual warrior. Hundreds of years ago though, in feudal Japan, ninjas were very active and very real. Not always good guys, not always bad guys, they were somewhat of a mercenary group carrying out assassinations and espionage for the highest bidder. Today, much of what we know about them is in fact little more than legend. If you’re not up to date, however, allow us to enlighten you.
To truly understand the history of International Ninja Day, one must first understand the history of the Ninja. The original Ninja were warriors of the Iga Province of Japan during the Sengoku period. These warriors were raised from the basic people of the countryside, without access to proper armor, weapons, or training to use them.
This is why so many of the weapons of the Ninja are drawn from agricultural roots, such as the Kunai and sickles, they were also weapons that disguised themselves. No sir, no infiltration focused assassin here, just a humble farmer working his fields.
Historians have concluded that the original source of the skills and philosophy that were later adopted by ninjas in Japan comes from India where it all began 6000 years ago.
- Ninjas often used nekome-jutsu, which was the ability to decipher the time just by looking at a cat’s eyes. Cat’s eyes are very sensitive to light which causes and their pupils to change shape at specific times of the day. Think of them as the digital watch of the 16th century.
- The word shuriken did not only describe the well-recognized ninja’s throwing stars. Shuriken was also used to describe any object or tool that the ninja would throw, such as knives or darts too
- The most skilled ninja clans were from the Iga and Koga (Koka) regions in Japan. These ninja clans flourished in their skills, in part because of their geographical location. They were isolated between two mountain ranges, which ensured their protection.
- Training to become a ninja wasn’t all throwing stars and setting fires—wannabe shinobi had to undergo all kinds of training to gain the title. They had to learn about scouting and survival, poisons and explosives, but they also had to gain a least a cursory knowledge of various professions, because they could end up needing to take all kinds of guises in their work, and they would need to be able to pass.
- Ninjas created a system passing covert messages using colored rice. Each specific rice color had a different meaning.
- Female ninjas liked to wear beautiful ornate hairpins, called kanzashi. Unlike the hairpins innocently worn by most women, female ninjas employed their kanzashi for multiple uses. Hairpins would be sharpened to be used as a weapon, or dipped in poison for assassinations.
- Female ninjas didn’t just weaponize their hair adornments, as nail accessories proved an easily concealed weapon too. Female ninjas would attach deadly metal nails to their fingertips. These razor-sharp weapons were called neko-te, meaning cat hand.
- Although ninjas used an assortment of weapons and tools, one of their most important items was a live cricket, which was used to aid them in their covert missions. Crickets would be induced to chirp, with the use of a special mix of chemicals. The chirping of crickets would cleverly mask the footsteps of a ninja, so they could maneuver undetected.
- The word ninja didn’t come into use until the 20th century. The ninjas were typically called Shinobi, meaning covert agent, a word derived from the Japanese “to steal away” or “to hide.”
- Ninjas created the smoke bomb effect by using ash. The ash would be kept in an eggshell, and sometimes in the sheath of a weapon. A ninja would release some ash, in order to confuse or misdirect their enemy.
- In order to avoid detection, ninjas would actually attach “ashiaro”, or fake footprints” to their boots that would make people think they were a small child or elderly person.
- Ninjas loved cookies. they didn’t have a sweet tooth but they did eat a lot of calorie rich cookies known as katayaki while they were traveling through the woods or searching for their victims. It was something like modern day power bars.