I visited the ninja village of Iga in Mie Prefecture. There were (are?) two major ninja clans in Japan: Iga Clan in Mie and the Koga clan in Shiga.
I boarded the train bound for Kamo, Kyoto then switched to the super rural trains to get to Iga. It only took me about 1 ½ hrs to get there. The scenery of Mie was very pretty, but also pretty empty. It’s hard to believe there is a prefecture more rural than Nara. It was also snowing. I have experienced a little bit of snow in Nara City, but it was just a small dusting. ACTUAL snow was falling in Mie. The Floridian in me was actually excited, especially because I was warm and cozy in the train.
The city of Iga is covered in ninja imagery. Ninja cartoons animals, fake weapons shops, and tourist pamphlets line the streets near the train station. I met with my crew (about 11 other Nara JETs) and we made out way to the ninja museum.
The entrance to the ninja museum is a stone stairway. The addition of black ice made this trek a bit more nerve-racking.
We finally reached the entrance, paid for the museum AND show, then entered the replica ninja house. Our ninja guide sat us down in the tatami room and began her explanation of the ninja house. Because she did not speak English, she pulled down from shades which had the English explanation printed on them. The guide showed me all the ways my apartment sucks.
Things my apartment doesn’t have:
1. Hidden look out posts
2. Escape routes through revolving walls
3. Hidden ladders camouflaged as shelves
4. Weapons hidden in the floorboards
5. Valuables hidden under the molding against the door
Following the demonstrations, the guide showed us down stairs to the actual museum. Every item had an English explanation. I read EVERYTHING. Dammit, why are ninja so awesome?
The museum had an area where we could try the swamp-walking shoes.
There was an area to try on ninja chainmail.
There was even a section dedicated to the amazing variety of shuriken (throwing knives) that ninjas used!
After this section, we walked over to the ninja show. The show was AWESOME! There were 4 “ninjas” who discussed all the weaponry and tactics used by ninja clans. They had mock fights, weapon demonstrations, and shuriken throwing!
One of the “ninjas” spoke a little bit of English and really played to his audience. He was hysterical. At one point, he was using rope as a weapon in a fight. The other ninja caught his rope, then paused. The rope-wielding ninja turned to us (The JETs) and said: “Now. My mind, Oh shit!” We laughed A LOT.
During the introduction to the first fight, a ninja came on stage and challenged another ninja sitting in the back of the audience. He quickly ran to the stage, but before jumping into the fight, he fired a net made of string at me! It was surprising and hilarious. (They did tell me before the show that I’m sitting in the exciting seats. I couldn’t resist after that)
The English-speaking ninja did a nifty demonstration of balance by spinning various items on his umbrella including a 1 yen coin. It was great!
At the end, I got the chance to throw shuriken at a wooden board. It was empowering.
After the show, we took a nice picture with all the actors.
We all thought they were just cool actors, after all. It wasn’t until later that we learned they were in the movie “The Last Samurai!!!!” They helped train actors for the ninja raid scene in the movie. These guys are professional ninjas!
We finished the tour by walking through one last part of the museum. This part was dedicated to retelling the history of ninjas and some of their techniques for keeping secrets. Ironic, no?
I left that day KNOWING I must see the other ninja village in Koga.
Do you remember the silent samurai who followed Tom Cruise's character around the village in "The Last Samurai?" Bob is the one in the front on the left: