Ninjas, as we all know, are far superior to pirates. Iga City in Mie Prefecture was home to one of the most successful schools of Ninjutsu, the Iga-ryū, and is now the go-to destination for anyone interested in the history behind these skilled agents of espionage.
Ninjutsu, contrary to what countless films might try to have you believe, was primarily an art of intellect. It combined knowledge of medicine, chemistry, psychology, geography and horticulture as well as more esoteric disciplines like divination and parapsychology. Ultimately ninja were all for doing their job without getting caught and executed, so while there were fighting styles to protect them should it come to blows, the art was in avoiding confrontation to begin with. It was highly polished Feudal-era Spycraft.
Iga City’s Ninja Museum is excellent. Let’s not beat about the bush here. Information is given in Japanese and English at all locations throughout every building, and while the talk in the Ninja House is given in Japanese, the lady giving the talk uses a great deal of body language and demonstration to show what she is explaining. You are also provided with a sheet of English translations so that you can refer to them while she shows you – with mind-boggling skill – how parts of the house can be used to disappear very literally in the blink of an eye.
There are four main components to the museum: The Ninja House is a genuine home from Takayama in Ueno City, moved to the museum in 1964 where it is preserved; The House of the Ninja’s Art shows the story of the infiltration of Ueno Castle as undertaken by a team of Iga ninja; The House of Ninja Tradition explains many tricks of the trade, as well as daily life for a ninja; and the Ninja Demonstration Zone has live demonstrations of ninja weaponry and combat techniques.
Tragically during my visit – in spite of all my planning – no Ninja show. According to their website, it’s just best to check in advance. I was a little miffed, but frankly the rest of the museum is so staggeringly brilliant it wasn’t the end of everything.
And, yes. They have a little shop at the end where you can buy all the ninja-themed goods your heart desires!
Visiting The Ninja Museum of Iga-ryū:
From Ueno-Shi Station, head toward Ueno Park – you may need to use the Underpass beneath the station’s tracks to do this. The Museum is signposted within the park, and is toward the rear.
Admission: 700円. The Ninja Demonstration is 200円, and you can fling your own shuriken (under tuition) for another 200円.