Everyone loves a Ninja! I know that I, Captain Max Virtus, and the rest of planet Earth certainly do. But what do we really know about those Shinobi?
Not a lot. And what we do know is usually wrong. And what we don’t know is mostly right.
The problem is that information is scarce due to Ninjas being so mysterious and secretive. Which was the whole point, after all they were the feudal Japanese equivalent of a Secret Agent. Each Shinobi was trained in espionage, sabotage, infiltration and assassination (although not necessarily in that order). Ninjas saw most activity during the Sengoku (or Warring States) period of Japan in the 15th century, which is when local lords vied for power and land, but had pretty much ceased to exist by the 17th century when Japan was unified. They were at the height of their powers for approximately 200 years, a drop in the historical ocean, yet we still fondly remember them today.
Now thanks to my warehouse of Bizarrchaeology, I have learnt a great deal about the ways of the Ninja. Sure, they more than likely spent a lot of time doing the things you would expect a ninja to do; setting explosives, tree climbing, making poisons, throwing shuriken and eating pizza in their sewer layer. But what are some things that you don’t know about Ninjas? Glad I asked myself that question!
Ninjas love Cricket(s)
As I discovered when trying to sneak up on an owl whilst covered in bells (don’t ask, I’ve set myself some fairly strange and highly unnecessary challenges during my time as a Captain of Bizarrchaeology) even the stealthiest of Ninja’s footsteps can be heard. The best way to avoid this? Simple, bring a box of crickets with you wherever you go. Those chirp chirping chappies are heard throughout Japan, so a roaming Samurai won’t be alerted by hearing their familiar stridulation (that’s a fancy word for chirp but seeing as I had already used the word chirp in the previous sentence, I thought I had better use a different word. I wouldn’t want to type chirp again now would I?) A skilful Ninja can release the crickets from their containment into the wild and then continue with their sneaking, safe in the knowledge that they will not be heard.
Ninjas had fake feet
It makes sense, after all, the last thing you want that roaming Samurai to notice is a trail of footprints belonging to a highly skilled and deadly ninja. So instead Ninja footwear would have ‘ashiaro’ (fake footprints) affixed upon them, making it appear that the feet belonged to an elderly woman or a young child rather than a trained Ninja carrying a deadly Kunai (which was actually a simple gardening tool, it’s going to look much less suspicious if a Ninja is caught carrying some hedge clippers rather than a skull split-tingly sharp Katana and a yumi long bow.) In actual fact, Ninjas rarely used the weapons that you’d expect them to (see the ‘Time to Ninja Up’ Escapade for a full Ninja weaponry breakdown).
Real Ninjas don’t wear Black
Yes, I know, I was shocked and saddened by this discovery too. When I think of a Ninja I like to imagine a man of shadow, clad in the distinctive Shinobi Shizoku, dressed from head to toe in an awesome looking black onesie of death (or a giant mutant turtle, either or). But that is exactly the point, the last thing a secretive Ninja would want is to LOOK like a secretive Ninja. Instead a Ninja should look like everyone else.
What would a Ninja have most likely worn? I’m glad you asked. A loose fitting Gappa travel cape that conceals light armour worn in layers beneath it (loose parts of the clothing would be tied with rope to prevent the total embarrassment of tripping out of a tree and ending up incapacitated in front of a startled would be victim). It’s still worth wearing dark colours though, the last thing you would want is a red blood stain on your chest for everyone to see (Persil isn’t going to shift that, I know, I’ve tried).
So there you have it, several things that you probably didn’t know about Ninjas. Whilst reading this escapade you have also discovered how you can be a ninja. Because the best way to be a real Ninja is to be absolutely nothing like a real Ninja. After all that is exactly what a real Ninja would do.
So you want to be a Ninja? Get equipped.
You’ve learnt things you probably never knew about Ninjas and now you want to be a Ninja? Good to know (although I’m making a lot of assumptions there, but seeing as you, the reader, cannot directly communicate with me I’m just going to go ahead and do that. I’m also going to presume your favourite word is Philtrum). You’re going to need to get the appropriate gear together. Don’t worry I’ve got you covered. Here at the Warehouse of Bizarrchaeology we have a range of Ninja equipment suitable for a variety of sizes.
What do you need first? A weapon and the quintessential Ninja weapon would be a Kusari Gama.
‘What? No Ninja Sword?’ (I, once again, assume you shout out, startling the man next to you on the bus) Trust me, there’s no better way of knowing someone’s a Ninja than by them waving a Ninja Sword around (the clues in the name. If only they were called something else … like a Pinja Sword. No one would figure that out). Get yourself a Kusari Gama instead. It sounds fancy but essentially it is a simple wooden handle, attached to a chain which is attached to a sharp curved blade.
Most Ninjas would spend their time looking like simple Japanese peasants, which essentially meant having to look like a farmer. Therefore, what better weapon than one that can be separated to become a simple sickle and a chain? Two perfectly acceptable and non-trained assassin like items for a farmer to be carrying.
Need a long range weapon? Look no further than a flint lock rifle
‘What? (I assume you’ve shouted whilst slapping your knee in delirious shock and spilling your finely brewed light ale in indignation.) Surely a Ninja would have a bow and arrow? Or Ninja Throwing Stars? You know… things that are silent? Not necessarily, whilst a bow and arrow would be handy, there’s no actual historical evidence that shuriken were ever used in combat, and if they were, did a Ninja throw them, use them as a close range slashing weapon or as a zany earing? Either way, it’s usually a better idea to try and kill someone from a long distance away so they can’t try to kill you back. Ninjas would usually just be used in a spying role but if there has to be an assassination the perfect solution is a flintlock rifle. Ninjas were at the cutting edge of weapon development, experimenting with explosives and gunpowder, they would of course want the best tool available for the task they had to complete.
Chances are that if there were Ninjas today (obviously there are many highly trained and secretive Ninja clans in the modern world but if I told you that they might try to assassinate me) they would be armed with night vision goggles, cornershot rifles and red dot laser sights.
‘I need more weapons’ (I assume you bellow whilst stood atop a mountain wearing only lederhosen) then you want to get yourself a Jutte.
Originally used by farmers to remove weeds these little two pronged daggers were handy as you were legally allowed to carry them (back in feudal Japan only Samurai were allowed to carry a weapon). Not only that but the handy hook next to the main blade proved an ideal way of catching an unwary opponent’s blade during an attack and would enable a canny Ninja to quickly strike back with a secondary weapon.
‘What about if I want to climb a tree quickly?’ (I assume you casually mention whilst circling planet earth riding a satellite). Then you’ll want a pair of Shuko.
These are handy claws that fit over the owner’s hands like deadly mittens. An essential part of any Ninja’s tool kit was both easy to hide and enabled a Ninja to make a quick getaway up a tree (or to rescue a stranded cat). A skilled Ninja could also use the Shuko to block an opponent’s blade, the advantage of using the Shuko gave the appearance that they were managing to do so with only their bare hands (not the hands of a bear however. I’m not proposing that Ninja’s were half bear half man. But I think we can all safely agree that the world would be a much better place if they were). This served only to further their reputation as powerful warriors with Teflon hands.
But what was the most useful tool for a Ninja (I assume you state whilst hacking off your own leg with a spoon)?
That’s an easy one. It was an egg. I’m not talking an ostrich egg here, I’m talking a regular, spouted out of a chicken, egg. The yolk would be removed from the inside of the shell by a small hole gently drilled into the surface. Then the newly created void would be filled with Metsubushi, a powder made of the sorts of materials that would make a grown eye cry. It’s difficult to know exactly what Metsubushi powder is made of, as it was very much the decision of the Ninja, but one particular variety consisted of dirt, ground-up pepper, mud, flour, and ashes.
I wish I could tell you that a Ninja used the egg containing the Metsubushi as some sort of throwing device, ready to lob it at an opponent like a pyjama wearing Easter bunny, but if I wrote that it would be a lie, a beautiful lie, but a lie just the same. Instead the powder would be removed from the egg (which was simply a vessel for carrying the deadly powder that would not cause alarm if spotted. After all, it is a well-known fact that 84% of all people who lived in feudal Japan carried an egg with them at all times*) and then hurled at a foes’ eyes whilst the Ninja made a quick getaway.
‘I am sated. I now have all the equipment I require to level up and become a mighty Ninja.’ (I assume you conclude whilst plunging head first into the sun with a fiery plume). Well good for you and good luck Ninja. You now have everything you need to make it as a Shinobi.
*Please note that this is not a well-known fact and has just been made up. Unless of course, you the reader, are of the philosophical disposition that there exists an infinite variety of universes and that, in one of them, 84% of all people who lived in feudal Japan carried an egg with them at all times. But typically in that parallel universe I didn’t write this book, which would render this entire footnote completely pointless.
About the Author.
Adrian Burrows (b.1981) is an Actor with a particular interest in ancient history and communicating that history through popular culture, film reference and the whimsical musings of his pseudonym Max Virtus. He performs, administrates and writes for Wicked Workshops – Provider of historical, living history workshops, tailored for KS1 and KS2 children, in schools all over the country.
Raised in Liphook, Hampshire, via Hong Kong, Adrian studied for 3 years at the University of Plymouth. Prior to this he gained a prestigious A grade in history for his GCSE… he then promptly disregarded history all together and followed his studies in performance and theatre. In 2003 love brought him to Lancaster, Adrian has since spent the past decade within the Theatre world as one of the founders of Little Gargoyle Ltd. Over the last 5 years he has taken Wicked Workshops to new levels of success, and thus his passion for history has been re-ignited.
As a freelance historical writer, his monthly blog for HISTORY IS NOW has been wildly popular and his writing has been featured in HISTORY REVEALED MAGAZINE. As a new father his most recent writing has been informed by late night and early morning gaming sessions of Farcry Primal, with the express purpose of an early History Education for his young Son. Honest.
Though usually working within Wicked Workshops as an Actor and history practitioner, Adrian can often be found performing as part of After Dark Murder Mystery Events in performances across the UK. He starred in THE WOLFMAN INVESTIGATIONS Children’s theatre production on its North West tour, including a run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2011. He is also one of the four cast members in the dinner theatre production THE PLAY’S THE THING, specially commissioned for the 400th Bard commemorations and presented by Attic Door Productions, (The production company behind the award winning HOW TO SURVIVE A ZOMBIE APOCOLYPSE) He has a brilliant rapport with Children and spends several evenings a week running after school Drama Classes for children in his home town.
Adrian is passionate about ensuring that History remains relevant to people of all ages. Since becoming a parent he knows that History in all its mediums can be a fun and enjoyable family pastime. His combination of broad shoulders and tiny waist means he has often been described as a triangle and he has a deep hatred of Grammar and spelling – apologies in advance to his editor… and good luck.
Adrian’s new book featuring lots more Bizzarcheology is now available for sale. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Escapades-Bizarrchaeology-1-Adrian-Burrows-x/dp/1911266284/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1484000485&sr=8-1&keywords=escapades+in+bizarrchaeology