[From January Issue 2013]
Since way back, ninja have appeared in novels, movies, comics and games. Using their ninjitsu skills, ninja fight enemies and save their masters who employed them. Similar to a famous brand, the ninja is known, not only in Japan, but also abroad. What isn’t known though is whether such people really existed, and if they did, what kind of activities they were involved in.
In Japan, Iga City, Mie Prefecture and Koka City, Shiga Prefecture are famous as ninja hangouts. In order to do research into the history and culture of ninjutsu, KAWAKAMI Jinichi, honorary director at the Iga-ryu Ninja Museum in Iga City, became a specially appointed professor of the Science of Ninjutsu at Mie University last December. Kawakami says, “Since I was a child, I’ve been practicing the same training routines as ninja.”
When he was around six, Kawakami encountered ISHIDA Masazo, teaching Koka-ryu ninjutsu in his neighborhood. Taking an interest in ninjutsu, he learned a variety of martial arts techniques used by ninja, including how to throw shuriken (throwing stars), a weapon commonly believed to have been used by ninja. He also learned to walk without making any sound, to use wild grass as medicine, to sneak into enemy territory, and to set traps. And at the age of 18, he succeeded Ishida and began to hand down the Koka-ryu ninjutsu tradition and teach martial arts to young pupils as a master himself.
Called “the last ninja” by those got to know him through his ninja activities, Kawakami speaks at various seminars. It was because of a lecture he gave at a symposium hosted by Mie University last year that Kawakami became a specially appointed professor. At the university, he is studying documents related to ninjustu. He is planning to publish his research results in the future.
Running and jumping about in the mountains, fighting with ninjitsu, and so on; in novels and movies, ninja are depicted as being similar to spies. Kawakami, however, sees ninja as people who have knowledge about information gathering, psychology, medicine and sociology, as well as survival skills. Therefore, when he gets injured or catches a cold, Kawakami cures himself with medicine made from wild grasses.
“When I was training to become a ninja, I practiced reading other people’s emotions, and this was useful when making business deals and for establishing important relationships,” Kawakami recalls. Because of this, he says, “At the university, I want to teach students not only about the skills that ninja possess, but also their way of thinking, their spirit and historical background.”
Kawakami is trying to portray ninja not as fictional characters but as masters of survival skills that can be applied to modern life. And in order to disseminate this idea, he is working as a museum director and a university professor. Kawakami’s science of ninjutsu, might help people from abroad with an interest in Japanese culture, history and thought processes, to know Japan more deeply.
Text: ITO Koichi