As I sit here chewing on a shuriken candy, I wonder if in my former life I was secretly a ninja. I’ve often thought this, but now I have substantiated proof: I hit the bullseye with a shuriken (ninja star) my first time trying. Apparently I’m a natural… suspicious, if you ask me.
I made this discovery at a recent trip to the ninja museum in Iga. Iga is one of the two places in Japan known as the “birthplace of ninjutsu,” (the other is Koga), and it happens to be a 1 1/2 hour drive from our house. From the time ninjutsu culture was introduced to Japan in the 6th century, through the feudal period when ninjutsu was at its peak, Iga developed into a leading school of ninjutsu, climbing to the top of the ninjutsu tree (see right).
We went to Iga along with a Japanese friend of ours, whose sister works as a full time ninja at the ninja museum, which is basically the greatest job ever – all the fun of being a ninja without the actual danger of the ninja lifestyle. She gave us a tour of an authentic ninja residence, which looked like a typical farmhouse from the outside, but inside included such ninja staples as revolving walls, a trick door for quick escape which can only be opened with two strips of paper placed just so, an underground passageway leading to a nearby well, a hidden lookout, and a weapons compartment hidden under a nondescript floorboard. Jordan and I are already working on plans to modify our apartment accordingly.
After our ninja house tour, and perusing the museum displays filled with loads of impressive ninja paraphernalia, we settled into the ninja demonstration zone to watch the show. The ninjas demonstrated their skills with hand to hand combat, shuriken, kunai, and many other crazy weapons like a chain with a ball on one end and a scythe-like object on the other. The ninja battle ended with scores of defeated and gelded ninja and one victor – with whom I am seen posing against the backdrop of a shuriken-shredded tatami.
Following the ninja demo, we got to try our hand at shuriken throwing, which is when my inner ninja peeked out momentarily. We were given five shurikens each to test our technique. Admittedly, my first two shots resulted in the supervising ninja telling nearby observers to back away a little farther. Shots three and four at least managed to hit the plywood surrounding the target. And on my fifth and last shot, much to the surprise of the supervising ninja and exceedingly anxious bystanders, I hit the bullseye decidedly. Perhaps I had been holding back all along – or had I? Even I don’t know for sure. I was awarded an authentic ninja bandana for my achievement.
A short walk from the ninja museum is the Haikai Master’s Pavilion, dedicated to the famous haiku poet, Matsuo Basho, who was born in Iga-Ueno in 1644. There is a statue of the poet in the middle of the circular building, and the tops of the walls are lined with haikus carved on wooden slats. It is said that while the ninjas represent Iga-Ueno’s reputation, Matsuo Basho represents its soul. In honour of this connection I shall conclude this post with a haiku of my own concoction:
spins swiftly towards target