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A Trip to Ninja Country: Three Museums Dedicated to the Master Spies

Iga and Kōka, two cities in western Japan, are celebrated for their association with ninja. Visitors today can learn more about these legendary figures and reenact some of their deeds at museums here.

1. Ninja Museum of Igaryū

Iga in Mie Prefecture is one of Japan’s most famous ninja centers. Visitors today can find out about the legendary spies at the Ninja Museum of Igaryū in the city’s Ueno Park, which is located a five-minute walk from Uenoshi Station. The facility features a ninja residence and exhibition halls, while shows are performed regularly on an outdoor stage.

A multilingual sign greets visitors.

The ninja residence appears at first like an ordinary thatched farmhouse, but there are numerous tricks and traps inside. A museum guide, clad in ninja garb, explains: “These traps were like a modern-day security system. All of the houses in Iga had two or three such devices.”

The Iga residence features a device known as dondengaeshi, a wall that revolves to expose a hiding place.

The first exhibition hall introduces ninja tools and historical documents. There are over 400 items on display in all, including shuriken blades constructed according to manuals on ninjutsu (the art of the ninja) and mizugumo devices attached to the feet for crossing water. The latter are actually thought to have been used, but as the guide explains, shuriken were not generally resorted to. “Fighting was for samurai. The ninja specialized in running and hiding.”

Clockwise from top left: Reproductions of shuriken, mizugumo used for crossing water, ninja clothing, and ninja swords.

The other exhibition hall describes the history of the ninja and how they lived with its displays of the clothing and everyday items that they used. These objects teach fascinating lessons about the knowledge that ninja needed to do their work. The museum also features a quiz corner for children and a souvenir shop.

Swords were hidden below the floorboards of the ninja residence.

Address: 117 Ueno Marunouchi, Iga, Mie Prefecture
High school students and adults: ¥756
Children four or older, elementary, and junior high school students: ¥432
Hours: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (entrance until 4:30 pm)
Closed: December 29 to January 1

See also: Beyond Fiction: The Real Ninja

2. Kōka Ninja Village

Kōka in Shiga Prefecture is another well-known ninja location. The Kōka Ninja Village facility includes a ninjutsu museum, a ninja house with traps, and a shuriken throwing range. A ninja dōjō features nine training activities for visitors, including climbing and walking along walls.

Using a sword as a step when climbing a wall. Its long cord makes it easy to pull up after getting to the top.

The ninja residence is a relocated house formerly belonging to actual Kōka ninja descendants in the Fujibayashi family. As in Iga, there is more than initially meets the eye, including hidden exits.

Practice your skills at the shuriken throwing range. In the background is a ninja residence.

“This area was a transportation hub, and there seem to have been many land disputes,” says Kitazawa Akira, who works at the village. “A local power vacuum led to the development of a strongly unified, autonomous group in Kōka.”

The Kōka village also has its dondengaeshi revolving wall.

The ninjutsu museum displays manuals like the famous Bansen shūkai (trans. The Book of Ninja) and other tools and historical documents. Although each home would have a copy of Bansen shūkai, Kitazawa explains, “Ninjutsu was a secret art, so the key information was not written down. Anything important was conveyed orally and memorized.”

Clockwise from top left: An exhibition at the ninjutsu museum, unusually shaped shuriken and makibishi spikes, and the ninjutsu manual Bansen shūkai.

Address: 394 Kōkachō Oki, Kōka, Shiga Prefecture
Adults: ¥1,030
Junior high and high school students: ¥820
Elementary school students: ¥730
Preschool children: ¥520
Hours: Varies, but usually 9:00 or 10:00 am to 4:00 or 5:00 pm
Closed: Varies, so check official website (Japanese only)

3. Kōka Ninja House

Another ninja destination in the city is Kōka Ninja House, which was built around the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century. It belonged to the Mochizuki clan, which led the 53 ninja families in Kōka. After going through the well-tended garden, visitors are greeted by a display of medicine signs at the entrance. The ninja are believed to have regularly gone out to gather information in the guise of itinerant monks carrying medicine and amulets, but the Mochizuki family actually made a business of producing and selling medicine. There is still a flourishing local industry.

Clockwise from top left: Kōka Ninja House, signs advertising medicine, and shuriken.

Inside, visitors can watch a video about the house and its features. The hidden staircase and secret escape passage remain today. There are also ninjutsu manuals and ninja tools.

A rope ladder for quickly moving from the third to the first floor.

Address: 2331 Kōnanchō Ryūbōshi, Kōka, Shiga Prefecture
Junior high school students, high school students, and adults: ¥700
Children four or older and elementary school students: ¥400
Hours: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (entrance until 4:30 pm)
Closed: December 27 to January 2

(Originally published in Japanese on August 22, 2017. Text by Satō Narumi. Photographs by Ōshima Takuya.)

  • [2017.09.20]
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