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Experience the History of Japanese Ninja, live from Odawara Castle

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This weekend I took the opportunity to join an Online Ninja Experience, held on the grounds of Odawara Castle. Odawara, located just south of Tokyo, is a city full of tradition and culture. Since around 1447 the fortified castle has been the site of sieges and subterfuge, and was held by the Hojo Clan for five generations until they were defeated by three long months of warfare. The coastal City of Odawara may be well-known for its blossom and salted plums, but it’s most famous for being the home of the renowned Fuma Clan Ninja.

When I think about Samurai I remember the excellent films of Akira Kurosawa, with their serious atmosphere and multi-layered themes. When it comes to ninja however, my image is all pop culture and fighting combos. Honestly, I was thinking of Naruto before beginning the tour, but the stories of battle at Odawara Castle are more exciting than fiction.

A Host Trained in Ninjitsu

Our translator and host began by taking us through part of Odawara Museum and explaining how the Fuma Ninja served the powerful Hojo Clan, whose territory spread to the Tokyo area and beyond. Interesting though the history of the city was, Odawara’s ninja tour was really brought to life by our second host, Hiroshi Jinkawa.

Jinkawa Sensei is a professional scholar of ninja, and has worked as an ambassador for the art of Ninjitsu for years. He started to explain details of the way ninja behaved as soon as he welcomed the online audience, talking with our translator about how and why ninja bow in a different way to the average person. It feels like the message Jinkawa Sensei wanted us to understand during the tour was that ninja should be thought of as information gatherers, risking their safety to resolve conflict and avoiding violence whenever possible. Each step of the way he took the time to make the practical and mental values of ninja techniques clear. Jinkawa Sensei knew his stuff, and both our translator and online audience were ready to engage and get some expert answers.

Secrets from the Past

As demonstrated by Jinkawa Sensei, ninja training took serious dedication and skill. As a group we tried out the breathing techniques ninja would have used to conceal their presence, and also attempted to move in the same way these quiet warriors would have, which actually does look very similar to the classic running style in anime. Seeing the stereotypical signs and tools which appear in media and then learning what they originally meant was also eye-opening. I’d always assumed those ninja hand signs were fictional, but there’s actually a philosophical meaning behind that too.

The high point would have to be the presentation of the six typical tools of a ninja. What’s striking about these is how everyday each item appears. You could catch a ninja disguised as a farmer or samurai holding all these items at once, and have no proof they were planning on stealing away with vital information. What made the tools of a ninja so impressive was the ingenuity behind how they were used. I don’t want to give away any secrets, but the bamboo pipes used for fiery sabotage were probably my personal favourite.

Signing up Yourself

What to expect

  • The tour’s expert host Jinkawa Sensei will be focusing on the Fuma Ninja who served the Hojo Clan of Odawara Castle. During the experience, visitors will learn about the role of Ninja in Japanese History and how they trained, both physically and mentally. The online audience will also be shown real historical artefacts.

Booking a Space

  • The Online Ninja Experience is held on selected Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 10:00 and 22:00 (GMT).
  • During February the tour will run on the 14th, 15th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd and 27th. Various dates in March are already available for booking as well.
  • The session will be around 40 minutes.
  • Participation fee is 1,500 JPY (£10.50) per person.

After making a reservation on the official website, the URL link of the Facebook private group will be sent to the registered email address. Please join the private group before the event and access the Facebook group on the day of booking.

Official Website: http://discoverjapan.guide/fuma-ninja-experience/

Tour provided by Odawara Tourism Association and Kanagawa Prefecture

Image source: @Visit_Kanagawa/@travel_odawara

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