A movement in the shadows, a silhouette in the moonlight, a knife in the back; Ninja are one of Japan’s most iconic characters, dashing from the pages of history into anime series, manga and every inch of the island’s pop culture. Despite there being no professional ninja living in today’s world (as far as we can tell) they remain synonymous with Japan and in constant competition with samurai to claim the title of the country’s most famous historical warrior.
The Ninja appearing in modern media often seem superhuman; elegant acrobats, able to communicate with mythical creatures or slice objects which would shatter a real life sword in half (but it takes a moment before you even realise it’s even been cut!). I never specialised in the history of Japanese espionage, so I can neither confirm nor deny these magical powers, but the traditional art of Ninjutsu certainly did exist. While it may not have included details on how to summon demons or clone yourself, students could have learned how to create smoke bombs or how to avoid detection?
What mysterious methods will we have to employ to learn the secrets of this ancient class of assassins? Mei University has emerged from the shadows to provide the answer.
At Mie University’s International Ninja Research Centre, successful applicants can enrol in a course which takes them on an in-depth journey through the history of ninja and traditional techniques of ninjutsu.
The University is based in the ninja-rich Iga prefecture of Japan, and is offering classes which will reveal information about the humble beginnings of ninja as intelligence gatherers and self-taught fighters, and how the secretive group changed and evolved over time.
So can this course turn you into master of the blade, the night, and running along rooftops without falling off? It appears that the University might be taking education a little more seriously than I am.
When I first read about the Ninja centre’s classes I was immediately thinking of tourists and eager fans wielding katana and causing injuries with haphazardly thrown shuriken, and an experience more in line with Kyoto’s historical drama studio park.
In fact Mie University seems to be much more academic than practical, so you can put the katana away (please). You’ll spend less time perfecting your aim and becoming one with the shadows and more time reading journals and traditional texts, understanding how ninja studied everything from medicine to meteorology. The modern romanticised image of ninja is also tackled by Mie University’s qualified staff of professors and researchers, none of which are actually ninja (but how can we be sure?).
Getting through the entire course without at least one mention of the massively famous Naruto franchise has to be impossible, but the University does offer classes on central figures like the fictional Sarutobi Sasuke, one the first ninja to appear in media in a heroic light.
Even if the course is genuine is its ambition to educate students about what truly is a fascinating subject, there’s sure to be a few applicants more interested in katanas than classrooms. As lead professor Yuji Yamada says though, ‘This is a course to learn about the ninja, not to become one.’
So I won’t be enrolling…
Featured Image: AFP-JIJI
All other images: International Ninja Research Center Homepage