2014.01.20 ninja

More than likely, you’ve heard of the legend of the ninja, the stealthy hired hands and spies for regional warlords in feudal Japan. But considering how popular ninjas are in the modern world, from video games to ninja-themed American bars, it can be pretty hard to separate historical fact from fiction. And today we have three stories for you about this secretive bunch that may help to give a little more light to the mythos surrounding ninja and the truth behind some of these larger-than-life tales. Click below to read three anecdotes (of varying veracity) about what made ninjas into the legend they are today!

  • The legend of “Flying Kato” 

First up is the ninja master Kato Danzo who was known as “Flying Kato” for his supposed ability to fly. Danzo lived during the Sengoku or Warring States period in Japanese history and had a reputation for being able to perform unbelievable feats.

One such feat was when he swallowed a bull in front of a very surprised crowd. According to legend, a man who had been watching out of a nearby tree loudly claimed that Danzo was a fraud. The man told the crowd to look closely because Danzo had used sleight of hand to make it seem like he swallowed the bull, but had actually just covered it up with a cloth.

Danzo didn’t say anything directly to the man, instead he proceeded with his next trick to wow the crowd. He pulled out a gourd he was carrying that was full of seeds. He threw a handful of the seeds onto the ground and flowers started sprouting immediately where each seed fell. Danzo then kneeled down, took his knife out and cut one of the flowers off at the stem. As soon as the flower was cut, the freshly severed head of the man who publicly shamed Danzo came rolling out from the direction of the tree where the man was sitting.

Word of Danzo’s magical abilities reached the ears of powerful warlords who courted the ninja master to join their side as a skilled mercenary. He served several different warlords where his stealth skills were highly valued. He met his demise when the warlord Takeda Shingen ordered Danzo’s execution after suspecting the ninja of being a double agent. Now, Flying Kato has come to be the perfect example of a real-life historical ninja spliced with a healthy dose of unbelievable legend.

  • The shameful race of Ninokuruwa Isuke

Ninokuruma Isuke was a ninja who was a part of the Odawara Hojo clan and served underneath the ninja leader Fuma Kotaro. His fellow ninjas called him “bony” for his lean frame, which made him a swift and agile ninja.

During the Seige of Kawagoe where the Hojo clan was vastly outnumbered, Isuke was able to inconspicuously sneak around to inform his side about the enemy’s position. But one day, Isuke was recognized by the enemy who sent their own ninja, Ota Inunosuke, to pursue him.

Isuke ran about 20 km without stopping, but Inunosuke was a quick runner and caught up to him. Isuke was close to being caught when he noticed a horse at a farm off in the distance. Isuke stole the horse and made a clean getaway.

But using a horse to outrun a fellow ninja was considered very shameful and Isuke began to pay the price. The enemy’s camp began making satirical poems about the “cowardly” Isuke who couldn’t truly outrun his opponent. The songs came to be quite popular and pretty soon every knew about the ninja who had used a horse instead of his own legs.

Isuke was embarassed by all of this and felt so much shame that he asked Hojo clan leaders to accept his resignation. He would then ask his former racing partner Inunosuke for a rematch where they could test their ninja skills since ninjas did not duel. From Kawagoe in what is now Saitama Prefecture, they would run west over the flat Kanto plains. But about 40 km into the race, Inunosuke dropped dead, meaning that Isuke had truly outrun his opponent.

Although he won the race, Isuke still felt a huge amount of shame and later went to the ninja capital of Iga to teach others about the values and skills of being a ninja. He hoped that this would ease his guilt.

  • A ninja aboard Commodore Perry’s ship

One of the last ninjas to receive official orders was when U.S. naval commodore Matthew Perry famously forced Japan to open up to the outside world in 1853 by showing up with four massive and technologically advanced ships. As the Japanese government evaluated Perry’s “suggestion” to start trading with the rest of the world, the ninja Sawamura Jinzaburo was ordered to board Perry’s ships and search for anything that showed the true intentions of the Americans.

The leaders of the Japanese government wanted the very best ninja to search the ships, so they went to local leaders in Iga, a place that was famous for its skilled ninjas. Sawamura was chosen to disguise himself as an ordinary Japanese government worker to get on board the ship where he would infiltrate and look for anything that hinted at what the Americans were really thinking.

Sawamura was specifically ordered to look for a document that could crack the Americans’ secret code. He ended up finding and bringing back the document, some bread, tobacco and some candles. But when they translated the document, it ended up just being some sailor talk about what they thought of women around the world. That was enough to prove to the government that the Americans weren’t keeping any big secrets from them. Even though the stolen document turned out to be a dud, there is still historical record of one warlord eating the bread stolen from the ship!

Now that you’ve had a triple dose of ninja legend, folklore and history, we would love to know what you think! Let us know in the comments below if you have any other equally fantastic ninja tales!

Top image: Deviant Art
Source: Naver Matome