Let’s face it, deep down we all have a strange fascination with ninjas. There’s nothing cooler than the idea of a covert agent in feudal Japan, whose job description includes espionage, sabotage, infiltration and assassination. They are the masters of stealth and part of a deadly secret society. Who wouldn’t want to be one?
Here’s a lowdown on the places in Tokyo that will bring you as close as possible to living out your ninja fantasies.
Learn How to Fight
There are a number of dojos (places where martial arts are taught) in Tokyo where you can learn all about weaponry and ninja fighting techniques, such as the Musashi. Here, martial arts traditions have been handed down from father to son and it offers ninja and samurai training programs as well as ninja performances.
You begin most classes by changing out of your clothes and into those of a ninja, before meditating to calm your mind, hopefully giving you the power to block out everything except for the task at hand.
Some dojos also teach you about the art of kujikiri, which are a series of nine symbolic hand gestures believed to invoke spiritual and mental strength. Taken from the practices of early Buddhists, it is said these gestures enhance one’s sensitivity to danger and enable a person to foresee their own death.
Then the real fun begins. Learn how to throw a shuriken (ninja star) and swing a sword in accordance with the Japanese style of martial arts, or practise grappling and self-defence. Many of the weapons are handcrafted by a weapons master.
Dine in a Ninja Fortress
Imagine a featureless black doorway that opens to a warren of cave-like corridors with the look and feel of a secret ninja fortress in feudal Japan, complete with hidden passageways, a waterfall and a pond: this is Ninja Akasaka. It’s tucked away in Tokyo’s business district and is where modern Japanese and international cuisine meet all things ninja.
Themed dishes arrive cloaked in flames or on smoking dry ice and resemble any number of deadly weapons. The waiters are dressed as ninjas and slink into the darkness, while an illusionist goes from table to table giving impressive performances. It was good enough for the likes of director Steven Spielberg and feels just like being on the set of one of his famous movies.
Take a Tour on the Ninja and Samurai Safari
Sure the Asakusa Entertainment Bus – Samurai & Ninja Safari tour is more than a little bit kitsch and tacky, but if you suspend your judgement you’ll enjoy this kooky one-hour ride – it’s like interactive theatre on wheels. The tour takes you through the Asakusa area of Tokyo, with an entertaining commentary offered in a mixture of song and rap.
Then the action unfolds out on the streets: a ninja and samurai will appear before you and become involved in an acrobatic battle and chase scene. The tour was launched by Japanese travel agency JTB and is loosely based on The Ride, a popular New York bus tour that bills itself as “equal parts theatrical show and immersive tour”.
Pay Your Respects
Sainen is where you will find the remains of Hattori Hanzo. Does the name sound familiar? Director Quentin Tarantino gave a character the same moniker in his movie Kill Bill. Hanzo was a famous samurai and ninja in the Sengoku era. He was head of the Iga ninjas around 1590 and was known as the spymaster for Japanese ruler Tokugawa Ieyasu. Reputedly he alone had special access Ieyasu’s castle via a secret back entrance.
Hanzo is credited for recruiting both Iga and Koga ninjas to save Ieyasu’s life during a battle, helping him to become the ruler of a united Japan. In popular culture, Hanzo’s legacy is impressive and he has been attributed with supernatural powers, such as the ability to disappear and psychokinesis. Hanzo lived the last of his years as a monk and his remains lie in Sainen-ji Temple, along with his favourite spear and his ceremonial battle helmet.
Feature Image by Danny Choo