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Japan: The ninja new wave

Long veiled in intrigue, one of Japan’s most renowned cultural icons is undergoing a renaissance, bringing ninja history to the 21st century

Japan: The ninja new wave
Image: Alamy

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Whilst their guile and grace have inspired everything from ancient Japanese woodblock printers to a group of teenage turtles, the way of the ninja has sadly been slipping into obscurity. Thankfully, things are changing. With Japan’s sights firmly set on its spell in the sporting spotlight (cue Rugby World Cup and Olympic Games), the uniquely Japanese art of ninjutsu is stepping into the spotlight, too. Whether it’s learning the basics yourself or bedding down in the heartland of ninja culture, a clutch of new offerings to highlight the tradition, skill and ancient heritage of ninjutsu are set to open later this year — without a single turtle in sight.

On the trail
Follow in the footsteps of the ninja by visiting the regions most closely linked to their history. A ‘circular tour’ takes in Tokyo and Nagoya, while a more immersive ‘stay tour’ lets you settle in regions such as Iga for four nights to really get under the skin of this fascinating culture.

So you want to be a ninja?
Look no further. To preserve and promote ninja culture, Tokyo is soon to open a Ninja Academy where novices will be taught the basics by Jinichi Kawakami, known as the ‘Last Ninja’. If you’re not up for such a physically demanding challenge, check out the Ninja Museum, also set to open in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward later this year.

Out of the blue
Ninjas are often depicted in black, an image that comes from Japan’s kabuki theatre, an artform thrives in the bustling city of Kyoto. In fact, ninjas wore everyday clothes in the daytime, and dark blue by night — far better for concealing themselves in the dark.

Want to know more?
Keep an eye on the Japan Ninja Council’s website for announcements.

Published in the April 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)