Ninja Travels in Japan
The 1980’s were the flowering of what is nowadays referred to as the “Ninja Boom” with books such as Eric Van Lustbader's “The Ninja” and films such as “Enter the Ninja” extolling the combat and ‘supernatural’ skills of their fictional characters. At the same time people such as Stephan Hayes began to publicise the combat and some of the spiritual approaches of the Ninja that had survived to the present day through various traditional martial arts and word of mouth traditions – much as the Pagan spiritual path did in Europe. Ninja were found all over Japan, but the most famous for their were the Iga and Koga regions, not that far from Kyoto. The geography of the region is very mountainous with steep hills and valleys and, at that time, was quite hard to get to. Indeed, some of the villages I visited I was the first Caucasian the locals had seen in the flesh and one of my standard phrases was “Eieh subtiros des” literally “I have no subtitles”. At least I hope that’s what it meant as it always got a laugh and seemed to put people at ease. I relied on walking and public transport to get around once I left the main town which could lead to some interesting situations especially when I first arrived.
It was late November and I had just visited a living history museum thinking that I had looked at the right bit of the bus timetable to catch the last bus back to the distant town. It was growing steadily colder and I really wasn’t dressed for it, then it began to snow. I checked the timetable and with the aid of my pocket Japanese to English dictionary realised that I had been looking at the wrong day. Instead of a twenty minute wait it was closer to a two hour one and, just as I realised that, it began to snow. The chill was already beginning to insinuate itself through my inadequate clothing and the two hour wait could be a serious problem.
The bus stop was set in an area with just enough tree cover to make the snow reaching the ground too thin to drift or make into a shelter, and I didn’t have any survival items such as a ‘space blanket’ on me. The only other things in the vicinity were two vending machines in their own little shelter to keep them out of the weather. That may sound strange, but in Japan you can find vending machines literally everywhere so two in the middle of nowhere wasn’t unusual. For a moment I thought one might be selling hot drinks or food, but both were stocked with chilled drinks which didn’t help. There was a gap between them just big enough for me to fit into, but I thought I might just lose body heat from contact with the cold metal. Then I remembered that refrigerators work by compressing refrigerant gas, then pumping it into the pipework inside the fridge where the pressure is released cooling it and allowing it to absorb any heat in the fridge by conduction and convection. Then the accumulated heat is dissipated into the room where the fridge stands. Which meant that the shelter the machines were in would, probably, be warmer than the surrounding countryside. Realising this I squeezed in between the two vending machines.
It was surprisingly warm and time passed quickly until the bus arrived. It was empty when it pulled up right by the two machines, the door was literally one step away from where I was secreted. The driver got out for a short walk and smoke leaving the door open without even glancing in my direction, and I noticed that some of the powdery show had been blown away by the bus pulling up. Without stopping to think I slid out from between the fridges, stepped on the snow-free bit of ground and into the bus. I found a seat towards the back and settled comfortably to enjoy its heating.
When the bus driver returned he glanced down the bus as he returned to his seat and froze for a few seconds. As far as he was concerned the bus stop had been empty when he arrived, and there were no tracks on the ground (the sight of him trying to surreptitiously check the snow by the bus was very funny). The bus driver was probably a local man, and from his face he clearly believed I might be a local forest spirit. This may sound a little condescending to many readers, but I found Japan to be one of the most magickal countries I had ever been in. In the financial district of Tokyo there was at least one shrine to the fox spirit (Inari Ōkami) in sight at all times because of this spirit’s association with prosperity, and people regularly took their cars to Shinto shrines to be blessed. In this context it was entirely probable that the bus driver believed that some forest spirit had taken human form and boarded his bus. Especially as he could see no tracks in the fresh snow surrounding the bus stop that had been empty when he pulled up.
During his brief pause the bus driver had clearly decided on a course of action of action. He bowed briefly, I nodded back, and he got into the driver’s seat and drove, eyes fixed firmly on the road. He definitely wasn’t going to check my ticket, in Japan even a forest spirit wouldn’t think about getting on a bus without one so why take the risk? On the way back to town the bus picked up various passengers and was quite full by the time it reached the bus station. In the usual commotion of everyone getting off I drew in my aura, bent my knees to get slightly below the mean height of the crowd and made my way past the bus driver without him spotting me. A classic Ninja technique combined with invisibility magick. My last sight of the driver was of him looking in consternation at the empty bus and probably coming to the conclusion that he had indeed had a Kami (spirit) on his bus.
This was the first time I had been mistaken for the Japanese equivalent of a sprite, but not the last as you will see in the next article. It also showed me how effective the techniques of the Ninja were, especially combined with magick and made me realise that there were many more adventures ahead of me in the months ahead.
You Should Also Read:
The art of invisibility - Saiminjutsu
Invisibility use at the American Embassy, Japan
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