Meeting the modern “Ninja”

Meeting the modern “Ninja”
Today there are no Ninja in Japan, at least not in the way most people think of them. In 1581 the traditional Ninja families were scattered after a massive military action by Daimyo (Lord) Oda Nobunaga and, true to their practise, they just faded away into history. But the arts they practised lived on, mainly through the old Ninja clans still keeping up the family tradition in the same way as many of the European Pagan skills carried on in various groups and families although they were officially banned or ridiculed. The different skills that made up the art of Ninjitsu were as much a lifestyle as they were a way of surviving and making a living.

Even today talking to practitioners of modern Ninpo you get conflicting ideas about who, or what the historical Ninja were. Some practitioners will tell you that they were “Spiritual Warriors” using their psychic and mystical powers to overcome evil and bring enlightenment. Others will swear that they were peasants who did the “dirty” work that the “honourable Samurai” would avoid. Some exponents of Ninpo will point to Samurai families whose martial arts have a system of Ninja-style techniques within them and claim the Ninja were Samurai ‘Special Forces’. After over 30 years of training in the combat techniques and philosophies of the Togakuri Ryu, plus my adventures in Japan I believe that all of the above are true. Historically Ninjitsu might have been associated with particular geographical areas, or Clans, but it was not tied to them.

Many of the members and descendants of former Ninja families seem to have gone on to become involved in security and law enforcement. During the 18th Century some Ninja were brought together to form Japan’s first Secret Intelligence Service, using many of the traditional skills and disguise techniques for fieldwork and other aspects of security. Due to their influence today’s Japanese intelligence services have a strong cultural influence from the historical Ninja, as I was to find out when I inadvertently attracted their attentions during my stay in Japan.

It began one spring day when I took a picture of one of the policemen outside the British Embassy in Tokyo. He was extremely well turned out and had the full equipment including Jo (Four foot staff) and Hojojutsu cord (for restraining criminals) displayed in parade ground neatness. Nowadays I would definitely ask permission first, but this was 1989 and the world was a more innocent place, to me it was just a photo showing how the Japanese police were both modern and traditional at the same time. It was just as I was turning away that he called out to me and motioned me over.

I walked over to him and said “Good morning Officer, how can I help?” in English since experience has taught me that if you start off a conversation with an official in the local language they assume you are fluent in said language and just being evasive if things get difficult. Being right outside the British Embassy I thought if there was any trouble I could get help from there, especially as I knew the Senior Security Officer. I gave the policeman my name and then he asked for my passport, that was back where I was staying, he asked for the name of my hotel and I explained I was staying at a private residence. This seemed to worry him a little, so I produced the Security Officer’s business card with his contact details on it and suggested he contact the embassy by radio, phone, or walking the 50 or so yards to it.

In Japanese culture there are a whole set of social rituals set around business cards and this was not included in them, which seemed to confuse the policeman more. I clearly wanted to help him, but at the same time he had no clear way of establishing my identity. If he took up my suggestion to contact the embassy it might have serious consequences for what was a minor event, even having the potential to become an international incident. After a few moments thought he said I could go and I thanked him and wrote my name on the business card suggesting that if there were any problems the Senior Security Officer would vouch for me and that was that. Or so I thought.

Being in a ‘touristy’ sort of mood I decided it would be nice to walk over to the Imperial Palace and take a few more pictures and generally contemplate the architecture. As I walked along I practiced attuning myself to the environment around me and shortly became aware I was being followed. Bending down to apparently tie my shoelace I manoeuvred my camera so that the skylight filter on the lens reflected what was going on behind me. In it I could see an oldish Japanese man in the classic trench coat and slouch hat trying to look inconspicuous as he trailed along behind me. He’d obviously been turfed out of a warm inside job to do this because he was wearing tatty old sandals with socks rather than footwear more suited to the inclement weather of the day. I regretted not sensing him earlier. If I had I would have carried on along into the local shops rather than turning right and heading for the palace. Then he could have been in the warm rather than outside on a damp cold day. Unfortunately I couldn’t turn back now without letting him know that I had spotted him and possibly making the situation more serious.

However, when I produced a map and looked around as if checking my bearings I saw I was on my own again. Hopefully my identity had been checked and/or the security services had decided I was not a threat. So I found a good spot near the Palace moat and mediated while looking at the Palace and its environs. About five minutes into this my attention was drawn by three young men in smart suits walking in my direction. ‘That’s nice’ I thought ‘Some salary-men taking time at lunch to come and get about as close as you can to nature in this part of town. More people should be doing it, the weather isn’t that bad’. As the men came closer their group split, two of the men were on a course to walking in front of me, while the other one would be going behind me. Considering Japan's low unorganised crime rate I wasn’t too worried about being mugged, but it was still an odd enough behaviour for me to relax my knees in case I had to move quickly.

Just as the man was about to walk behind me his jacket spoke to him.
In the next instalment you can learn who these people might have worked for, and how I reacted to the situation. Until then sayonara!

You Should Also Read:
Spells and a Ninja Temple
Traditional Ninja Household Magick
Travelling Safely As A Pagan

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