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According to various sources, a Ninja (忍者) is a Japanese covert agent hired to perform various unconventional tasks such as infiltration, espionage and intelligence gathering, sabotage, military strategy, and deception. Also called Shinobi. Real accounts of ninja are scarce; along with various theories, they are often implicated to being experts of assassination. The most notable schools of ninja are Iga-ryu (伊賀流) and Kōka-Ryu (甲賀流). Koka is well-known as Kōga (こうが).

About The Word

A single Kanji, or Chinese characters commonly used in Japanese writing system, may be used to write one or more different words as they are said to have one or more different "readings". These readings are normally categorized as either on'yomi (Chinese derivation reading or Sino-Japanese) or kun'yomi (Japanese native reading).

Ninja is the on'yomi reading of the two kanji "忍者"; in the native kun'yomi reading, it is read "shinobi", which is a short form of shinobi-no-mono (忍の者). The first symbol for "nin", means to endure or forebear, and is derived from the symbols for "sword" (刃) and "heart" (心). In the Bansenshukai, which are books containing records on ninjutsu, it states that the symbol for nin is used to epitomize valor. Mono (者) means "a person".

The word Shinobi (忍び) apparently also means "to steal" or "doing something secretly".

What they were called?

Ninja have various names such as the following: Rappa (乱破) suppa (水破 and 出抜), toppa (透破 and 突破), ukagami (伺見), dakkou (奪口), shinobi (竊盗), kusa (草), kyoudou (郷導), kyoudan (郷談), kanshi (間士)[1][2]. They were named depending on the region, and sometimes role. Other terms were onmitsu (隠密) or spies/undercover detective, and mitsumono; in Etchu Province and Echigo Province (present day Niigata and Toyama Prefecture), ninja were called Kikimonoyaku (聞者役) among other terms.

Takeda Shingen used Mitsumono, three type of warriors specialized in info gathering (verbal). The term was associated with above-mentioned rappa.

Kyoudan were converted ninja, recruited from the enemy troops by bribes.

Suppa seems to be a brigand group, such as the Kazama Family (Fuuma).

Japanese used with the symbol for Nin

To have a further understanding on how the symbol for nin is used, here are a list of Japanese words that use the same symbol:

  • Innin (隠忍): patience / endurance
  • Kannin (勘忍): pardon / patient endurance / forbearance / forgiveness
  • Zannin (残忍): Cruelty (First symbol means "injure" and "spoil")
  • Shinobu (忍ぶ): TO Hide or conceal.
  • Ninku (忍苦): Stoicism, endurance
  • Nintairyoku (忍耐力): Fortitude
  • Haji wo shinobu (恥を忍ぶ): To abide one's shame



It is generally accepted that the methods found in Ninjutsu originated outside of Japan. After the fall of the T'ang dynasty in China, many outcast warriors, philosophers, and military strategists escaped to Japan to avoid punishment by the new Chinese rulers. It is believed that Ninja families were exposed to many of these exiled people's sophisticated warrior strategies and philosophies over the centuries, helping to influence and shape what became Ninjutsu.[3]

The Ninja were also very much influenced by a group of people called Shugenja, who roamed the same mountainous sections as the Ninja. The Shugendo method of spiritual self-discovery consisted of subjecting oneself to the harsh weather and terrain of the area in order to draw strength from the earth itself. They would walk through fire, stand beneath freezing waterfalls, and hang over the edges of cliffs in an effort to overcome fear and assume the powers of nature.

Apparently, in many cases, there are watari ninja (渡り忍; passing ninja). They offer their duties to the highest bidder.

Iga, Omi, and Sagami Provinces

The Three Books

There are three official documents that widely details that world of ninjutsu: Bansenshukai (萬川集海), Shōninki (正忍記), and Ninpiden (忍秘伝 or 忍秘传).


Main article: Iga Ninja
Main article: Koga Ninja
Main article: Kazama Family

The Iga Ninja (伊賀忍者) and Koka ninja (甲賀忍者) are the most popular ninja factions of ninja. A violent rivalry between the two factions are often portrayed in media, but seems to be fictional. Around the nation, various daimyo deploy covert agents that serve them.

About Ninjutsu

Main article: About Ninjutsu
(明屋敷番; clear yashiki guard) A guard system initialized by Iemitsu Tokugawa. When the shogun or daimyo were absent from their castle and the castle had to remain empty, a group of Iga warriors was assigned to guard it. A Yashiki is a mansion, a popular name regarding the pre-modern military grounds of samurai. Also called Akeyashikiban Iga Mono (明屋敷番伊賀者)

Ninja Ranks

In the Bansenshukai, there are three known ranks only used to describe the duties of the ninja through a hierarchical system.

A genin (下忍) means a low ninja. They play the most important role as they create the unity of the entire ninja force. They are also known as the Common Ninja or the Operative Ninja. In Seishin, the majority of ninja are this rank and usually specialize in one style of infiltration.
A chūnin (中忍) means a middle ninja. In real life terms, they probably play a role equivalent to a Sergeant, and lead a small squad (大頭, ōgashira) of genin. In Koga, chuunin is the highest rank. In Seishin, chunin take charge of guiding the genin through the operation, and also aid in training. Many characters are house leaders, instructors, disciples of jōnin, etc. Also, members of the Iga Sokoku Ikki. Also called chūjin (中人).
A jōnin (上忍) is a highest-ranking ninja. Because of their popularity and/or most likely because of their influence over Iga Province, the Iga ninja Fujibayashi, Hattori, Momochi are known as the Three Grand Jonin (三大上忍). Their families are even called the "Jōnin Three Houses" (上忍三家). In Seishin, the Jonin function like the daimyo of Iga Province after the Niki Family. They are also the head of the Iga Sokoku Ikki. Also called shōjin (上人).

The Five Spies

Influenced by China, The gokan (五間) is a system of five spies.

  • Inko no Kan: 因口の間 (local spies)
  • Nairyo no kan: 内良の間 (Inward spies)
  • Hantoku: 反徳の間 (converted spies)
  • Shicho no akan: 死長の間 (Doomed or expendable spies)
  • Tensei no kan: 天生の間 (Surviving Spies)

Inko can speak different languages from another territory (speaking to local residents) and can gather information by eavesdropping. Nairyo are bureaucratic spies that are sold to an agent's cause and pose as fake spies to said agent's enemy. That is because the spies find an advantage from this somehow.


The 16 Tools of the Sawamura Family
Passed down this family are special tools, mentioned in different ninjutsu books.
Shinobi Shozoku
(忍び装束; shinobi attire) The dark-colored outfit with the hood (頭巾; zukin).
(鉤縄; かぎなわ) Iron grappling hook used to ascend walls and to bind enemies
(手裏剣) A throwing blade.
(くない) A double-edge tool shaped like a leaf. It was used for climbing walla and digging, and also used as a survival knife; it can also bludgeon an enemy. The rear can be shaped like a ring for string/rope.. The word is transcribed into Kanji as 「苦内」 and「苦無」.
(水蜘蛛; みずぐも)
(撒菱・撒蔆・撒芰; まきびし) Impedes/hurts pursuer or a transportation by sprinkling sharp or slippery objects on the ground.
(rocket) Arrow with bamboo barrel filled with gunpowder.
Kiseru and Ire
Kiseru is a pipe.
Pipe and sheath.
Implement for smoking tobacco.
Quick changing clothes. Used the clothing for disguise, priest, merchant, acrobat, musician. It’s reversible
(鞋) Also 草鞋. Footwear; sandals made of twined straw.
Iron bind for tabi socks and waraji straw sandals.
Field medicine.
sanjaku tenugui
( 三尺手拭い; three shaku hand cloth) 90cm (3 shaku) piece of cloth. Can also be used for climbing and to tie as a hood (ninja zukin; 忍び頭巾)
(石筆) Stone pencil
Uchitake or tsuketake
(付竹) Fire starting implement
(目潰し) 中に唐辛子、灰、薬品等を入れて吹き口から敵の顔面に吹き付けることができるため常に携帯していた。卵の殻に詰めて投げつけるものは「卵目潰し」と呼ばれた。 (Blind your eyes using grain material such as ash and pepper that is carried. Blown/swung at someone's face; also carried in shell)

Popular Ninja

Hanzo Hattori
Probably the most well known "ninja". He was actually a commander/samurai-vassal of the Tokugawa family and widely portrayed in media. The Second Hanzo was said to have been skillful in the spear.
Saizō Kirigakure
A popular ninja from folklore
Sasuke Sarutobi
A popular ninja from folklore.
Tanba Momochi
Probably also called "Sandayuu Momochi" or was a relative. An Iga. One of the Three Grand Jōnin. He took part in the Iga Tenshō no Ran and commanded both Koga and Iga.
Nagato Fujibayashi
An Iga. One of the Three Grand Jōnin. He took part in the Iga Tenshō no Ran
Izumo-no-kami Mochizuki
Daisuke Togakure
The founder of Togakure-Ryu

External Links/References