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Ninja made simple by C. Zaremba

This month we introduce our new NINJA scales to you. I am sure you have heard of ninja, and have a romantic image of mysterious assassins with mythical powers of stealth and concealment. You might have seen them attacking Tom Cruise in the movie The Last Samurai. But who exactly were the ninja? And what did they do?

FS-iContrary to popular belief, the ninja were not merely assassins. They also worked as spies, bodyguards, scouts, and engaged in guerilla warfare. The word 'ninja'is written with two Chinese characters in Japanese, the first meaning 'concealment' and the second meaning 'person· They were masters of disguise, pretending to be enemy soldiers, roaming monks, merchants, peasants and even women in order to hide their identity, merge into their surroundings and attain their ends.

FS-iThe prototype ninja is said to be Prince Yamato, who disguised himself as a woman to get close to his enemy. The enemy chieftain drank and had a good time with the disguised Prince Yamato. When he was relaxed and least expecting it, the Prince suddenly drew his sword and killed him. While not a true ninja, like the Prince, the ninja disguised themselves, often struck within the enemy's camp by secretly entering and pretending to be the enemy, and taking the enemy by surprise with their attack.

FS-iNinja were expert at infiltrating castles. They could scales walls and conceal themselves, perhaps remaining hidden in uncomfortable places for great lengths of time. They could spy for information, commit acts of sabotage and secretly steal food or weapons. During a siege, ninja were invaluable assets to have on your side. If they were on the side of the army laying siege to a castle, they would study the actions of the enemy. Then they would enter the castle either by stealth or quite openly in disguise. In one famous story, a group of ninja made paper lanterns identical to those used by their enemy. Dressed as samurai and carrying these lanterns, they could enter the castle without attracting attention. Once inside, they started their surprise attack. Ninja would often enter castles in similar ways, and start their attack by setting many fires to start confusion. In samurai dress, they were indistinguishable from the real samurai, and enemy samurai would kill each other, thinking that the attackers were disloyal soldiers. Only the ninja knew who the other ninja were. With the castle in such a state of confusion, the besieging army could attack with advantage.

FS-iIf the ninja were in the besieged castle, they were also very useful allies to have. They could sneak out of the castle and spy on the enemy troops, or deliver messages and spread disinformation. Sometimes parties of ninja would visit the enemy army's camp at night and cause lots of mischief but without killing. The enemy could not sleep well because of these attacks, which meant that they were less effective in battle the next day. In one famous case, the ninjas stole one of the enemy's flags during one of these night raids. The next morning, the enemy soldiers could see their own flag flying from within the castle they were besieging! It was very bad for the enemy's morale.

FS-iPerhaps because of stories like these, and the fact that among their weapons they used smoke powder and other tricks to blind their enemy, as well as their reputation as masters of disguise, even in their heyday ninja were credited with having supernatural powers. Because they could come and go so quickly and silently, and you never knew when they were going to strike, they were said to be able to disappear into thin air and appear from nowhere. Some people thought they were ghosts. Of course, the ninja liked this image of themselves, as it made people afraid of them and made them think that they could not be beaten, so they tried to encourage such beliefs. It is said that at least one ninja faked his own death, so that people who met him afterwards would believe that he was a ghost.

FS-iWhen they were not in disguise, ninjas traditionally wore black clothes with a black hood. This helped them to merge better into the dark night. Some wore black with some red, so that if they got injured in a fight, their enemy would not notice. In some snowy areas they wore white. All their weapons were designed to be portable and easy to conceal. They carried short swords which they could hide in their clothes. These swords were more practical for fights in narrow corridors than the samurais·long swords. Other easily concealable weapons include the infamous star-shaped knives. These were not very accurate when thrown, however, and were mainly used to slow down a pursuer. Also among the ninjas' kit you might have found smoke bombs, rope ladders, tubes for breathing underwater and healing herbs in case of injuries.

So, where can you find ninja today? Probably the modern equivalent is the army special forces. Although some people still train in the ninja arts (called ninjutsu), there are probably no ninja plying their spying, guerilla warfare and murdering trade today. However, if you are in Japan, there are still a couple of places where you can go to find ninja. One is Edo Mura, an Edo period (1606 -1867) theme park, an easy day trip from Tokyo. It offers ninja shows in the setting of an Edo era village, as well as other popular entertainment from that period. Another place is Iga-Ueno in Mie Prefecture. The best and most famous ninja were traditionally supposed to have come from this area. It was also the last ninja stronghold. It boasts "Ninja Castle", which houses a ninja display, and a nearby ninja museum where you can experience being a ninja and have a tour of a ninja house. Please remember, though, that ninjas are masters of disguise and stealth: if you see a ninja that looks like a ninja, then he is probably only a pretend ninja!

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