The Ninja of Iga Ueno
Are you interested in ninja? Would you like to see one of the places where they originally came from? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions then I have just the place for you.
Iga Ueno in Mie Prefecture was home to one of the Japan’s two leading ninja schools during the age of the samurai and is a former ninja stronghold. The Iga-ryu ninja trained in ninjutsu (the art of stealth) in the local mountains and forests here and the area was home to many ninja families, who honed their secret art of ninjutsu over many centuries.
Iga Ueno’s close proximity to the political center of Kyoto, but remote location in the mountains of Mie Prefecture made it the ideal hideout for the ninja.
Ninja were hired assassins, mercenaries and experts of espionage who specialised in unconventional warfare such as infiltration, sabotage and assassination. Ninja are also called shinobi in Japanese which means “those who act in stealth”, and they certainly did that employing deception and deceit to surprise their enemies.
The heyday of the ninja corresponded to that of the samurai during the Sengoku Jidai (Warring States Period) in the 15th and 16th centuries. Many samurai warlords hired the local ninja of Iga as mercenaries to assassinate a rival warlord and even help spy on rivals and conquer castles.
Today the ninja of Iga Ueno are no longer assassins, but you can marvel at their skill and trickery at the local ninja museum.
The Iga-ryu Ninja Museum offers visitors a glimpse into the life of ninja and a sneak peak at some of their many secrets and skills. The museum is dedicated to the history of ninja and ninjutsu and is a lot of fun. Here you can watch a live ninja show, and check out a real ninja house complete with revolving walls, fake hallways, hidden compartments and trap doors.
The live ninja shows are in Japanese only and features authentic ninja skills and displays of real ninja weapons including the famous throwing stars. The show is very entertaining and easy to follow even in Japanese as it is an action packed performance.
Make sure you also check out nearby Iga Ueno Castle which was home to local lords during the Edo Period. The castle was originally constructed in the late 16th century and is famous for its impressive stone walls on the western side of the castle, which are the tallest in Japan at 30 meters. The castle is sometimes called the “Ninja Castle” due to its location in the heart of ninja territory.
Close to Iga Uneo is Akame 48 Falls in Nabari, a former training ground of the local ninja deep in an unspoilt forest, where you can dress up and train as a ninja. Here you can try your hand at several ninja skills like throwing stars (shuriken) and scale 20-foot walls. The 90 minute training sessions cost around 1,500 yen.
Iga Uneo is the traditional heartland of ninja in Japan and a must see destination for anyone interested in their secret art.
Iga-ryu Ninja Museum
Address: 117-13-1 Ueno Marunouchi, Iga-shi, Mie Prefecture
Admission: ¥756 (to the museum only)
Hours: 9:00 am to 17:00 pm
Closed: December 29 to January 1
Iga Ueno is about halfway between Osaka and Nagoya. From Tokyo take the JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line to Nagoya Station and then either the JR Kansai Line to Uenoshi Station, or the Kintetsu Iga Line from Kintetsu Nagoya Station to Uenoshi Station.