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April 29, 2006

Ninja madness!

When I was growing up, I thought ninjas were cool. They were samurai on steroids (not that anyone talked about steroids then, but you know what I mean). And mysterious as they were, you knew enough about them to know they were extremely scary.

* They dressed in black
* They were silent (and probably invisible)
* They used exotic weapons like throwing stars and nunchuks (sp?)
* They could fly, or at the very least jump 20 feet in the air
* They were mystical

In other words, ninjas were great for video games and comic books.

So, are there any ninjas (still) around? This article, on Grand Master Masaaki Hatsumi of the Bujinkan Dojo, says there are. Hatsumi-sensei is also the only living student of the last fighting ninja, who earned his spurs as a bodyguard in Japanese-controlled Manchuria before World War II, reputedly killing one Chinese bandit by taking his eye out of his head. Which is exactly the kind of story that makes ninjas so menacing.

As a result, when Nuala said she had tickets to see the last ninja himself make a presentation at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan last week, there was no way to say no. (Thanks Nuala!)

On the plus side, a man came in wearing some pretty cool looking samurai armour so that people could take pictures. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera, but Kevin did and if he ever sends me a picture I will post it. Also, Elton John and Mick Jaggers' bodyguards were there (not sure why that is cool, but it gives me the chance to do a little name dropping).

But the downside had to be the presentation itself - there was nothing on "ninjitsu" (ninja art of war) and instead of stories on silent infiltration and battle, we heard that the ninja's role is to protect nature and a host of other simple platitudes. Have ninjas become PC? There was also something about training in San Francisco and Cleveland, but I might have got that part wrong. In any case, listening to him answer questions was like trying to grab smoke: there was nothing to get a handle on.

At one point, Laura said the art of ninja is avoiding questions by slapping yourself on the back. I had to laugh, but not too loudly. If you are interested in ninjas, there are a couple of things you can do.

If you believe in the stereotype, you should head over to the Ninja restaurant in Akasaka. Not only do you get served by these secretive warriors, the food is better than what is served at FCCJ.

For more information on the real last ninja, you can visit his website here. In James Clavell's Shogun, ninjas were contacted by whispering your request in a certain temple at a certain hour. Using the website is probably easier.

Posted by Kirk on April 29, 2006 05:26 PM