The Ninjas today are the stuff of myth and legend in comics, film and electronic games. But once they were real, the medieval equivalent of the SAS: spies, saboteurs, assassins. In their secrecy, under-cover skills and determination to survive, they were the opposite of the overt, self destructive samurai.
Could they fly? Make themselves invisible? Of course not. But their skills gave them a magical aura. As a result, martial artists and storytellers have turned them into fantasy creatures, gracing the annals of popular culture from James Bond to Mutant Teenage Turtles.
I went in search of the reality behind the nonsense, I went to the heartland of the Ninjas: the old provinces if Iga and Koga, south-east of Kyoto. Here I found solid history – the ninjas were peasant defence forces until overwhelmed when Japan was unified around 1600. Today, there is much local pride in ninja traditions.
Man’s wry humour and treks through Japan’s mountains, valleys, temples and shrines adds a vivid and personable dimension to his questing spirit
This is an immensely entertaining history, packed with splendidly blood-thirsty tales of derring-do, feats of endurance and self-sacrifice
A racy, popular history of a difficult and often mythologized subject…. Should appeal to the armchair warrior in us all