Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1581 Japanese ninja
Subjectninja spy/assassin
Culture: Iga-Koga Japanese
Setting: Sengoku Jidai, Japan 15-17thc


* Clements 2010 p309-310
"Considering the ubiquity of the ninja in twenty-first-century popular culture, it is remarkable how fast they appear to have sprung out of nowhere in the 1950s and 1960s.
​    "At first, they were imagined in black -- the default colour of stagehands and puppeteers, whom traditional theatre-goers were supposed to blank from their sight.  Ninja were proletarian heroes, peasants and underlings in the interstices of times past, literally invisible from a military history that had been dominated by the samurai.  However, despite the claims of ninja apologists, it is difficult to find any concrete discussion of them long before the novels of Yamada Fūtarō (1922-2001) and the comics of Shirato Sanpei (b.1932).  Any attempts to make a scholarly study of ninja lead down a series of false trails, with modern sources that end up only citing each other, and credulous populist works that claim any reference in an old account to shinobi (stealth, spies, assassins) was in fact a reference to one of several secret ninja societies that stayed in the shadows.  This fad achieved global recognition with the appearance of ninja in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967) -- reaching, by nature of its genre and franchise, a far wider audience than any more reasoned, less fantastic account of Japanese martial traditions."

* Littlewood 1996 p28, 30
"It is through an extension of these attributes [silence of movement, ferocity, expert camouflage] that the figure of the ninja has acquired cult status.  A renegade exponent of the Japanese martial arts, he exists at the point where perfected technique passes into the realm of magic. [...]
​    "The image is of a creature who does not conform to our laws, either moral or scientific.  He is both less than human and more than human, a focus equally for our fears of evil and our dreams of power.  The negative images of a primitive, monkeylike people have their obverse in this fantasy of superhuman abilities which derive from recovering the physical empire of the animals.
​    "At the same time it is suggested that the physical powers of the ninja are by-products of a training which is essentially spiritual." ...

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Turnbull/Reynolds 2003 p24
"The Iga/Koga area ... formed a bridge between the main trade routes from the capital and the vast and wild mountains of the Kii peninsula to the south.  These mountains amaze one even today by the solitude they present for a region so close to the urban sprawl of Osaka and Kyoto.  Within these mountains were villagers who lived their entire lives in one tiny village community shut off from the rest of Japan until comparatively recent times, and visited only by the wandering yamabushi who traversed this wild country on their pilgrimages.  Several accounts refer to these mountains as the haunts of bandits who acted as highwaymen along the Tokaido or as pirates on the sea coast of nearby Ise province.  Many of the ninja myths, such as that of the legendary outlaw Ishikawa Goemon who was supposed to be adept in ninjutsu, no doubt have their origin in the elaboration of the exploits of very un-magical gangs of robbers."

* Ratti/Westbrook 1973 p325
"Ninja ... were often raiders who hired themselves out as spies, assassins, arsonists, terrorists, to the great and small lords of the Japanese feudal age.  When certain 'disreputable' tasks had to be undertaken, the honor-bound warrior (who was expected to fight openly against his foe in accordance with the rules of his profession) was not usually the one asked to perform them.  Large organizations of ninja families, specializing in such tasks, were generally available to the highest bidder."

* Turnbull/Reynolds 2003 p5-6
"The traditional view of the ninja as a secret, superlative, black-coated spy and assassin derives from two different roots.  The first is the area of undercover work, of espionage and intelligence (and even assassination) that is indispensible to the waging of war.  The second is the use of mercenaries, whereby the leaders of military operations pay outsiders to fight for them.  In Japan, these two elements came together to produce the ninja and, curiously enough, the ninja provide almost the only example of mercenaries being used in Japanese warfare.  Part of the reason for this was that secret operations were the antithesis of the samurai ideal.  A daimyo (warlord) would not wish to have his brave and noble samurai's [sic] reputations soiled by carrying out such despicable acts."


* Turnbull/Reynolds 2003 p16-17  
"The traditional ninja garb of a full black costume is so well known that it is usually taken for granted, but there are in fact no authentic written accounts where ninja are actually described as being dressed in black.  Usually they appear to have disguised themselves to blend in with the enemy. ...
​    "[...] Nevertheless, it is obvious that if a ninja was to perform the role most often noted for him, that of entering a castle in secret by night, then a head-to-foot costume of black would be the most sensible thing to wear.  We may therefore safely conclude that in this situation at least the traditional black costume was authentic, although some authorities maintain that the black was tinged with a little red so that bloodstains would not show. 
​    "... The ninja costume was simple but very well designed for its purpose.  The jacket was not unlike the jacket worn for judo or karate, having no ties.  So that nothing would catch on any protrusions when climbing a wall, the 'tails' of the jacket were tucked inside the trousers.  These were like the trousers commonly worn by samurai when riding a horse.  They were quite narrow and  tied below the knee.  Over the calves would be worn cloth gaiters, again very similar to standard samurai equipment, while on the feet would be black tabi, the classic Japanese socks with a separate component for the big toe, and reinforced soles.  Waraji (straw sandals) would complete the ninja's footwear.  A shirt with close-fitting arms also seems to have been worn according to most illustrations, and the whole ensemble was pulled tightly together round the waist by a long black belt.  The biggest difference from a samurai's costume, however, was to be found above the neck, because the ninja's head was wrapped in an all-enveloping cowl, with only the face above the mouth, or even only the eye slits visible."

* Cummins/Minami 2013 p469 (translating the Bansenshukai, 1676)
"The reversible jacket  Battle jackets or any other such garments should be white on the inside and black on the outside with a crest adorning them as in the rules of each clan.  They should be black so they will not stand out at the time of night attacks and such.  The crest can be hidden by cutting out black paper and putting it over the crest [when needed].  The reason that the jacket should be white inside is because of its multiple advantages.  You should be prepared with such jackets and garments of your own and so should your men be dressed in the manner described above." 

* Turnbull 1992 p100
"... [T]he traditional ninja-yoroi (ninja armour) consisted of an all-enveloping black garment comprising a jacket, ko-bakama trousers, and hood.  According to Hatsumi, the colour was not quite black but had a touch of red.  This had a practical as well as a psychological purpose, in that blood would not show if the ninja was wounded, thus reinforcing the image as a superman!"

* Draeger 1989 p51-52
"When operating without disguise the ninja always wore a special costume called shinobi shozoku.  It consists of four parts: (1) jacket, (2) trousers, (3) hood or scarf, and (4) shoes.
​    "The most common color of the ninja's costume was that of a reddish-black hue.  Its lining was designed to be used in a reversible fashion and was either a deep persimmon or deep blue color.  These shades blend well with the blackness of the night and make the ninja most difficult, if not impossible, to see.
​    "The jacket and trousers contained numerous pockets or pouch-like recesses in which the ninja concealed the many assorted objects necessary to his operation.  Certain objects were always carried by every ninja, but special objects were chosen in accordance with the nature of the assigned mission.
​    "Thus it was not at all unusual for a ninja to produce from his person, the tools he needed to force entry into some structure, the tools he needed to scale a high wall, a snorkle should he be forced to go under water to elude his pursuers, smoke and incendiary bombs, flares, anti-personnel bombs, a floatation device by which to carry heavy loads across water, a collection of wild field mice, lizards, or weasels to be used to scatter and distract people, emergency food and water supplies, medicines and poisons, as well as a variety of weapons with which to fight.
​    "Lightweight but durable split-toe cloth-canvas shoes provided the ninja with an appropriate foothold for his difficult feats.  Two kinds of soles were commonly used: one of a rubber or gum-like substance to give good traction, and another of a special cotton-floss material which made the silent step of the ninja even more quiet.  Both kinds of soles were carried by each ninja.
"By his use of the hood or scarf the ninja could not only mask his face and head outline to avoid detection but could rely upon their special properties to filter water for drinking purposes, to act as a mask to filter smoke, to act as an antiseptic binding for wounds, or to serve as a weapon with which to defend himself."


* Turnbull/Reynolds 2003 p18 
"The most important ninja weapon was his sword.  This was the standard Japanese fighting sword or katana, renowned for its strength and sharpness.  The Japanese sword was also designed to be flexible, so that it could act as both sword and shield when the samurai parried a rival's blow and then delivered a deadly cut of his own.  This factor would have been very important for the lightly armed ninja.  Both the length and curve of katana blades varied considerably, and for convenience the ninja would choose a blade that was shorter and straighter than usual.  To make climbing easier, the sword would not be thrust through the belt, as was usual for a samurai out of armour, but would be carried over the shoulder with the blade edge up and the handle near the left ear."

* San 1999 p145
"NINJA TO Es la espada tradicional ninja.  Sus medidas (apenas 74 centimetros), hacen que sea la espada más interesante de todas.  Es fácil de transportar en la espalda, nos permite realizar rodamientos o combates sin que nos estorbe, es más sólida que la grande, se puede utilizar indistintamente como katana o como cucillo y puede ser utilizada por personas que no posean un fuerte brazo."

* Hayes 1985 p78
"Because of the ninja's need to be able to move through tight spaces and disappear into the shadows when necessary, his sword was often a shorter blade than his samurai adversary's battlefield length tachi.  Though a graceful curve to the blade was preferred, it was often impossible for the historical ninja to obtain such a work of art.  His sword was occasionally a rather straight chokuto-style blade."

* Draeger 1989 p60-61
"The sword, which served the warrior as his 'living soul' and around which a mystique had been woven, was carried by the ninja but had no special meaning for him except that of utility.  The ninja's sword (ninja-to) was not a particularly valuable or fine one.  It lacked the attention to metallurgical and decorative artistry that was characteristic of many of the warriors' blades.  For one thing, the ninja's sword was shorter than that of the warrior, which made it necessary for him to assume a fighting posture with the drawn sword in which the arm was fully extended.  A warrior would rarely do so. 
​    "The scabbard of a ninja's sword (saya) was considerably longer than the blade it housed.  This provided a space at the bottom of the scabbard in which something could be concealed.  Common use of that space found it filled with a chemical mixture which could be thrown of blown into the faces of pursuers to temporarily blind them.  The scabbard also could serve as an underwater snorkle tube, as a club, and sometimes as a lever.
​    "The handguard (tsuba) of the ninja's sword was much larger than that found on the warrior's sword.  It served as a foot tread.  When the sheathed sword was placed upright against the base of some object, the weapon might function as a small ladder to give the first important step upward in negotiating a relatively low barrier.  Once above the barrier, the ninja could haul his sword up by means of the long cord (sageo) attached to it.  Tht [SIC] same cord could be employed as a tourniquet or the means by which to bind or strangle a victim."

* Lewis 1997 p76-77
"Perhaps the most readily identifiable weapon of the ninja was his shinobikatana (sword).  The ninja sword was totally different from the Samurai's beloved weapon.  It was generally short (about 20 inches/50 cm in length), having a single-edged straight blade with an oversized tsuba (handguard).  Because the blade was short the ninja would strap it to his back and thus keep his hands free.  If he were suddenly attacked the sword could be unsheathed while still on his back and put quickly into action.  The low ceilings in Japanese houses prohibited a very long sword being drawn in this manner, but a short, straight 20-inch blade proved to be no problem.  The ninja's sword was a veritable box of tricks.  The scabbard was longer than the blade by about 3 inches (7.5 cm).  This extra space allowed the ninja to store poisons, powdered medicines and flash powders in its detachable bottom.  If he was pursued by enemy soldiers he could remove this lower piece of the scabbard, dive into a river or lake and use the hollow scabbard to breathe through.  Over and over again, tricks such as these not only confused the enemy but laid the foundation for the ninja being thought of as superhuman spirits that could disappear at will.  The long cord used for strapping on the sword could be put to a multitude of uses, for instance as a rope to tie up a prisoner or in conjunction with the extra large handguard for helping the ninja over some high obstacle such as a castle wall."

* Hamburger 2004 p20  
"The ninja sword is shorter than the samurai sword, but that doesn't mean the samurai sword is better.  There are big debates about which sword is the best -- conferences and stuff -- but people who believe that the ninja sword isn't the sweetest are stupid idiots.  They put their ninja sword in a long pocket on their back so that their hands are free for climbing up dojos and stuff like that.  The ninja sword is mainly used on necks, but it can also be used on arms, legs, and stomachs.  The guy who invented it is probably pretty cool (and pretty rich, if you ask me)."


* Calizzano 1989 p137
"Le Nunchaku est un petit fléau constitué de deux éléments cylindriques en bois dur réunis à une extrémité par une corde ou une chaîne courte .  En variant les prises, il peut frapper comme un étrier d'armes, un bâton court ou servir à porter des coups directs contre les plexus nerveux moyennant ses extrémités libres.  Tenu à deux mains et bien tendu, il est capable d'intercepter un coup du tranchant (modèle muni d'une chaîne) ou d'étrangler un homme en le passant autour du cou de ce dernier et en croisant les bois."

* Lewis 1997 p158
"Nunchaku  Two wooden batons linked together by a short chain or cord.  This is a truly awesome weapon and can be successfully used to defend against sword strikes, in close combat against more than one person, strangulation and wrist locks.  Used originally as a rice flail, like the Kama it can be found throughout Asia.  In the hands of the ninja it has been said that the nunchaku looked as though it had a life of its own."


* Lewis 1997 p79-80
"Another ninja weapon ... called a kusarifundo or 'ten thousand power chain' .... consisted of a short length of chain about 20 inches (50 cm) long with two heavy metal weights attached to each end.  The kusarifundo was easily concealed in the ninja's uniform pocket and could be produced in an instant.  One end of the chain was held in the hand and the weight at the other end was hurled outwards in a similar manner to that of a child's yo-yo.  The heavy metal ball would hit the adversary and stun him, the ninja then would quickly move and close the distance to finish the enemy off with a strangulation technique using the chain.  Although a short range weapon the kusarifundo was extremely effective in a tight situation."

Shuriken / Shaken

* Hayes 1985 p119
"Tracing back through history to determine the origins of the ninja's unique throwing weapon is difficult if not impossible.  In theory, it can be seen how the four-pointed senban shuriken, characteristic of the Togakure ryu of ninjutsu, was perhaps developed from the four-cornered, iron reinforcing plates that backed up the heads of the spikes used in the joining of timbers in castle and fortress construction.  Such blunt heavy throwing missles were known as tsubute.  By heating and hammering out the four-pointed reinforcing washer, it would be possible to form a thin flat blade that could be ground at the points for sharpness.
​    "The ninja's eight-pointed happo shuriken could have likewise been developed from a source totally unrelated to weapon combat.  One of the nin-po mikkyo ('secret knowledge' spiritual lore) ritual implements was a wheel-like device of eight spokes, representative of the eight-fold 'wheel of cosmic law.'  Since the true ninja families of feudal Japan saw themselves as the tools of universal law, it would be highly likely that the symbol of the rimless wheel of law could be seen as an appropriate means of accomplishing the family's aim."

* Campbell 1984 p11
"The word shurkien is derived from the Japanese and is defined as a sharp-pointed or blade-throwing instrument.  Although there are many shapes and designs utilized in shuriken-jutsu, there are essentially two categories of this weapon: the star-shaped design and the spike-shaped design.
" ... The shapes were for the most part determined by the particular needs and objectives of the Ninja warriors who designed them."

* Toda 1984 p20
"Contrary to popular myth, the Shuriken is not a star shape, this is more correctly termed Shaken.  However, in common parlence, 'Shurikenjutsu' is used as an all-encompassing term.
​    "The development of Shuriken and Shaken is one of great debate amongst students of both Shurikenjutsu and hoplology (academic study of weapons systems).  WIth the development of the Japanese sword, the development is clear and extremely well-documented with over eight centuries of written work.
​    "Being the soul of the Samurai and a part of the Imperial regalia (Mikusa no Kandakara) mirror, comma-shaped jewel, and sword, the sword was always in the forefront of the Japanese mind.  Shuriken and Shaken however, were weapons of stealth and surprise - essentially, 'throw away' (no pun intended).  They were, in the main, of fairly crude manufacture.  Unlike the sword, which has passed down the centuries in fine condition, antique Shuriken and Shaken have not fared so well.  By their very nature, once thrown in the heat of battle, or on a moonless battlement, they were rarely recovered -- the reason for their existence was one of escape or evasion."