5 Ninja Spots in Tokyo, Japan

Ninja Spots in Tokyo

※ Ninja were specially trained warriors who in medieval Japan practiced an ancient martial art and espionage called ninjutsu, which is usually translated into English as “the art of stealth.”

The Hanzomon Gate

Hanzomon Gate at Imperial Palace, Tokyo

On the west side of what used to be the inner walls of Edo Castle, situated right in the heart of Tokyo, is a splendid-looking gate that straddles a wide moat ringed by high inner and outer walls. It’s referred to as the Hanzo-bori (Hanzo moat) and the gate is called Hanzo-mon (Hanzo gate). The name is believed to have been originated from Hattori Hanzo, who was a head of the Iga school of Ninja (based in what is now Mie Prefecture), and who was a close retainer to Tokugawa Ieyasu, (1543-1616),  the first Shogun and founder of the Tokugawa dynasty, whose reign  coincided with what is called the Edo period (1603-1867).

Hanzo Moat

Hattori Hanzo’s residence stood close to the Hanzomon gate of Edo Castle, and Hanzo was said to be entrusted with defense of the gate. The same gate is the starting point of a thoroughfare called Koshu Kaido (also known as National Highway 20) that extends through the western parts of Tokyo to the neighboring province of Kai (or Koshu), in Yamanashi Prefecture near Mt. Fuji. While guarding the castle from potential enemies from the west, the road also served as an evacuation route that would have enabled Tokugawa forces to fight a rear-guard action to safety in the mountains. The name Hanzomon remains in use as a modern-day subway line and station on the Tokyo Metro.

Sainen-ji temple

 Grave of Hattori Hanzo

 Monument of Tokugawa Nobuyasu

About 2.5 kilometers to the west of the Hanzomon Gate is the Sainen-ji temple, constructed by Hattori Hanzo in 1593 to consecrate Tokugawa Nobuyasu, eldest son of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Hattori Hanzo, who passed away in 1596 at age 56, is also interred here. His grave can be found to the side of the main hall, close to the monument to Nobuyasu. The temple has been designated a historical site by the City of Shinjuku. Hanzo was known in his time as “Hanzo the Lancer” because of his proficiency with the yari (Japanese spear), and the temple serves as a repository for his spear.

Hyakunin-bansho Guardhouse

Remnants of Edo Castle

The bansho, or guardhouse shown here was the biggest, situated just inside one of the main gates leading to Edo Castle. Its purpose was to screen arriving visitors during the Edo period. One hundred samurai guardsmen with ninja skills, chosen from among loyal retainers of each of four main branches of the Tokugawa clan, such as Iga or Koka, had their quarters there and worked in shifts that alternated day and night. The Edo castle remnants are on the east of the present-day Imperial Palace and are open to the public five days a week.

The Kaichu Inari Shrine

This area, named Hyakunin-cho, got its name from the troop of 100 musketeers from Iga serving the Tokugawa government who were based at this location, now in Tokyo’s bustling Shinjuku district. In olden times, when it was used as a practice range for muskets, but some soldiers who put their hearts and souls into practice were still deficient in marksmanship. After they prayed at the shrine, they showed spectacular improvement.

The shrine retains the torii (gate), purification trough, stone lanterns and other fixtures dedicated by the troop of 100, evoking images of the olden times. The five brigades of musketeers from Iga, Negoro, Koga and others were stationed around Edo Castle.

Ninja Restaurant

For those who wish to dine in a ninja-like atmosphere, this restaurant in Tokyo’s Akasaka district features décor and meals with a ninja theme. Now in its 10th year of operation, it is popular with foreign visitors.

(https://www.ninjaakasaka.com/)

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Making Your Original Souvenir at the Airport

Making Your Original Souvenir at the Airport

Scented Bag, Washi Box, Doll, Fan…

In the middle of Narita Airport vibrant shopping arcade, there is a little gift store that gives travelers the opportunity to bring home a handmade souvenir. Kyoto Craft Mart specializes in stylish yet affordable “Made in Japan” trinkets. What sets this shop apart is that visitors can sit down and make a variety of small crafts, some requiring only about 20 minutes. Shop manager Teruno Fujii says that they enjoy offering this unique service at the airport which their flagship store in Kyoto has been conducting for many years. The crafts offered reflect the geisha culture which of course is an integral part of Kyoto traditions.

There are six crafts to choose from. Some like the cloisonné key holder, the scented bag and the spinning top require a level of dexterity while others like the washi box, the doll and the Japanese fan need painting finesse and a dash of creativity. I decided to make a Japanese fan which is often seen in maiko (young apprentice geisha) dances and the spinning top which is used when geisha entertain their guests.

The Japanese Fan

The Japanese folding fan is perhaps best known for its importance in the dances of the maiko. The most famous fan dance may be the Kamogawa Odori, an elaborate performance about the romantic triangle of a handsome fan maker, his lovely fiancee and a jealous snow goddess. Since the steps are slow, deliberate and very suggestive, the fan can accent sensuality and create drama by opening and closing. Because of its vibrant colors, the fan accentuates the elaborate kimono, hair styles and bold make-up of the dancers. 

Besides its prominent role in maiko dancing, the fan also has a wide range of symbolic meaning in Japan. It represents friendship, respect and good wishes so it makes a very appropriate gift. Although fans were influenced by China, the folding style was invented in Japan between the 6th and 9th century. Historically, it played an integral role in the social activities of the ancient courts. At one point, the number of wood strips signified a person’s societal rank. For ornamental purposes, they are still used in the elaborate formal costumes of the Emperor and Empress. The fan also had practical purposes such as being used by shoguns to signal secret orders on battlefields and the metal-edged fan was a disguised weapon for ninja. It is still used a stage prop not only for dancers but kabuki (traditional Japanese theater) actors and rakugo comedians as well. On a popular level, fans are still very common for Japanese people to cool themselves with in the summer heat.

How to make the fan:

The materials for making the fan
  • The clerk will provide you with a plain, white paper fan which is not attached at the bottom so it becomes flat and easier to paint on. It is pinned on a large piece of white paper to ensure it does not move around.  
  • With a pencil, you draw the design you want on it. The shop has several examples for you to get inspirations from. They also have a book with drawings of flowers and other images to copy from.
Paint and palette
  • Then you can begin water coloring with the palette they prepare.
  • After the paint is dried, you can fold up the fan and hammer a metal peg to hold it together.
  • Your fan can now be used to cool you down or be displayed as well.

The Japanese Spinning Top

The Japanese spinning top “koma” also has a rich and long background. Children used to indulge themselves by spinning the colorful tops. Kyoto-based tops are traditionally made from wood, painted colorfully and varnished with a clear lacquer. Produced with fine craftsmanship, despite its ornamental nature, the koma must also spin evenly and for a long time. These types of “ornamental tops” (kazari koma) are sometimes given to a newborn baby boy on his first New Year celebration. The koma usually has a strong bamboo peg to symbolize the wish for the child to have internal strength. The practice of “spinning” can refer to money “going around” which indicate monetary luck for the upcoming year. 

How to make the top:
The materials needed to make the koma
  • The parts consist of a wooden peg to hold and spin the koma and lacquered paper already wrapped around the peg to create a solid core. There are also four strips of colored paper and a red felt cushion for displaying the koma.
  • After placing about 1 to 2 cm of glue on the edge of the paper, you start wrapping the core with a paper strip the color of your choice. There are plenty of papers, so you can determine how much of each color to use.
Begin wrapping around the center
  • When you want to change colors, you cut and glue the end of the paper strip. Then you start wrapping with the new colored paper. The key to making a successful koma depends on how tightly and straight you can wrap.
  • When you have finished wrapping the core, push down on the core and slowly pull the sides up to expand the roll. How much vertical depth you want your koma to have is personal preference. The flatter it is, the easier it is to balance and spin.
Painting varnish on
  • Finally, you paint the entire koma with a coat of lacquer. Let dry for 20 minutes.
  • You can now spin and play with it. (The balance will depend on how evenly and tightly you have wrapped it.) Display on its cushion when you’re not playing with it.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

What is Toro?

A toro is a traditional lantern often made of stones, woods, or metals. It is believed to be originated in China. Toro were originally used only in Buddhist temples, where they lined and illuminated paths. During the Heian period (794-1185), however, they started being used also in Shinto shrines and private homes. As a Buddhist ceremony, there is a practice called “to- ro- nagashi” which guides the spirits of the departed back to the other world by floating paper lanterns down the river.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

What is Tokonoma?

Tokonoma, a kind of decorative alcove in a Japanese-style guest room, normally incorporates raised flooring, one or more hanging scrolls, called kakejiku or kakemono, on the back wall, and a seasonal flower arrangement on the floor. But because fewer new houses nowadays are built with tokonoma, they are becoming unfamiliar to younger Japanese.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Ninja Training Camp in Shiga, Japan

They step aside swiftly to avoid a straight downward sword attack from their enemy and take one step forward to stab a jitte (a short metal truncheon) to his throat. The motion is done in a blink of an eye. Or grabbed by the lapels, they pound their fists strongly to their enemy’s elbow joints and kick his abdomen at the same time.

These life-and-death movements are practiced in a place of scenic beauty with mountains and a large lake. What a contrast! All of the trainees look very serious, but you can’t hear their shout but only their hard breathing from time to time. It seems all secretive like ninja.

Nine-day concentrated training to toil ninja techniques held annually in Takashima-city, Shiga Prefecture in October, 2012, was intended mainly for non-Japanese, all of whom have a dream to become an authentic ninja.

  Looking at the brief training schedule, you may find words difficult to understand what they do about. Double breath, kotodama (spirit of words), kongotai (solid posture), koppo-jutsu (bare hands technique), torinawa-jutsu (rope technique), sui-jutsu (swimming technique), hishingyo (climbing, jumping, crossing, etc), ju-jutsu (magic technique), etc. “These are the martial techniques handed down from Koka region (in Shiga Prefecture). They are also the basic skills required as samurai (ancient warrior),” says Jinichi Kawakami. “This martial art is only fraction of ninjutsu.”

  According to his definition, ninjutsu is the comprehensive techniques such as espionage or reconnaissance, machinations, surprise or night attack, perturbation and so on to achieve a certain collective purpose. In this thinking above martial techniques are only used mainly when confronting directly against their enemies. In addition, the purpose shouldn’t be personal but collective one like surviving one’s own small village in a warring period for example. If it is a personal aim, it would become a criminal act like theft. And ninja is the ones who maneuver those comprehensive techniques as occupational abilities and work to attain the goal.

 “They do anything to survive. If they think they can’t win, they don’t fight, like, ‘if you can’t beat’em, join’em.’ They have psychological skills. They use fire to distract an attention of their opponents or use medical herbs as a hemostat. Ninjutsu is also an integrated survival techniques composed of various skills and knowledge,” says Kawakami. He thinks there is a misunderstanding about ninja especially outside Japan. Non-Japanese often liken ninja to ancient assassins or spies. But they explain only part of true ninja.

  However practicing on how to conduct night attack or how to do espionage without modern technologies is something unrealistic. So this annual training focuses on basic samurai martial arts, called bujutsu which are given lessons during the daytime. Those knowledge base techniques like deceiving or mnemonic techniques, herbal medicine knowledge, etc or some skills unrealistic to learn like guns or using fire are taught in the night time verbally or text base.

  “Everyday I get up before 7 am and until 9 I review the training I learned the day before. Between 9 and 12, there is a formal class. There is a lunch break between 12 and 2 pm. From 2 to around 6:30 pm there is an afternoon class. There is an evening break until 8 and the knowledge lecture is given for 2 hours after that.” So explains 35-year-old Marco Palomar from Spain. This is his fifth time to participate in this training camp. He works as a surgeon professionally back in his country. He trained Judo and other martial arts since he was a child, but took an interest in ninja so much and now he trains only ninjutsu. “Ninjutsu has an old history and there are tons of techniques which intrigue me the most,” says Palomar. According to Kawakami, ninjutsu was developed around the warring period between 15th and 16th century. Koka and Iga schools became famous since both of which are close to the ancient capital, Kyoto, so latest methods or expertise could be obtained which would pile up as deepened knowledge and various techniques.

  “Not only judo or karate, ninjutsu is getting popular,” replies by Jose Defez, a 40-year-old policeman from Spain, after being asked by the popularity of ninjutsu in his country. He has participated in this training camp since nine years ago. He finds it the most difficult to maneuver a sword especially and says, “This is very difficult but also most interesting.” Even if it’s his ninth time, he learns something new every time and constantly takes a note. “I take a note, so that I can practice myself back in Spain.” The instructor, Yasushi Kiyomoto, says, “We assume a real fight, so repeating a movement again and again until we actually do it without thinking it is necessary.” Practicing everyday is something must be done to acquire a real skill. So every trainee diligently take notes.

The oldest participant is a 50-year-old Japanese, Hiromasa Tsuyuki. He holds many dan (rank) in various martial arts like jujutsu, bo-jutsu (staff weapon techniques) or iaido (sword techniques). But this is his first try in ninjutsu. “It is on a completely different level and very high-level. It was developed in mountainous district and not one-on-one but you against 10 or more, so the techniques are vital, wild and yet clever,” says Tsuyuki. “Other Japanese martial arts were mostly systematized during the peaceful time of Edo period (1603-1867), so usually you fight one opponent at a time much like a present-day sports. But ninjutsu was developed during the warring period, so the techniques can be applied with no matter how many opponents are.” He finds there is a movement never or rarely conducted in other martial arts. “Falling and attacking simultaneously, doing backward somersault to untangle the opponent attack or killing at one blow techniques are eye-opener. They never give up, either. Because if they give up, it means death.” This real live or die circumstances must have developed a real fighting method. But at the same time, Tsuyuki points out also the training is good for health. “The movements are very natural and reasonable. If you do them properly, there is no burden on your body. Eight days has passed now, and already I feel my bodies light and nimble. I guess that’s because I had to use parts of my body I rarely use on a daily life.”

  Kawakami’s current activities are vying in on this same result, saying “After systemizing the whole ninjutsu picture, I discern things which can be learned today and not. Using poisons is not legal and deceiving someone is unethical. But practicing body movement can be applied for health or body protection against a burglar for example. Or having an authentic lesson course for throwing shuriken or running on a rugged terrain can be intriguing for some people and which might be used to revitalize a local region. Anyway, having a whole ninjutsu picture is the first step forward.”

But he laments very few Japanese learn ninjutsu and hopes that they take a new look on it. “Japanese are better at making a poker face. Not sending true feelings, but they can laugh for example. They can sense what the others are thinking and read the atmosphere sensitively. Ninjutsu was born in Japan, so Japanese have an edge to learn it readily.”

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Local Characters Festival: Yuru-kyara Saves the Local Economy

The 12th “Yuru-kyara Festival in Hikone: Kigurumi Summit 2019” was held on Oct. 19-20 in the central part of Hikone City, Shiga Prefecture. A record 244 groups, representing 38 of Japan’s 47 prefectures and the island of Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, participated. The event, held since 2008, is backed by local character associations in Japanese cities and Hikone City, as well as that city’s merchants’ association. At 244, the number of participants this year increased by more than fivefold over the 46 in 2008, earning Hikone the claim to being “The Haven of Yuru-kyara.”
Yuru-kyara is an abbreviation for “easygoing mascot character,” and refers to the lovable mascots that are used to promote local publicity, as well as corporate identity by businesses and organizations. In the narrow sense of the term they are limited to mascot characters of public organizations featuring people who dressed up in such costumes, but in the wider sense they also include characters used for promotion by large corporations. At that year’s event, the Yuru-kyara were used in their narrower sense to promote local products in some 150 booths. They also made five-minute appearances to promote their localities on three stages set up specially for the occasion.
投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Beautiful Gardens in Tokyo

Kiyosumi Garden

This is a “strolling-style garden in the forest setting” with fountains, artificial hills and dry landscape. This method was used for the Daimyo Garden in the Edo period and was also adopted by the Meiji period, and is said to have been modernized by this Kiyosumi Garden.
Part of this area is said to have been the residence of Bunzaemon Kinokuniya, a wealthy merchant of the Edo period. During the Kyoho era (1716-1736), the residence was used as a subordinate residence of Kuze Yamato Mamoru, the lord of Sekijuku in Shimousa province, and the garden seems to have been formed to some extent at that time.

In 1881, Yataro Iwasaki, founder of Mitsubishi Zaibatsu (the largest conglomerate in Japan), bought the estate, which had fallen into disrepair, and planned to develop a garden for the comfort of employees and for inviting distinguished guests. Even after Yataro’s death, landscaping work continued, and the garden and its pond were constructed using water drawn from the Sumida River and surrounded by stones from all over Japan, making it a “strolling garden” representative of the Meiji era.
The Kiyosumi Garden was severely damaged in the Great Kanto Earthquake, but it served unintentionally as an evacuation center and saved many lives. The Iwasaki family valued the disaster prevention function of the garden, and in 1924, donated the eastern half of the garden, which was less damaged, to the city of Tokyo for use as a park, and the city reopened it to the public in July 1932.

In 1977, an additional site adjacent to the west side of the garden was opened to the public as an open park. There is a lawn area and a pergola here. About 20 cherry trees have been planted here, making it a popular place for cherry blossom viewing in the spring. The garden was designated as a place of scenic beauty by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government on March 31, 1979.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Tokyo’s Hidden Zoo

Edogawa Nature Zoo and Gyosen Garden

The park was donated to the city of Tokyo in 1933 by a local resident, Gen Tanaka, a member of the Tokyo Prefectural Assembly at the time, for use as a park site. The park was named after Gen Tanaka’s family name, Gyosen. After the war, the land was transferred to Edogawa Ward in 1950, and in 1983, the Edogawa Ward Nature Zoo was opened in the park, where visitors can touch the animals free of charge! You can see 60 kinds of animals there.

Genshin-an is used by the locals for gatherings, tea and haiku gatherings. The park is used by many people, especially local residents, on both weekends and holidays. The famous lantern donated by Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of Tokugawa Family during the Edo period.

It is free entry! So it is super recommended.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Hidden Ski Resorts in Japan

When one thinks of Japan words such as sushi and samurai may typically come to mind. However in recent years Japan has begun to gain acknowledgment for something completely different and unexpected: skiing. While the words skiing and Japan may not have an immediate and direct connection for most, in reality Japan is a utopia for avid skiers, with over 500 ski resorts scattered from the south of Kyushu to the north of Hokkaido. Ski fanatics from all over the world flock to Japan because they know that they will find pristine powder snow in perfect condition. The geographical location of Japan allows for the weather systems to work its magic, providing just the right amount of moisture and low temperatures. This results in an ideal environment where ski resorts overflow with champagne powder throughout the months of January to March. In fact, central and northern regions of Japan average a snowfall of 12 meters (39 ft) to 15 meters (49 ft) yearly.

Another word that may not have an immediate connection to Japan is “cheap.” While many seem to have the perception that Japan has an expensive cost of living, transportation, and pretty much everything else, this is not necessarily true. In fact, ski resorts in Japan can be enjoyed at reasonable prices compared with other countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and even Europe. So what do powder snow, slopes and courses to match skiers of all levels, and unbelievably reasonable prices add up to? A definite must-go for those who love cruising the snow. However choosing the right resort to venture out to from the possible 500 something may be a bit overwhelming, so below is a summary of a few of the most well-known.

HOKKAIDO – Prince Snow Resorts

Furano

The star of the north, Hokkaido is perhaps most famous for its fresh seafood and vast lands of never ending green. On the other hand, the region of Furano is surrounded by towering mountains on all sides, creating a patch of encased land.  This creates an ideal location for skiing as the land is unaffected by the gushing ocean winds which can greatly influence the daily condition of the snow. Furano as a whole greatly appreciate and welcome foreign tourists, and locals who speak English often offer tours of the area for free. As of 2012 the percentage of foreign skiers is 20%, but Furano hopes to increase this to 50% within 10 years. The largest ski resort in Furano is the Prince Snow Resorts, which although major enough to host international competitions at times, is still priced at a third of ski resorts worldwide. With the unmatched hospitality and great prices, Furano may indeed be the next most popular skiing destination for foreigners.

YAMAGATA – Zao Ski Resort

Zao

Zao boasts a total of 14 slopes and 12 courses, meaning skiers would find the perfect match no matter what level they are. Dynamic courses weaving throughout the mountains are the favorites of experienced skiers. At the peak of the mountain awaits a stone statue of the guardian of the mountains. Zao is home to a truly unique sight – the silver thaws, or snow monsters. Snow monsters are actually pine trees covered completely in ice, making it seem as if there are towering creatures emerging from the snow. A number of strict conditions must be met for this natural phenomenon to occur, making it extremely rare to come by. Most tourists indulge in the set combination of skiing, snow monsters, and hot springs when visiting Zao.

SHIZUOKA – Mt. Fuji Snowtown Yeti

Yeti

Shizuoka is one of the only two prefectures in Japan that shares the famous Mt. Fuji. And as if to confirm this fact, on days when the skies are clear Mt. Fuji can be seen from the slopes of Yeti as well. The grandiose view can be enjoyed by skiers of all levels as Yeti consists of slopes catering to any level. Yeti is not only beginner friendly but also family friendly as well, with a designated snow playground allowing for anyone who desires to create snowmen, have snowball fights, and even make snow angels. There is also a slope set aside for exclusively for sliding down on sleds (sled rental JPY 700 as of Sep 2012). Yeti provides an environment in which the young and old, beginners and advanced can all deeply enjoy.

NIIGATA – GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort

Gala

Gala is an unfalteringly popular ski destination even for citizens outside of Niigata for two main reasons: its ease of access and convenient rental service. Gala’s closest station, Gala Yuzawa Station is only one bullet train ride away from Tokyo Station, taking only 96 minutes. Gala even rents out everything from boots, sleds, trendy ski wear, to all the newest models of skis and snowboards, all maintained daily with great attention and care with the future visitors in mind. Travelers who are overwhelmed with the sudden urge to ski can find relief at Gala without bringing a single piece of ski equipment, and after a couple intensive hours of skiing, relax in the resting area completely free of charge.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Tokyo’s New Night View

Open for traffic on February 12, this truss bridge spans 2,618 meters. Its unique shape, resembling a pair of crouching dinosaurs, has led to its being nickname the “dinosaur bridge.” The bridge’s nighttime colors are changed each month, with October the color of autumn flowers, November, the color of red maple leaves and December, the color of scarlet sage.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時: