Remember the intro fighting scene from Ninja Assassin where a Ninja from the Ozunu clan morbidly killed the goons with his sword and shurikens without being seen, all while they helplessly and aimlessly fire their guns? I hate to say this, but Ninjas were not like that. At all.

Ninjas were (are) real, for sure. Feudal lords hired them to carry out espionage, sabotage, and assassinations. Take Hattori Hanzō a famous Ninja who served the Tokugawa clan as a samurai and helped them rise to power. Although it might not be like how you imagined them or what the movies made you think so.  You may think you know about Hanzō from the movie “Kill Bill” but the real guy died in the 16th century.

They were not called “ninjas”

The “Ninjas” of Japan were called Shinobis, and they lived in Japan between the 15th and 17th Centuries. The two areas in Japan, Iga and Koga, were two villages surrounded by samurai. They needed to make sure that they’d be free from these warriors, so they trained hard to hone stealth, intelligence gathering, and assassination skills. The term “Ninja” was a misreading for “Shinobi no Mono” of the Kanji, which was later on reduced to “Shinobi,” which means “the hidden.” After WWII, the term was popularized when Westerners found out the word was easier to pronounce. 

They didn’t really wear masks and all-black outfits

If you think of a Ninja, perhaps the first thing that comes into your mind is stealthy spies wearing an all-black uniform with a black face mask carrying a long sword. It doesn’t make sense because if you’re a spy, you might want to blend in and not stand out, right? Imagine spying on the monks, for instance, and walking in their midst and hoping no one would notice you? Instead, they wore common clothing that helped them blend in wherever they were. The idea of the all-black outfit was inspired by the puppet handlers of bunraku theater.  Japan had its own version of Hollywood make-believe six hundred years ago. They dressed the puppets in all black to be “invisible” and make it look like the props were moving independently of their controls, more like an ancient version of CGI.