Heyo friends! Sorry for the lateness of this update. I’ve been back in Australia for a few weeks now but I’m still keen to share my adventures through the medium of weblogging. (Did you even remember that that’s what blog is short for? I had forgotten until now, too. God, I’m so cool.)
My favourite part of the trip was undoubtably the Ninja Museum of Iga-ryu (i.e. the school of ninja from Iga). In short, there were many clans and families that were famous for their ninja, none moreso than those from Iga. The town that exists there today is nuts about ninja, and it was clear from the way they painted their trains, to the statues on the sidewalk, to the dozens of stores selling merchandise, to the ninja mannequins perched on the rafters of the train station, that they were very aware of this. It took about two hours from Tokyo to journey there, but in my mind it was totally worth it. It was a surprisingly quiet place for a weekend, and the path to the Museum took us past a castle and beautiful parkland. The moss growing on the ancient stones, the dancing of the shadows and light and the indescribable heaviness in the cool winter air made for a majestic approach. It was such a peaceful place, rich in history with a beautiful shrine (whose red torii gates marked the distinction between the mundane and the spiritual).
The museum itself was the knees of the bee. I made small-talk with out guide, “Swift Kunoichi Kei” (female ninja) who would be taking us through the tour, and she said she’d lived in Australia for a while. We entered the well-used ninja house and were taken through it room by room, its hidden compartments, pathways, hiding places, switches and secrets explained. We were the only gaijin on the (very popular) tour, but the demonstration was clear and easy to follow, with scrolls containing English explanations on the walls. In the first room, she ran at a wall and disappeared through it as it revolved, and then burst out again sealing it behind her. She asked for a volunteer to try it, and I felt Craig’s silent encouragement from behind me as my excitement prickled and I stepped up. I ran at the fake wall and was surprised to see that there was only one foot of empty space before I’d collide with the wooden boards on the other side. As I burst back through, there was a small smattering of applause as our guide explained I was Australian and pondered aloud if I was secretly a ninja. My heart soared. She showed how a ninja could remove the brackets of a wall shelf and turn it into a ladder to gain access to a translucent observation chamber in the roof. With startling fluidity, Kei took a sheaf of paper from inside her jacket and flicked open a latch in the wall, swinging through it to gain access to the garden. I was in amazed at how unassuming she seemed, and yet how smooth and flexible she could be at the drop of a hat. In the next room, she showed us how a surprised ninja might suddenly equip themselves if under attack. With no warning, she stamped on a specific part of a floorboard which flipped open and she grabbed a wakizashi from it, unsheathing it with a smoothness that amazed me. She then reached in again and flung a shuriken which stuck into the wall with a definitive thud as if to say “This could have been your chest”. She revealed a hidden hiding spot underneath the frame of a sliding door, which contained secret letters and so forth. Needless to say I was in raptures.
After the tour was over there was sadly no cheesy ninja fight performance. I learned when we got there that they closed during the colder winter months, but I hope some day to return. We wandered through the museum (or rather, Bethwyn and Craig drifted through while I poured over the exhibits, reading and studying each artifact intensely). The clothes, weapons, lifestyle, training and tactics of the ninja fascinated me. The ridiculous amount of myth and pop-culture that has sprouted up around them simply adds to their mysterious and superhuman allure. In addition to the artifacts, there was also a hilariously bad video of ninja weapons like kusarigama (sickle and chain) being used to defeat a static swordsman and tie him up while he tapped furiously in pain, and some kind of mystic palm reader while a woman demonstrated hand positions for chakra based “jutsu”. I shared the joy of two kids dressed in bright ninja outfits wandering around, and I lingered so long the next tourgroup overtook us.
Finally there was the moment I had been waiting for: the shuriken throwing. I paid some inconsequential amount of money to practice hurling throwing stars at a wooden board as a dude who looked remarkably like Scorpion talked me through it in Japanese. To my amazement, my first throw stuck cleanly in the board, just a little higher than the target. To my further amazement, my next throw stuck as well, almost on the same vertical plain but just a little higher. Three out of five of my stars landed cleanly, and all five of them were in a straight line directly above the bullseye. I dearly wish I had spent another handful of yen to practice getting the correct height. At the end, just like archery and shooting, it’s just a matter of lining up the parts of the body and letting the weapon do what it was meant to do without trying to interfere with it. As the thrower, you are the conduit who helps the star to reach the target it was always meant to strike. The more you interfere, the worse it flies – you must be empty and let it pass through you.
Whoa. That just got real deep.
I tried blowdarts as well, but there were too many variables to keep consistent: the strength and suddenness of the blow, as well as the height of the pipe. With time I’m sure I would have gotten it, but it just wasn’t as cool or practical to develop the skill to push aero-resistant weighted darts through a cylinder. It was still excellent to see Scorpion do it so cleanly.
Stay tuned for the next installment of my adventures: the Kyoto Saga.