Iga is the ancestral home of the ninja. Dress up like a ninja, discover their secrets, witness their martial arts and see how Iga brings history to life!
Did you ever want to be a ninja? Matt did! His dreams came true when we visited the Iga Ninja Village. I wish Matt’s parents could have witnessed it, but I sure enjoyed watching him share it with our kids! Read more to see how you can become a ninja for a day!
Ninja, actually known by names like shinobi when they were active, were individuals that practiced the art of war called ninjutsu. They were employed as intelligence professionals: sneaking into enemy strongholds, disguising themselves, gaining information, misguiding the enemy and carrying information through impassable areas.
One of their main objectives was to avoid fighting or getting caught. Since they were so stealthy, there is not a lot of information about them. Part of their allure is that much of what they did is still a mystery!
Brief History of Iga Ninja Village
Iga was close to the capital of Japan, but far enough away to be a haven for people rejected from society. As these people banded together, a group began to distill the arts of espionage and strategy into ninjutsu. Iga and nearby Koka became the two centers of ninjutsu, and the ninja families were subtly hired and employed by all sides.
Dress up like a ninja
If you’re like Matt, you probably stopped fitting into your ninja outfit sometime during high school. Luckily there are several places for you to rent a costume for the day! In fact, they have sizes for the whole family and even some for your dog! Make the Danjiri Museum your first stop so you can maximize your time dressed up! Fun fact, the black and white picture is Matt’s actual costume!
View the home and museum
The ninja “home” is a reassembled “dogo residence” that is full of secret compartments, doors and hiding places.
A guide takes you through the house and will point out different areas that have hidden compartments. He will even let you try some of them out. Royce was so excited to open one of the secret doors! The tour is in Japanese, but there are hidden screens that they pull down to explain what they are saying in English.
Next, you go to the museum where they have additional information about ninjutsu, weapons used, methods and their history. There are authentic weapons and tools, used by real ninja!
Witness a live ninja demonstration!
One of the highlights was witnessing the Asyura (also called “Ashra”) ninja group perform a number of different fight sequences with different weapons. The sound effects made it fun, especially since the kids have started mimicking them! Watch the video to get an idea of what to expect!
What’s a live demonstration without audience participation? I’m pretty sure they had their eyes set on Matt from the beginning. After demonstrating the throwing weapons, they didn’t ask for volunteers – they just asked Matt to come forward. With excitement (and immense pleasure) he obliged, taking his place on stage to fulfill his destiny!
They had just finished throwing some of the shuriken (ninja stars) into some boards, and they asked Matt to throw one. They told him to make sure to throw it hard – he definitely did! It soared through the air, over the target and THUNKED into the wall!
That’s my man!
Leave with stealth moves and kids prepared for a fight!
Since leaving the live ninja demonstration, our kids have been prepared to fight any bad guys they see/imagine. Jeannie adopts a fighting stance and makes a sound like she’s throwing a rope to trip up the bad guys!
If our adventures include anything that helps us feel more connected to Japanese culture, it’s a win. The ninja are a special part of Japanese history and we felt enriched by learning about them in Iga.
Ueno Castle is beautiful, with a dramatic entrance and a restored interior that takes you up to a nice view. However, its true claim to fame is a 30m-high wall! If you don’t go past the castle itself, you’ll miss it; walk carefully to the other side and you’ll suddenly be confronted with a 99-foot drop into the moat! There’s no guardrail, so be careful!
Plan your trip
This was a last-minute detour during our trip to Nara and Nachi Falls, and easily one of our favorite parts of the entire trip! It’s totally worth the hour drive, and you’ll never forget it. Do you think you’d have what it takes to be a ninja? Go to Iga and see for yourself!
On the way, stop at Nami-no Sato Yamazume! This delightful bakery has excellent breads and pastries, and a fun petting zoo (free!) has a tower for their goats that looks like modern art.