Being in lockdown due to COVID has expectedly opened the door to other experiences that I would not have otherwise imagined and one of those experiences was the chance to join a virtual ninja tour via Facebook streamed live from Japan. I was invited by Cross Media on behalf of Odawara Tourism Association & Kanazawa Prefecture, to join their live tour streamed from Odawara Castle to learn about the Ninja with guide Jinkawa Hiroshi who has his own ninjitsu training school near Tokyo. So it was that I found myself on the morning of Saturday 27 February, cup of tea in hand, waiting to be virtually transported to Japan.
Speaking live from the Ninja Hall on the grounds of Odawara Castle, genuine Ninjutsu Sensei Hiroshi Jinkawa will be separating reality from fiction, explaining exactly what training a Ninja would go through and how their incredible skills would be used to gather information and avoid the need for conflict. Jinkawa Sensei is a well-known scholar and practitioner of the Ninja arts, and has been working as an ambassador of the field for many years, communicating with both students and media projects. After learning about the rich history of the castle, guests at the online event will be introduced to practices which were vital to the activities of ancient Ninja. Specialised techniques for breathing and movement, as well codes of behaviour and even philosophy and meditation methods will be included in the tour. Jinkawa Sensei will also be presenting the Shinobi Rokugu, a set of tools which would be essential in the work of the Fuma Ninja clan.
MY TOUR EXPERIENCE
The tour opened with a short video on the history of Odawara Castle, the Japanese outlook on relationships, and ninja culture. It was quite an intense film and reminded me of visits to other places where a tour starts with a brief video introduction and it was quite a relief that it was all in English. After the brief intro, it was a quick tour of the museum itself by the charming guide before we met up with Jinkawa Hiroshi – then the fun began!
Breathing exercises! The ninja had to understand their core – it is central to everything – and learning how to breathe properly, learning how to relax and learning how to mentally focus was just as important to being a ninja as learning to defend yourself. So, sitting cross legged on the floor, I partook in the breathing exercises which, I must say was enjoyable and not too dissimilar to yoga/pilates.
Next came the fighting…. well, no, because we were told that the Ninjas were used as information collectors and avoided conflict. Ordinary ninjas did not go around with swords. Hmm… so what with the swords then? We were to find that out later. In the meantime, we were shown some essential tools that every Ninja possessed…
Hand Towel – this had multiple functions from being a robe, to wipe away sweat, to cover injuries through to being used to filter river water.
Throwing Star “Shuriken” – an amulet for protection, used as a last resort as a weapon. Usually wrapped inside the hand towel.
Traditional Pen And Ink – to write down information
Small Bottle Holder – for medicine, or to contain weak poison to put enemies to sleep
Hat – to hide the face, protect against the weather
Rope & Hook – not strong enough to hold an adult but was used at wells to retrieve water buckets.
BACK TO THE EXERCISES… and we now find ourselves being samurai ninjas with our imaginary swords. Each Samurai had 2 swords – the long sword was used to protect others; the short sword was only used on yourself. The swords were on the left side of the body. The Samurai Ninja would walk in a way that the sword didn’t move – left hand on the hilt, right hand on the hip. They needed to have a good centre of gravity and that is where the breathing and core exercises came into their own. We were taught the Hand Pose – used by the Ninja to help them to concentrate and mentally focus. The right hand symbolises a samurai sword. The left, the shorter sheaf. There were 9 strokes – representing stresses – going left to right, up and down. It is hard to describe in words but I hope you have got the gist of the exercise.
All too soon, the tour had ended and I had returned back to England feeling energised! That was an experience that I wasn’t expecting and it was extremely fun, enjoyable and interesting. Although streaming live from Japan, English was spoken throughout and you were able to interact via chat text to ask questions as the demo was going on. A live online experience I definitely recommend and once lockdown is over, Odawara Castle in Japan will definitely be on my travel bucket list.
FOR MORE INFO
After making a reservation on the official website, the URL link of the Facebook private group will be sent to the registered email address. Please join the private group before the event and access the Facebook group on the day of booking.
My thanks to Cross Media for inviting me. Photos are by me ( the images were taken as I was watching the experience) apart from my header picture of Japan which is by JJ Ying on Unsplash.