EP32 Ninja Arsenal


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Show Notes for episode 32 of our Podcast – Ninja Arsenal.

There was no poem segment in todays episode due to the length of the Podcast.

Story Notes

NInja Arsenal
EP32 Ninja Arsenal

Now I have debated a little on how to write down these show notes, as we know during the episode I gave Heather various scenarios to see how she would deal with the situation as a Ninja. I feel that might not work as well in note form and so below you will find the notes of the items mentioned during the epsode grouped by theme.

You will also find a few things we initially planned to mentioned in the episode, but did not.

So lets start with a Ninja Poem. This comes from the Bansenshukai (萬川集海 – All Rivers Merge into the Sea) This book contains a collection of knowledge from the clans in the Iga and Kōga regions that had been devoted to the training of Ninja. It was compiled by Fujibayashi Yasutake in 1676 and the poem goes as follows:

忍ニハ危ナキヲ良セヨ 前へ疑ヒハ臆病ノ沙汰

For a shinobi it is desirable not to have any anxiety or hesitation. Doubts before hand come from you own cowardice.

Tools to take with you

Shoninki
Page from the Shoninki.

It is said that every Ninja had six items they would always take with them. We find them first recorded iny the Shoninki (正 忍 記 – Record of Proper Ninjutsu) a medieval ninja document from Kishū province. It was written by Natori Masatake in 1681.

  • Kaginawa – Rope attach to hook. Grappling hook.
  • Kasa – Conical straw hat, could conceal flat blades or arrows.
  • Chalk – Useful to leave easily erasable marks for other ninja.
  • Tinderbox – For starting fires, cooking/firing rifles.
  • Tenugui – A towel.
  • Kusuri – Medicine, antiodes, insect repellent, blood clotting agents, poison etc.)

Herbs

There were several herbs used by the Ninja which could be uses for medicinal purposes, as well as to fill ones stomach if needs be. They were the following.

  • Yomogi – Japanese Mugwort. Boiled steamed, or fried, it can be eaten directly or applied for medicinal applications.
  • Tsukushi – Horsetail. Often found near fuki (see below), boiled alone or added to rice it would make a tasty dish.
  • Fuki – Butterbur. Soaking this in water lessens their bitterness, butterbur stalks are chopped into short lengths and boiled for use as a side-dish or topping on boiled rice.

Food

On a mission it would also have been wise to take food with you, and various food stuffs were made prior to missions, or taken with them to prepare on their journeys.

The ideal Ninja weight was said to be 60kg, or 132 pounds, and their diet meant that they would not eat strong food such as garlic, chives, onions, meat. Instead their diet would consist of tofu, miso, pickled plums, vegetables, brown rice, wheat, soba and potatoes.

  • Umeboshi – Pickled plums. These were good at making you salivate for times you may feel thirsty.
  • Hoshi-i – Dried rice. Cook it, dry it, and soak in water to eat again.
  • Kikatsu-gan – Think of this like an energy bar. This consisted of dried carrots, buckwheat (soba), wheat, yam, licorice and sticky rice. You will grind this down to a powder and then soaked it in sake for 3 years. The slurry left behind after the sake has evaporated is then made into balls. On missions, three were consumed over a day.
  • Hyoro-gan – Ration balls. This is made from wheat powder, sake, honey, sticky rice, and carrots. This is all mixed, cooked then mashed and made into small balls. 30 of these a day would be eaten.
  • Kata-yaki – Ninja biscuits. These were a very durable and long lasting food, so hard they had to have been broken up by with a knife or sword pommel.

If you needed to cook yourself some rice in the field but had forgotten your pan, then you could do the following to get around the problem. Wrap rice in a straw bundle or straw mat, soak it in water, dig a hole and then bury it. You would then need to burn a fire over it, and eventually it will cook. Alternatively would could put rice in a bucket, add hot rocks, and it would eventually cook.

Should you find yourslef in need of some clean water, but were unfortunately in a marsh you could dig a small hole and put paper around the hole. You can take out water which filters through the middle of the paper.

Clothing

Ninja Arsenal
Ninja Arsenal. From HubPages

Now on a mission, it would be best for the Ninja to hide in plain site, often disguised as travellers, merchants or wandering monks. But of course this would later call for a change of clothing when night fell and their nightime activities began.

Sadly, the image of their black clothing is more myth than reality. You would find them wearing dark clothes, but more perhaps grey, brown or blue. In the case of blues, deep indigo would work well as it was thought the dye helped repel insects and venomous snakes. At times, a different color could be stiched onto the inside of their clothing, in case you need a quick change of outfit to get a way and go incognito again.

The standard Ninja attire would be as listed below.

  • Zukin – Single sheet of cloth 30 centimetres wide and two meters long, wrapped around the head and to cover the face.
  • Uwagi – Based off a farmers shirts, however the Ninja added extra pockets in them to hide their gear.
  • Fundoshi – Loincloth, wrapped around your private area. Could whip it off in an instant if you need a garrotte.
  • Hakama – Two independent leggings synched together and top and ankles, meant they wouldn’t have to disrobe to relieve themselves.
  • Teko – Cloth gauntlets.
  • Tabi – Two toed socks, cushioned to mask noise.
  • Waraji – Straw sandals, at times spikes woven into soles for extra grip.
  • Seoi – Cloth back back.

Weapons

Kusari gami
A pair of Kusari-gami

Many weapons made up a Ninja’s arsenal and this below is by no means a completed list.

  • Shinobi-gatana – Straight and fairly short blades. Ninja were forbidden swords, so likely made off the books by inaka blacksmiths. Due to this perhaps they lacked the finesse and polish of the better known samurai swords. Sheath had a pointed tip. These were good to find people in dark corridors, by pulling the sword out halfway from the sheath keeping the sage-himo cord in your teeth. This cord is wrapped around the top of the sheath. Should the sheath bump into someone in the dark, the vibration would be felt in the Ninja’s mouth, meaning they could then quickly pull out the sword and dispatch the person before they could signal for help. Sheath could also be used to make a makeshift footstool. You would do this by sticking it in the ground, standing on sword pommel and vaulting over your obsticale. You could then use the cord to pull the sword back over to you.
  • Shuriken – Throwing stars. Written with Kanji meaning ‘blade in the hand’ there are lots of various shapes which would affect how they were thrown. Various schools also used specific shapes.
  • Makibishi – Small spiked objects for unwary feet. Likely in Japan they used the seed pods of the water chestnut after drying them out. As throwing them down, their spikes naturally point upwards.
  • Manriki-gusari – Length of chain, weighted at both ends. Coiled in palm of shirt sleeve it could be hurled at enemies, and instantly retracted to be used again.
  • Kusari-gama – Weighted chain attached to farmers sickle. You would throw the weighted chain to entangle your foe, then run in and finish them off.
  • Teko-kagi – Think Wolverine, literally metal claws.
  • Nake-te – Smaller than the teko-kagi, these metal claws merely slipped over the end of your fingers so you could slash a foe.

Equipment

  • Nobe kagi – Extendable key. A nine section extendable bar around 5ft with changeable heads. Each section can fold out. It is L shaped at the bottom to allow you to change the angle of usage.
  • Mizu-gumo – (Water Sliders) or Uki-gutsu (Floating Shoes) These are of unsure use, but perhaps they were planks of wood with inflated animal skins attached to the bottom to allow you to grab hold and cross water or lay upon them.
  • Mizugaki – Wooden Geta. These versions of geta would have had angled board coming from the soles to give you better footing through murky areas.
  • Kamei-gata – This was a quick to make raft made by a bamboo frame over upturned clay pots for buoyancy.
  • Shikomi – Walking sticks made from things such as bamboo which were hollow inside. Could be used to hide swords, chains, weighted balls, blinding powders etc. This could be expanded to other things such as flutes for blow guns and smoking sets which would hide pepper instead of having tobacco to be used to irritate peoples eyes if thrown at them.
  • Kunai – Small field knife. To be used for cutting, scraping and digging tasks. Can be thrown if needs be.
  • Shikoro – Serated version of the kunai knife. Curved edges to be able to cut through flat surfaces easily.
  • Hamagari – Folding saws.
  • Kasugai – Anchors to fit into cracks to scale walls. Can also bar doors shut to delay pursuers. Interestingly, Castle walls were nicknamed musha-aeshi ‘Warrior Stoppers.’
  • Tsubo-kiri – This tool has a distinct look, like horseshoe with pointed ends attached to a long metal handle. Used to drill starters holes in walls which would could then widen with the Shikoro. Can make holes through which you can unlatch a lock.
  • Musubi-hashi – A normal light weight ladder.
  • Tobi-hashi – Steps on a single pole.
  • Uki-hashi – Rope ladders, can be pulled taut across bodies of water to create make shift bridge.
  • Goshiki-mai – Dyed rice grains to leave a trail for others.
  • Gandou – Portable lantern. Using a candle and bucket. Gyroscopic device inside to ensure the candle always stays upright no matter which ever way you hold it. This meant you could hide the light quickly from people by holding bucket upside down.
  • Michi-Hakari – Measuring stick for precise distances.
  • Noroshi-no-jutsu – Smoke bombs for concealment.
  • Firecrackers – For distractions.

Techniques

  • Kitsune-gakure-no-jutsu – Submerging oneself in water, or using water to mask your scent.
  • Kannon-gakure-no-jutsu – Kannon goddess technique. Pressing oneself flat against a wall or static object, covering your face and remaining completely still.
  • Uzura-gakure-no-jutsu – Quail technique. Derived from defensive posture of a bird, involves balling oneself up, slowing your breath, and stilling movement. Reduces silhouette and noise, enhancing effect of limited cover.
  • Tanuki-gakure-no-jutsu – Taking cover high places, such as tree branches or the roof of a house. Humans often fail to look up when searching, 45* is the ideal blind spot.

Cats and Snoring

Cat’s Eyes are said to be useful in telling the time as their pupils dilate at regular patterns throughout the day.

  • 7am-10am, oval but narrowing.
  • 12pm-14pm very narrow, almost like needles.
  • 14pm-17pm becoming more oval.
  • 23:00 egg shape again.

When it comes to snoring, if someone is acually asleep then it is more stable. If you don’t have pain or emotional stress in your life it will be calmer. Labourers will have louder and more erratic snoring and ill people will have duller sounding snores.

Feigning sleep however, will vary the pitch wildly. Swallowing, sighing, or skipping breathes are also other clues. There was even a doodle sketch drawn by Basho, showing the intensity of an average snore.

Creating Torches (Recipes)

The Rain Proof Torch

  • Saltpetre
  • Sulphur
  • Pine tree knot
  • Camphor
  • Moxa
  • Pine Resin
  • Mouse droppings

Make a powder using the above and put into bamboo cylinder. Scrape off the exterior of the bamboo until the sides have thin walls, burn paper, covered in a layer of the power on top of the cylinder and light with a tinder.

Sun Torch

It is said this will not fail in the rain.

  • Walnut bark
  • Camphor. This and the walnute bark should be dried.
  • Shochu spirit (boiled)
  • Borneol
  • Japanese nutmeg yew
  • Pine resin
  • Mouse droppings
  • Cow dung
  • Whetstone
  • Moxa
  • Saltpetre

If you have none of those, but have mercury on hand you can make the Yoshitsune Fire, or Long-Lasting torch.  (Named after Minamoto no Yoshitsune 源 義経 a military commander of the Minamoto clan of Japan in the late Heian and early Kamakura periods.)

Scrape ox horn until the walls are thin, place 5 cormorant feather spines at the bottom. Next place mercury into the spines of the feathers and cover with a lid. (Presumably this make the whole thing illuminate? Unfortunately the book I found this recipe in does not say.)

And there you have it. This is by no means an exhaustive list of Japanese Ninja items, but it is a good start for those who find themselves interested in the history of them.

References

  • Cummings, A & Minami, Y. (2013) ”The Book of Ninja; The First Complete Translation of the Bansenshukai. Oxford: Watkins Publishing Limited.
  • Yoda, H & Alt, M. (2012) “Ninja Attack: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai and Outlaws” Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing.
  • Zoughari, K. (2010) ”The Ninja: Ancient Shadow Warriors of Japan.” Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing.

Feature Image: Ninja from Travel Rakuten

You can listen to the full episode over on Anchor here: Japan Archives, or wherever you listen to Podcasts.

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Be sure to check out Heather’s blog on lifes little adventures here: HeatherOverYonder.

Heavenly Spear