Meet Real Ninjas

Coming to the 2024 Knox Asian Festival

ASHURA is a ninja corps that has clocked up more than 1,200 live-action performances at the Ninja Museum of Iga-ryu. Featuring shuriken, sword-fighting, and kusarigama (sickle-and-chain), the tremendous excitement of their stage shows have you on their edge of your seat! Iga-ryu is one of the most famous schools of secret Ninja arts. Unlike Koka-ryu Ninja, its practitioners do not serve one specific master but rather prefer to take a similar role to that of mercenaries, operating under contract. Come to see the Real Ninjas technique. You can take a photo with ninja after the show. 

Iga Ninja performance in Universidade de São Paulo
History of Ninjas

Since the Nara period, the Iga district had supplied lumber to jisha (寺社, temple-shrines). But in the Kamakura period, jisha declined in influence while shugo (governors) and jitō (manor administrators) grew dominant. The power of these functionaries then waned in Iga while that of bushi (warriors) rose instead. Iga was divided into local jizamurai regions locked in guerrilla war for which Iga warriors developed specialized skills and tactics.

During the early Muromachi period, the people of Iga became independent of their feudal overlords and established a kind of republic—Iga Sokoku Ikki(伊賀惣国一揆) in Japanese. Iga-mono 伊賀者 (Iga men) first appear in historical records in 1487 when the Shōgun Ashikaga Yoshihisa attacked Rokkaku Takayori, the daimyō of southern Ōmi Province from the Rokkaku clan. Both Iga and the Koga ninja fought on the side of Rokkaku, helping to successfully repel the shōgun’s attack. In 1579, warlord Oda Nobunaga‘s son Oda Nobukatsu launched an unsuccessful attack against the Iga Republic. In 1581, Oda Nobunaga himself attacked Iga from six directions with a force of 40,000 to 60,000 men, about a ten to one advantage, and slaughtered many Iga ninja and their families. The Iga held only two castles when Nobunaga declared a ceasefire and allowed some of the ninja to escape.

In 1582, during the turmoil following Oda Nobunaga’s death, Hattori Hanzō advised Tokugawa Ieyasu to escape to Mikawa through the Kōga and Iga regions. Ieyasu, when he became the shōgun, employed ninja to guard Edo Castle—the headquarters of the Tokugawa shogunate—and to supply intelligence. He settled 200 men from the Iga-ryū in the Yotsuya neighborhood of Edo (Tokyo). Hanzo’s Gate in Edo Castle took its name from the nearby residence of the Hattori clan.

Hattori Hanzō’s son Hattori Masanari commanded the castle’s Iga guards but proved a less successful leader than his father. In 1606, the Iga men rebelled due to harsh treatment. They continued to serve the shogunate as a musketeer unit and as dōshin, low ranking samurai policemen, with their ninja skills gradually fading out in later generations. One of the last known recorded ninja missions performed by an Iga ninja was in the late Bakumatsuperiod of the 19th century, when an Iga ninja by the name of Sawamura Yasusuke [ja] (沢村 甚三郎 保祐) infiltrated one of the black ships of Commodore Matthew C. Perry.