Japan’s Ninja Population Endangered, Nearing Extinction

Japan’s feudal era is long over, but real honest-to-goodness ninjas still exist. The only problem is there are only about two of them left, and once they fade into the shadows for good, ninjas will be no more.

Ninja skills, those of espionage and silent assassination, have been passed from father to son for hundreds of years, but today’s surviving ninjas say that they will be the last masters of the dark arts, reports the BBC.

Jinichi Kawakami, Japan’s last ninja grandmaster, is the 21st head of the Ban family, one of 53 that made up the Koka ninja clan. He started learning ninjutsu when he was just six-years-old.

“I thought we were just playing and didn’t think I was learning ninjutsu,” he says. “I even wondered if he [his master] was training me to be a thief because he taught me how to walk quietly and how to break into a house.”

Eighty-year-old Masaaki Hatsumi says that he is the leader of another surviving ninja clan – the Togakure clan. He is the founder of an international martial arts organisation called Bujinkan, with more than 300,000 trainees worldwide. Though they may be viewed as rivals, both Kawakami and Hatsumi agree on at least one thing: After they die, ninjas will be no more, as neither will appoint anyone to take over as the next ninja grandmaster.

“In the age of civil wars or during the Edo period, ninjas’ abilities to spy and kill, or mix medicine may have been useful,” Kawakami says. “But we now have guns, the internet and much better medicines, so the art of ninjutsu has no place in the modern age.”

“My students will continue to practice some of the techniques that were used by ninjas, but [a person] must be destined to succeed the clan,” says Hatsumi, who says that there is no such person.

Here’s a fun bonus: Debunking pop culture myths about ninjas. Ninjutsu is not a martial art, and fighting was seen as a last resort for ninjas. Ninjas didn’t actually wear black, but navy blue clothing (because jet black would actually cause them to stand out and silhouette in the dark). Also, ninjas moved quickly and swiftly, causing some to believe that they could fly (but this feat was accomplished with simple breathing techniques that increased oxygen intake).

Are you upset that ninjas will soon be extinct?