Up until recently I had always assumed that Ninjas wore black as they crept unheard through the night: but apparently dark blue was the colour of choice for the discerning ninja, as black stuck out like a sore thumb in the bright moonlight of ancient Japan. This is just one of the many facts I have learned from the hugely interesting and informative book Secrets of the Ninja.

Rather than being a heavy academic tome, this is a lavishly illustrated book showing every aspect from the traditional ninja way of life. From the Zukin and Fukumen that make up the ninja hood to the food they eat, every area is furnished with helpful photos of Hiromitsu Kuroi, Director of the Iga Sect Ninja Association “Kurondo” staging mock battles and scaling battlements.

Ever wanted to make Ninja Tofu? This book will show you how with step by step instructions. Want to tell the time by looking into a cat’s eyes? Secrets of the Ninja will demonstrate how you’ll never be late again as long as there’s a feline around.

Every page was a revelation and, despite being a fan of Japanese movies, demonstrated how little I knew about the skills and traditions of the ninja, or ninjutsu (art of the ninja).

The book emphasises that ninjas were not simply warriors, but spies, who would rather poison an enemy than risk battle. Their skills were espionage, survival, writing codes and secrecy. Although ninjas had existed for hundreds of years, they came to prominence during the era of Warring States in the fifteenth century when Japan was thrown into nearly a hundred years of war with itself. Each feudal lord, or daimyo, had a small army of ninja who would carry out raids, spread propaganda and spy on the enemy. Ninjas were no use to the daimyos dead, so they developed the traditional ninja skills of moving silently and disappearing without trace. They were known as “those without sound, without smell, without name”.

If the book has a fault, it’s that it’s too thin and simply can’t go into great depth about the myriad of subjects it covers. You emerge from the other side of the book hungry to know more and to try your hand at shin-so-toh-ho, or deep grassy rabbit walk (the most silent of ninja walks).

Secrets of the Ninja is the second book to emerge from cocoro books who have the aim of introducing Western audiences to the people, traditions and culture of Japan, and with this book they’re off to a cracking start.

Secrets of the Ninja (2002)
by edited by Jennifer Cahill and Michie Itoh, introduction by Hiromitsu Kuroi

Publisher: cocoro books
Format: Paperback, 96pp
ISBN: 0972312412

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