The way of the ninja

Ja­pan is hop­ing to cap­i­talise on for­eign­ers’ fas­ci­na­tion with the feared war­rior spies.

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Nin­jas are one of Ja­pan’s most in­stantly recog­nis­able sym­bols – feared war­rior spies turned pop cul­ture icons through their por­trayal in comics and films.

Their masked faces and fa­bled pow­ers of stealth con­tinue to in­spire won­der to­day – some­thing Ja­pan’s tourist board is hop­ing to cap­i­talise on.

A ‘‘ninja coun­cil’’ was set up last week to gen­er­ate in­ter­est in ninja his­tory and ninja-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties as part of a new tourism cam­paign.

May­ors and gov­er­nors from pre­fec­tures around Ja­pan ditched their trade­mark dark busi­ness suits and dressed up as nin­jas, com­plete with head­bands, to launch the ini­tia­tive.

‘‘Through ninja, we want to re­vive our com­mu­ni­ties,’’ Eikei Suzuki, the gover­nor of Mie pre­fec­ture and one of those who dressed up in black cos­tume, told the Ja­pan Times.

The Mie re­gion is where the fa­mous Iga school of nin­jutsu was born. In re­cent years, any­one hop­ing to have a go at throw­ing a ninja star while on hol­i­day in Ja­pan has had to travel down to Iga – a city that is a 21⁄ hour train trip from Osaka – where they can con­tact, by email, the ninja school in a small town called Akame.

There is a mu­seum in town (igan­inja.jp/en/) con­tain­ing cen­turies-old ninja texts and shows are put on for tourists to demon­strate tra­di­tional as­sas­si­na­tion meth­ods used by the ninja. There is also a shop where the whole fam­ily can deck them­selves out in ninja dress. Iga also holds an an­nual ninja cel­e­bra­tion called the Iga-Ueno Fes­ti­val.

Now of­fi­cials want to ex­pand the list of at­trac­tions re­lat­ing to the feu­dal-era mar­tial arts masters avail­able on the Ja­panese Tourism Agency web­site, so that tourists who want to learn more, can.

Nin­jas are a ‘‘sub­ject that al­ways comes up when­ever we go abroad to pro­mote tourism’’, said Hiroshi Mi­zo­hata, for­mer head of the Ja­pan Tourism Agency.

Of­fi­cials are hop­ing that rais­ing the pro­file of nin­jas will set in mo­tion a wave of vis­i­tor in­ter­est that will con­tinue un­til the Olympic Games, due to be held in Tokyo in 2020.

Photo: ISTOCK

Icon: An­inja coun­cil has been set up to gen­er­ate in­ter­est in ninja his­tory and ninja-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties as part of anew tourism cam­paign.

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