The ninjas were spies that were active mainly between the XV and XVI centuries during the period of the States at War. Today the image we have of them is the one created in modern cinema and literature, which in many points is far from reality.
Ninjas, Now and Then
The word “ninja” began to be widely used in Japan since 1955, following the golden era of historical entertainment novels that were written for the general public of that time. The image that a large number of people had about ninjas as characters wrapped in dark clothes to which ninjutsu confers superhuman qualities is nothing more than a modern creation.
Historically, ninjas’ real title was shinobi. Many things of the authentic ninjas are still unknown, and today the words ninja and shinobi still don’t have an exact definition. The authentic ninjas were active mainly during the Sengoku period (1467-1568), a time of continuous wars between the 15th and 16th centuries, as agents who secretly studied the enemy’s situation to later transmit that information.
The Ninjas of The Period of The States at War
During the Nara period (710-784) the aristocracy, the great sanctuaries and the wealthy class of the regions began to exploit the large-scale cultivation lands to turn them into their private properties, thus giving rise to the first disputes over the control of territories. In that context groups of warriors known as akutō appeared. It is believed that the origin of the ninjas were the akutō who opposed their resistance to the system of domination of the people based on this system of exploitation of large tracts of land in the second half of the thirteenth century.
The first documents in which the existence of the ninjas can be verified appeared from the Nanbokuchō period (1336-1392), and it was known that during the Sengoku period the feudal lords (daimyō) already used these shinobi regularly to gather information or to assassinate opponents. Groups of ninjas acted from then on in places all over Japan, like Iga (prefecture of Mie), Kōga (prefecture of Shiga), Togakushi (prefecture of Nagano) or Kai (prefecture of Yamanashi). Depending on the region the shinobi were known by other names such as Rappa, Suppa, Kusa, dakkō or Kamari.
Ninjas During the Edo Period
After the period of wars and the unification of the country under the rule of the Tokugawa in the Edo period (1603-1867), the ninjas were gradually changing. In this period, in addition, to continuing working as informants, they were hired by the Bakufu (the Government of the Tokugawa) and the daimyo to serve as bodyguards.
The first books describing the techniques and mental preparation of the shinobi, the Mansenshūkai, and the shōninki, were not written until the middle of the 17th century. In the Mansenshūkai have been various records of the skills of ninjas as techniques for building relationships, to talk, to memorize or even make spells, among other features in addition to the descriptions of the various tools they used.