Located within Mie prefecture, the city of Iga Ueno has a fascinating history as one of two regions where entire villages devoted to teaching and refining the art of Ninjutsu were established.
Between the 15th and 17th centuries, ninjas training in Iga were considered to be the very best in their field and were often hired by Japanese feudal lords to undertake espionage missions that would go on to shape a number of important events throughout Japanese history.
Much of our modern day understanding of ninjas, including their techniques, tools and practices were ascertained from documents and relics from the clans of this region, so if you're interested in the most authentic ninja experience possible, we highly recommend that you make Iga Ueno part of your next visit to Japan!
Although, ninjas haven't technically existed since the unification of Japan in the 17th century, you'll be glad to hear that the ninja spirit is still very much alive and well in Iga Ueno. There are a number ninja of experiences that will make your trip to this region truly unforgettable, please check out our favorites below!
Dress Like a Ninja
Before even thinking about taking part in any ninja experiences, you'll obviously need to become a ninja yourself!
Throughout Iga City, there are eight 'Ninja Henshin Dokoro' spots where you can rent a ninja costume for the day. The costumes come in a range of colors and sizes for both kids and bigger (adult) kids alike!
Don't worry about feeling silly, as you walk around Iga City, you'll start to see other ninjas everywhere, it's quite the sight to behold!
LEARN Like a Ninja
The Ninja Experience Hall, located within the Ninja Museum of Igaryu showcases over 400 tools used by ninjas of the Iga Clan. The tools on display were used for such tasks as lock picking, crossing water, climbing and boring holes in castle walls. Combat tools on display, such as shuriken (ninja stars) were actually used in battle.
The Ninja Tradition hall, within the same building, introduces various codes used within the Iga Clan and displays ancient texts, many of which do not exist anywhere else on earth.
The Ninja Museum of Igaryu also provides an authentic ninja house tour, where guides will demonstrate how the apparent farm house is not quite as normal on the inside as it appears from the outside. With features such as hidden doors, escape routes, secret weapons and traps, this is an experience that you will not want to miss!
TRAIN Like a Ninja
After exploring the ninja house and exhibitions at the Ninja Museum of Igaryu, it's time to witness the real thing, and if you're up for it, experiencing it for your self!
The museum's daily live ninja shows allow visitors to witness highly-skilled performers demonstrate how authentic weapons such as shuriken, swords, and kusarigama (chain sickles) were used in combat.
After the highly energetic performance ends, visitors can put their ninja star throwing skills to the test and even win a prize if they display the dead-eye accuracy of an Iga ninja.
Eat Like a Ninja
After all that ninja star throwing, a good meal is definitely in order and Iga City does not lack options.
Iga Beef and Aburidon
Much like the beef of Kobe and Yonezawa, Iga beef is considered to be of a very high quality. Unlike other popular Japanese beefs however, Iga beef is rarely sold outside of Iga itself, so we highly recommend trying some when visiting. If you're wondering which meal to order, then look no further than the local delicacy, aburidon.
Aburidon (literally 'Grilled Bowl') is grilled Iga beef, served on top of a bed of rice. There are a number of restaurants around the city that all have their own unique take on the dish, check out the guide here (sorry Japanese only) to get more information and photos on the different options available.
Katayaki and Hyorougan
Katayaki and Hyorougan were two types of food that ninjas would carry on their person as emergency rations when away on extended espionage missions, the two foods, however, are very different.
Katayaki is a type of extremely hard rice cracker, so hard in fact that they are often sold along with a miniature hammer in order to make it easier to break them into small pieces. Katayaki's durability, combined with its lightness and nutritional content (ingredients include sugar, wheat flour, yam, sesame, nori, sodium carbonate) made it the perfect emergency snack.
There are several shops within Iga city that sell katayaki, we visited Iga Kaan Yamamoto and tried several varieties, including seaweed, sesame and peanut.
Hyorougan are miniature protein energy balls made from rice, lotus roots, coix seed, carrots and rock sugar. The ingredients are crushed into a powder before being kneaded with water and steamed. Hyorougan were a popular emergency snack due to their high nutritional content and portability.
Why not try them as part of a full ninja set meal at Fujiissui, a restaurant which also featuring secret ninja hallways and hiding spots along with drinks that change color when mixed!
Travel Like a Ninja
Ok, you got us .... admittedly, ninjas didn't ride trains, however if they did, we're fairly sure they would have ridden one of the three 'Ninja trains' on the Iga railway.
Running between JR Iga-Ueno and Iga-Kambe stations, the fleet of three ninja trains (blue, pink and green) feature beautiful outer decals drawn by artist Reiji Matsumoto, creator of the popular Galaxy Express 999 anime franchise. The carriages are also just as detailed on the inside with shuriken hand rails and seating made from local Iga wood!
If you have an interest in ninjas and are eager to visit the most relevant historical birthplace of the practice, or are would just like to experience some of the things from this article, we can't recommend a trip to Iga City highly enough.
If you get the chance, be sure to time your trip to coincide with the yearly Ninja Festival, in 2019 it will take place between April 27th and May 6th, fo more information, please check the official website (Japanese only).