Odawara Virtual Ninja Tour

Odawara Castle with cherry blossom in the foreground. The words 'Odawara Virtual Ninja Tour' are superimposed.

Yesterday morning I was in Southampton; yesterday evening I was in Japan. Ok, I didn’t manage to fly to Japan because of COVID-19, but I did take part in Odawara virtual ninja tour. It was the first time I’ve taken part in an event such as this and I had a fantastic time. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a shinnichi or Japanophile. In 2015, I spent three weeks cycling across Japan following the cherry blossom.

Where is Odawara?

Odawara Castle with cherry blossom in the foreground.
Odawara-jo with sakura (cherry blossom) in the foreground.

Odawara is in Kanagawa prefecture. It’s about 70km from Yokohama. The Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 devastated Tokyo and surrounding areas. Over 90% of the buildings on Odawara collapsed and fires raged throughout the town. In August 1945, Allied aircraft bombed Odawara. It was the last city in Japan to be attacked in such a way.

Many years before 20th-century devastations, Odawara once served as a base of operations for the famous Fuma ninja clan. The area has now begun bringing the history, training and philosophy of Ninja back to life.

The virtual ninja tour was streamed live on Facebook from the ninja hall in Odawara Castle. It is a beautiful castle and like many others in Japan, it has been rebuilt several times since it was first built. (Most Japanese castles are built of wood on top of stone bases, so they are easily destroyed by fires as a consequence of war or earthquakes).

Learning about the Ninja Clan of Odawara

The image of Ninja has become almost mythical both abroad and in Japan. Many of the films and television programmes which feature these noble warriors contain real historical tools, weapons and examples of Ninjitsu. However, there are also plenty of stylised representations including jumping, throwing ninja stars and fighting. The reality was that ninjas (also knowns as shinobi) acted as spies during Japan’s Samurai era. They were known for their intellect and problem-solving skills.

Around 500 years ago Odawara Castle was a centre of power for the Hojo Clan. The Fuma Ninja Clan was vital in helping them extend their rule to the Tokyo area and beyond. Even today many businesses and festivals in the coastal city have roots which extend back to this era of samurai and warring states. 

Authentic teaching from a practising ninja

I signed into the Facebook event at exactly 10pm. Our host was Jeff. He introduced us to the event in English and later translated everything from Japanese to English.

Jeff introducing the event.

The event started with a short pre-recorded video about Odawara Castle. I imagine that if I were to visit the castle, I would be able to watch it on a screen there.

The opening pre-recorded video.

Jeff then led us into the ninja hall, explaining more about the history of ninja whilst showing us some of the displays.

Jeff explaining where Odawara is and the history of ninja in the area.

We were then led into a room with tatami mats on the floor and introduced to genuine Ninjutsu Sensei Hiroshi Jinkawa.

Hiroshi Jinkawa in traditional ninja clothing.

Meeting Hiroshi Jinkawa

The hour that we spent with Jinkawa Sensei helped to separate reality from fiction. He explained exactly what training a Ninja would go through and how their incredible skills would be used to gather information and avoid the need for conflict.

Jinkawa Sensei

Jinkawa Sensei is a well-known scholar and practitioner of the Ninja arts. He has been working as an ambassador of the field for many years, communicating with both students and media projects.

If you speak Japanese, you may enjoy this talk by Jinkawa Sensei.

Give me a taster of what’s covered…

After learning about the rich history of the castle, we were introduced to practices which were vital to the activities of ancient Ninja. These included specialised techniques for breathing and movement, as well as codes of behaviour and even philosophy and meditation methods. That’s right – we learnt to breathe and walk!

‘Learning the ropes’ as a ninja.

Jinkawa Sensei also explained about the Shinobi Rokugu. This was a set of tools which would be essential in the work of the Fuma Ninja clan. There were six items:

  • kaginawa – a rope with a hook
  • inro/kusuri – a medicine box
  • yatate/sekihitsu – a writing kit
  • sanjaku tenugui – a cotton cloth
  • uchitake – a bamboo tool for fire production
  • amigasa – a straw hat

It was really interesting to learn about the importance of these every-day objects.

What did I think of the event?

I was unsure about what the event would be like as I’ve not taken part in a Facebook live event before. The joining instructions were clear, although I wasn’t quite sure what would happen when I signed into the private Facebook group. An advantage of the event being run is this way is that it is possible to ask questions after the event and it is also possible to watch the recording again.

Jeff speaking to Jinkawa Sensei. They are both sitting in seiza (kneeling).

I really warmed to the translator Jeff and Jinkawa Sensei. There was plenty of humour in the event and Jeff translated well. I also enjoyed reaching into the recesses of my brain to drag out the Japanese that I learnt as it’s been a few years since I’ve spoken any.

Overall, I think the event was fun and good value for money. I think my only criticism is the timing of the event as 10pm is quite late for me. However, I appreciate that the time has been chosen to make the events accessible to as many people as possible across Europe, North America and Australia. This was a tiny criticism as I was happy to stay up and take part in the event.

How do I take part in the Online Ninja Experience?

Visit online ninja experience to book a place.

The Online Ninja Experience is held on selected Mondays, Saturdays and Sundays at 10:00 and 22:00 (GMT). The events take place on Facebook live, so you can participate from the comfort of your own home… and unlike Zoom events, you don’t need to dress to impress! (However, should you wish to dress like a ninja, that’s fine too!)

The sessions are described as lasting approximately 40 minutes (but mine lasted nearly 55 minutes and the audience didn’t ask many questions, so I imagine that it could take almost an hour). The participation fee is £10.50 per person.

Disclaimer

This is a sponsored blogpost but all opinions are my own. I was provided with a free place on the Odawara Virtual Ninja Tour in exchange for an honest review on my blog.

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