If you’re interested in Japanese history and Samurai culture in particular, then a visit to Odawara city is a must. Positioned between the Pacific ocean and mountains of Hakone, the town is home to the spectacular (and beautifully reconstructed) Edo period Odawara castle.
A 90-ish minute journey from Tokyo on the JR Tokaido main line, it might be some time before you can visit in person, but a newly launched virtual tour offers a unique virtual ninja experience, streamed live from the Ninja Hall in the castle grounds.
Odawara castle once served as a base of operations for the Fuma Ninja clan. During the 1400’s the black-clad agents helped extend the power and reach of the Hojo clan, against a backdrop of samurai conflict. The stream elaborates on this history, as well as the training and philosophy of ninjitsu and its practitioners.
The subject is fascinating. Ninja have become a staple of pop culture around the world. This virtual visit unpicks the myth from reality, and shines a spotlight on genuine ninja tools, weapons and their covert lifestyle.
Ninja have become a staple of pop culture around the world. This stream unpicks the myth from reality…
TLR was invited to join a live stream, and can confirm it’s the next best thing to an actual visit. Once you make your reservation on the official website, you’ll receive a URL link of the Facebook private group via email (all appropriately covert). The Facebook Live event lasts around 40 minutes.
The live stream opens with a little historical content, and for a few minutes we thought we were in for a pre-recorded video, but very quickly we found ourselves in the hands of a genial live guide, who walked us through the ninja museum, to meet with ninja scholar (in full garb) Hiroshi Jinkawa.
No lie. It’s quite a thrill to hear from a currently practicing ninjutsu sensei. The tour provides a background to life as a ninja (the main role of a ninja was to avoid fighting and conflict, we were told, which is kinda disappointing), gets up close with famed ninja weaponry, and even throws in a little shinobi training – specifically, how to breathe like a ninja, which is a lot harder than you might imagine – it’s all about lung capacity!
“In our normal lives we just breathe sharp shallow breaths every day. This technique helps us understand where our limits are, for inhaling and exhaling. When we think we can only breathe this much… we can actually put more in, when we exhale, we can accelerate the whole thing,” we’re told by sensei Jinkawa. “These were techniques used by Ninjas 400 – 600 years ago, to aid concentration, to find where their limits were.”
The tour goes on to reveal the six basic tools in the ninja’s armoury (no spoilers).
It’s perfectly possible to sit back and just view passively. But taking part is fun too. Out group was quite small. We fired off some few questions and almost immediately had them relayed and answered by the ninja sensei, which was very satisfying.
The Online Ninja Experience is the latest in a growing number of virtual streams that bring Japan closer to travel denied enthusiasts.
The Online Ninja Experience is held on selected Mondays, Saturdays and Sundays at 10:00 and 22:00 (GMT). The fee to join the tour 1,500 JPY (£10.50) per person. You can reserve your Ninja Experience slot here.