Some of the ninja from my collection, the rest (40-50 I think) are in black and I will take pictures of them at a later date, always considered this one of my favourite parts of the samurai warfare period.
A ninja (忍者?) or shinobi (忍び?) was a covert agent or mercenary of feudal Japan specializing in unorthodox arts of war. The functions of the ninja included espionage, sabotage, infiltration, and assassination, as well as open combat in certain situations. The ninja, using covert methods of waging war, were contrasted with the samurai, who had strict rules about honour and combat. In his Buke Myōmokushō, military historian Hanawa Hokinoichi writes of the ninja:
They travelled in disguise to other territories to judge the situation of the enemy; they would inveigle their way into the midst of the enemy to discover gaps, and enter enemy castles to set them on fire, and carried out assassinations, arriving in secret.
The origin of the ninja is obscure and difficult to determine, but can be surmised to be around the 14th century. However, the antecedents to the Ninja may have existed as early as the Heian and early Kamakura eras. Few written records exist to detail the activities of the ninja. The word shinobi did not exist to describe a ninja-like agent until the 15th century, and it is unlikely that spies and mercenaries prior to this time were seen as a specialized group. In the unrest of the Sengoku period (15th - 17th centuries), mercenaries and spies for hire arose out of the Iga and Kōga regions of Japan, and it is from these clans that much of later knowledge regarding the ninja is inferred. Following the unification of Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate, the ninja descended again into obscurity. However, in the 17th and 18th centuries, manuals such as the Bansenshukai (1676) — often centered on Chinese military philosophy — appeared in significant numbers. These writings revealed an assortment of philosophies, religious beliefs, their application in warfare, as well as the espionage techniques that form the basis of the ninja's art. The word ninjutsu would later come to describe a wide variety of practices related to the ninja.
The mysterious nature of the ninja has long captured popular imagination in Japan, and later the rest of the world. Ninjas figure prominently in folklore and legend, and as a result it is often difficult to separate historical fact from myth. Some legendary abilities include invisibility, walking on water, and control over natural elements. The ninja is also prevalent in popular culture, appearing in many forms of entertainment media.
Iga and Koga Clans
The Iga and Kōga clans have come to describe families living in the province of Iga (modern Mie Prefecture) and the adjacent region of Kōka (later written as Kōga), named after a village in what is now Shiga Prefecture. From these regions, villages devoted to the training of ninjas first appeared. The remoteness and inaccessibility of the surrounding mountains may have had a role in the ninja's secretive development. Historical documents regarding the ninja's origins in these mountainous regions are considered generally correct. The chronicle Go Kagami Furoku writes, of the two clans' origins:
"There was a retainer of the family of Kawai Aki-no-kami of Iga, of pre-eminent skill in shinobi, and consequently for generations the name of people from Iga became established. Another tradition grew in Kōga".
Likewise, a supplement to the Nochi Kagami, a record of the Ashikaga shogunate, confirms the same Iga origin:
"Inside the camp at Magari of the Shogun [Ashikaga] Yoshihisa there were shinobi whose names were famous throughout the land. When Yoshihisa attacked Rokkaku Takayori, the family of Kawai Aki-no-kami of Iga, who served him at Magari, earned considerable merit as shinobi in front of the great army of the Shogun. Since then successive generations of Iga men have been admired. This is the origin of the fame of the men of Iga."
A distinction is to be made between the ninja from these areas, and commoners or samurai hired as spies or mercenaries. Unlike their counterparts, the Iga and Kōga clans produced professional ninja, specifically trained for their roles. These professional ninja were actively hired by daimyos between 1485 and 1581, until Oda Nobunaga invaded Iga province and wiped out the organized clans. Survivors were forced to flee, some to the mountains of Kii, but others arrived before Tokugawa Ieyasu, where they were well treated. Some former Iga clan members, including Hattori Hanzō, would later serve as Tokugawa's bodyguards.
Following the Battle of Okehazama in 1560, Tokugawa employed a group of eighty Kōga ninja, led by Tomo Sukesada. They were tasked to raid an outpost of the Imagawa clan. The account of this assault is given in the Mikawa Go Fudoki, where it was written that Kōga ninja infiltrated the castle, set fire to its towers, and killed the castellan along with two hundred of the garrison. The Kōga ninjas are said to have played a role in the later Battle of Sekigahara (1600), where several hundred Kōga assisted soldiers under Torii Mototada in the defence of Fushimi Castle. After Tokugawa's victory at Sekigahara, the Iga acted as guards for the inner compounds of Edo Castle, while the Kōga acted as a police force and assisted in guarding the outer gate. In 1614, the initial "winter campaign" at the Siege of Osaka saw the ninja in use once again. Miura Yoemon, a ninja in Tokugawa's service, recruited shinobi from the Iga region, and sent ten ninjas into Osaka Castle in an effort to foster antagonism between enemy commanders. During the later "summer campaign", these hired ninjas fought alongside regular troops at the Battle of Tennōji.