There are so many fun things to visit in Japan, but this has to be one of the best giggles! Did you know there is a Ninja Village located in Mie prefecture that has an amazing Ninja museum? You can dress up like a ninja, visit a Ninja Yashiki (the modified farm houses that ninjas use as bases), and even spot ninjas around the local castle.
Then, once you are ninja-ed out, there is another awesome place to visit nearby; Tanuki village. You’ll seen hundreds and hundreds of tanukis figurines with their giant balls. You can even take a class to make your own tanuki, or clay pot!
Iga-ryu is the name of one of the many Japanese schools of Ninja. It evolved around Iga and Uneo in Mie Prefecture, Japan. Participants used to train in the art of stealth in the mountains around these towns. Ninjitsu was most popular during the Sengoku Period (roughly 1467-1600) when two of the best ninja schools were Iga-ryu and Koga-ryu (which is located nearby in Shiga prefecture.)
Ninja Museum of Igaryu
If you fancy learning more about ninjas, Ninja Museum of Igaryu (伊賀流忍者博物館) is fantastic!
You can look around a Ninja Yashiki. It looks like a normal farm house, but then the staff give presentations showing some of the house’s secrets.
We were shown some amazing hidden compartments, trap doors and a revolving wall. At one point a ninja lady even appeared out from a fake hallway! It was all really fun to watch!
I wish I knew this before, but it is possible to rent ninja costumes from the Danjiri Hall in town. Most other visitors were dressed as ninjas, so we were the only boring group! I especially loved all the young girls dressed up as mini pink ninjas!
After the presentation in the Yashiki, we wandered around the ninja museum looking at the various weapons, including a huge range of shuriken (ninja stars)
Iga Ueno Castle
The other side of Ueno park is Iga Ueno Castle (伊賀上野城跡). This castle was in use from 1585-1871. But after it was destroyed by high winds, it was not rebuilt until the 1930s.
Iga Ueno Castle is also known as the “White Phoenix Castle” because it is so pretty. It is famous for the super-tall walls at the base of the castle. They are 30 meters tall, and the highest walls of any castle in Japan.
You can go inside the castle and climb up to the highest room. My favourite part was all the paintings on the roof at the top. There was an exhibition with photos of other famous Japanese castles, as well as ninja figures climbing up the walls and ceiling!
You can climb to the edge of the castle walls and look down to the moat. Pretty impressive eh!?
The views from the Iga Ueno Castle are pretty lovely too.
You can see, this is a pretty rural area, surrounded by mountains.
Tanuki Mura time!
We went to one more place during our ninja day, to Tanuki Mura (たぬき村) in Shiga prefecture. It is around 30 minutes drive away from Iga. Tanuki are Japanese raccoon dogs. They are thought to be magical creatures in Japanese folklore (they keep magic in their giant balls!) I love them, although I have only seen them in the wild a couple of times.
Tanuki scholyard song:
Tan-tan-tanuki no kintama wa,
Kaze mo nai no ni,
Even without wind,
I have never seen so many tanuki figures as were on display in Tanuki Mura! Some had the massive magic balls from the song, but others hide them behind their tails.
There is a cool word in Japanese, kimokawaii, which is used to describe things that are sort of disturbing as well as cute. Can you think of anyhting more kimokawaii than these dudes!?
The style of these dudes was developed in Shiga, so although you can see these statues all over Japan, they orginate here.
In addition to tanuki, we found a few other figures, like kappa and frogs. Kappa are super-cute water demons and frogs are often left in people’s gardens in Japan, as kaeru (the word for frog) is also the word to return. Having frogs at home means your family should all return home safely.
You can make your own tanuki, but we opted to have a go at making pots on the pottery wheels. If you’d like to try this yourself, you can book here.
My friends and I had a blast on this little trip to Mie and Shiga. In the end we drove back to Nara while munching on the best snacks from Iga, shuriken cookies!
None of these cool places are particularly famous for non-Japanese visitors, but the are all really fun. What do you think? Would you like to visit ninja-land and tanuki-land? Or do you prefer to stick to Japan’s most famous sights?