Need a little inspiration ? Try the way of the Ninja.

By on October 18, 2017

A world of sabotage, espionage, assassination, and a knack for looking good in black!

Practitioners of the ancient art of ninjutsu or ninpo sneak unnoticed into enemy camps or people’s houses, disguising themselves so as to conceal their identity, causing havoc with infinite ease. Sounds like someone you know?

To really get into character, go on the hidden ninja trail and enter the world of the ninja assassin in one of the ninja villages buried deep in the countryside. The history books can’t quite decide when the ninja came about, but they certainly flourished in the 16th century as spies, helping feudal warlords and samurai. There are several places that are still known today as “lands of the ninja”: the most famous among them are Koka in Shiga Prefecture; Iga in Mie Prefecture; and Togakushi in Nagano Prefecture, where the Togakure-ryu ninja lived. We sent our very own crack team to scout out a path for TF readers in deepest Nagano.

There are two Ninja villages  that are kid-friendly – Togakushi Minzokukan (folk museum) and the Chibikko Ninja Village in Nagano.  A third one, the  Ninja Karakuriyashiki  is located in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

You can get to Togakushi Minzokukan on the shinkansen in about two hours, but from Tokyo, it’s about a three-hour drive on a weekday morning up to the place.  Ninja Karakuriyashiki used to be in Nagano but has now moved to Shinjuku, Tokyo ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.

National Park in the mountains of Nagano.

The drive is easy; no traffic or slowdowns until Gunma. Even then, it is nothing more than the limitations of traffic on some beautifully winding mountain roads. Depending on how much time you spend at the rest stops, your time will vary. Before long, you’ll be driving through the gates of the national park and up the scenic, winding road. The first village is easy enough to find even for the untrained ninja. Just follow the little signs with appropriate blade-like lettering and cartoonish ninjas until you reach the well-marked area of the Ninja Karakuriyashiki with plenty of free parking.

The Togakushi Mizokukan is a museum of clothes, tools, furnishings, and all manner of antiquities that have Japanese dads melting, regaling their kids with stories of how, “When I was your age, my grandmother had this…and these…and one of those…” Move on to the shuriken gallery where, for a few coins, you get seven throwing stars (well-blunted and dulled) to dispatch targets and monsters. Hit five-out-of-seven targets and get a “special prize you cannot get anywhere else,” read the translated pamphlet.

The younger assassins get to throw stars at cartoonish monster targets while the more experienced throw at bull’s-eye targets, holding them between your knuckles like in the comic books. Flinging them may work better than throwing them like darts, but it is no match for the youngsters whose  holler-and-hurl technique seems to work wonders. Afterwards, stroll around the gardens a bit, imagining ninja and samurai clashing across the suspension bridge that leads to a long ninja climbing wall for the kids. All around, there are paths, bridges, and groves, perfect for a game of chase or hide-and-seek. The kids will be able to keep themselves entertained for a good while with just the terrain and landscaping of this place. While they’re running around, mom and dad should try the fresh juices at the ninja café that includes an unforgettable wild raspberry juice.

The largest building, at the rear of the park, looks like a two-storied farmhouse. Downstairs, they have more antiquities and a living room set up “like grandma’s place” (if your grandparents were wealthy Japanese farmers). Upstairs is the real ninja museum, with relics, photos, and artifacts of actual ninja, most donated by the Togakure Ninpo School. Blades, bombs, hooks, robes, poisons, and countless other items look exactly like their virtual replicas in computer games.

The Chibikko Ninja Village (Chibikko Ninja Mura, also known as Togakushi Chibikko Ninja-Mura), the second of the ninja villages, has a whole range of facilities that have exciting names, like Shinobi Karakuri Fushigi Yashiki (Ninja Gimmickry Wonder House), Ninjutsu Yashiki (Ninjutsu House), and Karakuri Meiro (Trick Maze). Jumping, crawling, sneaking, hanging, running, stalking, pouncing, swinging… if they could master the art of stealth, children would be perfect ninjas. This is where your little assassins can put their natural inclinations to work. The Chibikko Ninja Village features another trick house, demonstrations of ninja skills, and acres of jungle gyms and climbing nets. Let your kids suit up in red and black uniforms, and turn them loose. You can rent the children’s ninja outfits for ¥400, adults ¥800. Commemorative photos are available, too; show everyone at work what you look like when you’re not wearing a suit.

Performers give periodic demonstrations of ninpo, the ninja martial art, where actors in costume perform ninja battles and demonstrate weapons and attacks. It’s a lot like the Wild-West gunfight shows in America. Ninja masters also hold training sessions on certain days, imparting such skills as throwing stars, blow-darts, and stealth. The real treat of the Chibikko Ninja Village is the extensive athletic park that winds around the buildings there. It consists of net climbs, play houses, slides, swings, towers, plank bridges, and rope bridges. All made of wood and deep in the forest, the equipment offers a welcome change from the brightly-colored plastic and aluminum play yards of Tokyo’s urban jungles. This is enough to wear out even the most energetic kids. Just watching your kids running these obstacle courses can be exhausting as well. In the Sasuke Teahouse, you can rest up and have a bite. Noodles, handmade bread, and other refreshments are available on the weekends (daily, during summer vacation). The Nin crêperie café near the entrance is always open with sweets and drinks.

If you don’t want to go home as an empty-handed ninja (karate joke – sorry!), the Ninja-Miyage shops in both villages will outfit you with souvenir throwing stars, swords, key chains, cell phone bobbles… everything an aspiring assassin could want, except victims (those will be the family members, later).

Ninja Trick House

If Nagano is too far for what your time allows,  you will find the Ninja Trick House – the central attraction which risks overshadowing everything else, another option. The Ninja House itself is a dream house for adults and kids alike. It’s not a scary place; nothing pops out at you, so don’t hesitate to open doors, thump on walls, and jiggle everything in reach. without giving the game away, the whole fun of it is trying to find the next secret passage. You’ll find yourselves working frantically and giggling yourselves silly, trying to uncover and get through each portal and close it before the family behind can enter the room and witness your discoveries. One unforgettable room is a large room set at a severe tilt that disorientates you beyond belief, making it so you can barely stand up or walk, allowing you to do gravity-defying poses and stumble around like Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master. As for the rest of the house, take your time and poke around. It’s not always as simple as pushing a door open.   At the Ninja Trick House, kids can experience throwing shurikens, holding a ninja sword (don’t worry parents, it’s not real), hands-on swordplay experience, uncovering secrets at the ninja house, getting a selfie with a ninja, and basic edutainment.

The parks are well organized, communication is not difficult, and the entire affair is presented with earnest good taste. Pack lightly, move silently, and escape to this picturesque retreat to satisfy your family’s more exotic expectations of Japan.


Tel: (026) 254-2395
Open: 9am – 5pm daily
Closed: Nov through Apr.

Daiichi Wako Bld. 4F 2-28-13 Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0021                                                                Nearest Stations

JR Shinjuku Station (8-minute walk from East Exit)
Shinjuku Station of Seibu-Shinjuku Line (5-minute walk)
Subway Shinjuku-sanchome Station (10-minute walk)

Togakushi-mura, Kamiminochi-gun, Nagano-ken.
Tel: 026-254-3723
Fax: 026-254-3850
9 am-5 pm (late Apr – late Nov)
Closed: Thu (except mid Jul to late Aug).
Admision: Adults and elementary students ¥500; Child (over 4) ¥230 + extra charges per attraction.
The facilities are about an hour away from JR Nagano Station by bus. One thing to note, however, is that both only operate from late April to early November, as the area experiences heavy snow in the winter.

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