A 63-YEAR-old former engineer may not fit the typical image of a dark-clad assassin with deadly weapons who can disappear into a cloud of smoke. But Jinichi Kawakami is reputedly Japan’s last ninja.
As the 21st head of the Ban clan, a line of ninjas that can trace its history back some 500 years, Kawakami is considered by some to be the last living guardian of Japan’s secret spies.
“I think I’m called (the last ninja) as there is probably no other person who learned all the skills that were directly” handed down from ninja masters over the last five centuries, he said.
“Ninjas proper no longer exist,” he said as he demonstrated the tools and techniques used in espionage and sabotage by men fighting for their samurai lords in the feudal Japan of yesteryear.
… Mr Kawakami says much of the ninja’s art lies in catching people unawares, rather than in brute force.
“Humans can’t be on the alert all the time. There is always a moment when they are off guard and you catch it,” he said.
It is all about exploiting weaknesses that allows the ninja to outfox much bigger or more numerous opponents; distracting attention to allow a quick getaway.
It is possible to hide – in a manner of speaking – behind the smallest of things, Mr Kawakami said.
“If you throw a toothpick, people will look that way, giving you the chance to flee.
“We also have a saying that it is possible to escape death by perching on your enemy’s eyelashes; it means you are so close that he cannot see you.”
Mr Kawakami recently began a research job at the state-run Mie University, where he is studying the history of ninjas.
But, he said as he showed an AFP team around the Iga-ryu Ninja Museum and its trick house with hidden ladders, fake doors and an underfloor sword box, he is resigned to the fact that he is the last of his kind.
There will be no 22nd head of the Ban clan because Mr Kawakami has decided not to take on any more apprentices.
“Ninjas just don’t fit in the modern day,” he said.