Vanquishing Ninjas

Ninjas don't need maps.  Chi-mon, one of the 18 disciplines of ninjitsu, is geography.  They know Japan.  We, however, need maps.  It's surprising how hard it is to read them when you can't identify landmarks or street names.
Ninjas don’t need maps. Chi-mon, one of the 18 disciplines of ninjitsu, is geography. They know Japan. We, however, need maps. It’s surprising how hard it is to read them when you can’t identify landmarks or street names.

Japan has presented us with a stream of challenges to keep us on our toes. Among them, linguistic ineptitude, cultural interpretation, stormy weather, shrimp-flavored ice cream, maps and bus schedules with only Japanese characters, rampant Japanimation, unidentified packaged foods, and busy harbors with intimidating concrete walls for docks. Most formidable among these challenges are ninjas.

Ninjas can run on the ceiling.  It's part of the art of taijutsu.  That's how these bells got to the ceiling.  You toss a coin into a box, ring the bell, bow, clap your hands to awake the kami (deity) of the shrine, make your wish, and bow again.
Ninjas can run on the ceiling. It’s part of the art of taijutsu. That’s how these bells got to the ceiling. You toss a coin into a box, ring the bell, bow, clap your hands to awake the kami (deity) of the shrine, make your wish, and bow again.

We first became aware of the presence of these stealth assassins on a walk to the grocery store in Kagoshima, when we were nearly taken unawares by a bike ninja. The black shadow was so well disguised in the fading light that he was nearly past us before we realized the danger. Fortunately, this stealth artist had other business for the night.

How many ninjas do you see in this photo?  If you don't see any, you need practice ninja-spotting.
How many ninjas do you see in this photo? If you don’t see any, you need practice ninja-spotting.

Since that evening, we have had many more dramatic encounters. From Kagoshima, we sailed to Yakushima, an island with a World Heritage Area designated in recognition of its botanical diversity. At sea level, warmed by the not-all-that-warm Kurushio Current, palms and a few banyans grow. The sides of the extinct volcanoes shine with spring blossoms and green shoots, while the top, over 6,000 feet high, is covered mostly in dark cedars and leafy shrubs. We planned a hike, to admire the trees and search for monkeys, over the top of Miyanoura Dake, Yakushima’s tallest peak and the home of Ippon Hoju Daigongen, the most prominent local Shinto kami (deity).

You write your wishes on the back of these tablets and hang them at the shrine.  After wishes about childbirth, fertility, and luck on exams, the most common wish is for safety from ninjas.
You write your wishes on the back of these tablets and hang them at the shrine. After wishes about childbirth, fertility, and luck on exams, the most common wish is for safety from ninjas.

Rob scurried ahead, as usual, and as we neared the top of the fog-shrouded peak, I heard the faint sounds of a scuffle. Rob had topped out at the summit, preparing to offer his thanks to Ippon, when a pair of ninjas summersaulted out of the mist, hurling throwing stars and twirling daggers in a surprise attack. Rob, fortunately, once held a black belt in karate, and was well prepared. He summoned his skills and karate chopped, made funny noises, karate kid kicked, and vanquished the pair.

The scene of Rob's ninja triumph.
The scene of Rob’s ninja triumph.

By the time I reached the top, there was nothing left to do but bow low before the shrine, clap twice, and offer a sincere “Domo arrigato gozaimasu” to Ippon. An extremely responsive deity, she immediately swept aside the clouds and presented us with a glorious view of eerie rocks shrouded in clouds, and vibrant spring foliage.

Ninjas often travel with monkeys.  Monkeys provide distraction so that the ninjas can attack unnoticed.
Ninjas often travel with monkeys. Monkeys provide distraction so that the ninjas can attack unnoticed.

I had my own encounter a few days later, back on Kyushu. After we’d sailed over night, beating into rather miserable weather, battered by waves kicked up by the current, dodging giant cargo ships in the dark, and flattened by the rain, we spent a few days taking in some of the sights in the Miyazaki region. One rainy afternoon, I left Rob on the boat and went wandering through town in search of the elusive internet. Not yet an expert at navigating in Japanese, I took maybe a wrong turn or two on the way home and returned just after dark. Shortly before I reached the boat, I caught a glimpse of motion and the steel glint of a katana blade in a dark corner to my right. I had just enough time to process the image before a flight of ninjas ambushed me, on a lonely street with no help in screaming distance. Luckily, because of my younger brother’s long-lasting obsession with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I am an expert at the Bo-staff. I dropped my bag, broke a branch from a nearby tree and systematically vanquished the ninjas.

One of the temples on the famous 88 temples pilgrimage route on Shikoku.  Ninjas often hang out at temples, b/c they like to disguise themselves as mountain ascetics or monks.  Long robes allow them to hide weapons.
One of the temples on the famous 88 temples pilgrimage route on Shikoku. Ninjas often hang out at temples, b/c they like to disguise themselves as mountain ascetics or monks. Long robes allow them to hide weapons.

Perhaps it is because of all this vanquishing that we have been the grateful recipients of so many gifts—instant noodles, nautical charts, fireman stickers, special onsen towels, beer, tomatoes, citrus, fancy cheese, strange seafood that Rob’s thoroughly vegetarian stomach can’t handle, dozens of cups of coffee that I can’t handle but can’t figure out how to politely decline in Japanese, and Elvis serenades on the ukulele. It must be an expression of gratitude to us for ridding Japan of this terrific scourge.

Ninjas and lions hang out together at this shrine in Tosashimizu that seems to be about fishermen and seafaring.
Ninjas and lions hang out together at this shrine in Tosashimizu that seems to be about fishermen and seafaring.
Local fishermen told us to pray at this shrine for a safe trip home.  Here, you toss a seashell into the pile, and if you hit the right spot, your wish is granted.  I should never have been given such a serious responsibility.  The gods did not favor me and guided my perfectly aimed seashell far from the pile.  Or else a ninja intercepted it.  Regardless, Rob, the favored one, will be responsible for shrine games from now on.  All of his seashells hit the pile.  You might think it's about aim, but it's the gods who are in control.  And the ninjas.
Local fishermen told us to pray at this shrine for a safe trip home. Here, you toss a seashell into the pile, and if you hit the right spot, your wish is granted. I should never have been given such a serious responsibility. The gods did not favor me and guided my perfectly aimed seashell far from the pile. Or else a ninja intercepted it. Regardless, Rob, the favored one, will be responsible for shrine games from now on. All of his seashells hit the pile. You might think it’s about aim, but it’s the gods who are in control. And the ninjas.

3 thoughts on “Vanquishing Ninjas”

  1. Hey Rob! It’s Liza’s brother Pete! Looks like you’re having some awesome adventures! Fantastic shots and stories! My wife and I are planning a big sail trip too with Liza on a good chunk of it! Hope to see you on the sea some day!

  2. I met with Nachi Katsuura, it is Masao. I was able to spend a good time. Thank you. Do you have the Katsuura still now?

    Shimoda is also a hot spring resort. As with Nachi Katsuura, away from the city,so you will be able to take it easy.

    Weather permitting, the way to Shimoda, you will be able to see Mount Fuji from Suruga Bay. Since there is no snowcap this season, it will be that it is not seen wearing the most beautiful of Mt Fuji.

    By the way,I have never been to the east of the Tokyo by yacht. So I can not recommend as my experience.But I am investigating a good harbor and you try to stop by.

    So please let me know. When do you have to leave the last port of call of Hokkaido?

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