Why did ninjas go extinct

Japan: The Last Ninja - A Retired Engineer

Even if films and computer games continue to glorify the Japanese ninja, the black-clad fighters will soon no longer exist. The 63-year-old Jinichi Kawakami is the last person to be trained as a ninja in Japan. "There is probably no one else who has learned the ninja art," says the retired engineer, who was trained according to the centuries-old teachings of the masters.

Museum should keep the mind and techniques in mind

In his kimono and thick black hair, the pensioner doesn't look anything like the ninjas of the films who use throwing stars and then disappear in a cloud of smoke. The 21st ninja of the Ban clan, however, wants to keep the spirit and techniques of the fighters who spied and attacked in the Middle Ages in memory with his small museum in Iga, 350 kilometers southwest of Tokyo. "For example, we can no longer kill or poison someone," he says, even if the instructions for making the poison are still there.

Kawakami first came into contact with the ninjas at the age of six. 57 years later, however, he hardly remembers his master Masazo Ishida, from whom he inherited his title. He only remembers that Ishida was wearing the robe of a Buddhist monk. Kawakami describes himself as a "strange boy" who no one paid attention to when he was practicing. "I did the exercises, but I didn't know what I was doing," recalls the last ninja. "Only later did I understand that it was ninjutsu".

Ninjutsu as a "survival technique"

These are the names of the techniques that the ninja use. This includes sporting and spiritual exercises as well as techniques from chemistry, psychology and meteorology. "To train my concentration, I looked at a candle wick until I had the impression that I was in the candle," says Kawakami, describing his exercises. "Or I've practiced hearing the sound of a little needle falling to the ground." For him, ninjutsu is a "survival technique", even if it is initially about espionage and guerrilla methods.

"Hard, painful, not funny"

As a boy, Kawakami learned to climb walls, jump from great heights, mix explosives, and endure cold, warmth, hunger and pain. "That was hard, painful, not funny". Nevertheless, he did not wonder why he was doing that, "because it was part of my life". At the age of 19, Kawakamis inherited the title of his master and his secret parchments and tools. Some of them are on display in the rooms of his private museum in Iga, a city surrounded by mountains and considered the cradle of ninja tradition.

It was only recently that Kawakami began research on ninja at Mie University. Even after retirement, he continues to exercise his body and mind in order to maintain his ninja skills. But the 63-year-old admits with resignation: "The ninjas do not fit into the modern world".