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Evidence of Edo-era ninja discovered in family records

They were real enough to those of us who followed Naruto‘s journey through the mystical portals of Cartoon Network and Jetix, but in terms of tangible documentation of ninja existence in history, the evidence has always been thin on the ground. However, more stock to the myth has been unearthed by Toshiyuki Watanabe of Koka City, Shiga Prefecture.

自宅の蔵で見つかった古文書を読む渡辺さん(甲賀市甲南町杉谷)

A series of family documents, discovered by Watanabe in a humble store room in 2000, indicate that he has ancestral ties to the shadowed mercenary fold. His bloodlines are not only in farming, but also one of the “five Clans of the Koga” who served the Owari Domain in secrecy. Dating as early as 1690, these documents include an official confidentiality pledge and instructions in shinobi training. Practices in archery, iaijutsu, mathematics, horse-riding, even mixing explosives and breaking into houses are detailed, and currently in the process of being translated.

Watanabe has been working with the Koka City Board of Education Historical Cultural Heritage Division since 2004, assisting them with compiling and translating more than 70 relevant documents. The board was confident that the documents would go a long way to demystifying the historical ninja, and plan to publish a booklet summarising Watanabe’s findings in May this year, complete with full annotations and explanations.

We wonder how long will it be before we can see the truth of the ninja overseas. For now, we’ll be going back to Naruto and pondering just how ridiculously romanticised the manga and anime were.

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