We left Hatsumi-san, self proclaimed last remaining Ninja Master, to begin our journey to visit the masters of Iga and Koga Ninjutsu Ryu. Getting to the southern prefectures entails riding one of the bullet trains for which Japan is famous. If you have never traveled on one, it is a cross between an airplane and a ritzy bus. The seats are high backed comfortable affairs set in banks of four, all facing the same direction until you pull a lever, and the whole contraption swivels around so that you are facing the seats behind you. You could tell that many rode this route often as they greeted each new person that entered the car, many rotating the chairs to face friends and catch up on the latest gossip.
We finally found a car that was half full near the front of the train after working our way through car after car of bustling passengers seeking seats, friends, luggage…an instantaneous obstacle course. Navigating this with backpacks bigger than many on the train became a challenge, but finally we made it to what was to become our seat. It was strategically placed in the last row, where we stored our backpacks behind the seats and settled in for the ride. Our train left the station before we made it to our car, but only began to pick up speed after we left the city. All of our neighbors tried at different times to practice their English with us while we did the best to keep up our end of the bargain using our Japanese with the southern drawl. A stewardess pushed a trolley through the car, as the buildings, and towns whooshed by outside our large panoramic windows. What was offered is not what you would expect to find, because it had things like squid and octopus.During the ride we got to see majestic Mount Fuji approaching, flashing by and then sliding into the distance as we closed the kilometers on Nagoya, our destination. The city was flash and glitter, full of all the people celebrating the national holiday called "Golden Week." This was my first time in Nagoya. We exited from the train and were overlooking the main square and a sea of people. The neon signs bathed the cool night in a festive glow as party-goers flowed along the crowded corridors of the marble subway station. We set the bags down in a corner away from the hustle as some went in search of the bathroom and others went in search of a hotel for a couple of nights. We planned on meeting Roberto Velasquez who is known by the moniker of GTO on a message board where the hate group was trash talking. He was the only civilized person we had spoken with online who was demanding contact with Shidoshi's teacher. Since GTO already lived in Japan, he volunteered to go with us to meet Saija-san and put an end to the furor over the existence of Shidoshi Dallas' teacher. We called him to let him know what hotel we were in and how he could get in touch with us.
While we waited for Roberto to contact us, we went to Nagoya Jo, which is a huge castle. There are pictures posted on our site that we took while walking around the castle, showing the massive workmanship that went into the construction of the whole place. When you first enter the area, you walk across a bridge spanning a moat which looked 100 feet wide and 30 feet deep. There is a 50 foot high wall just above the edge of the moat which could have stopped any army. As you can see from the pictures posted on this site they actually made the walls into different level plateaus upon which the different buildings sat. This gave plenty of flat ground. Perfect for training the many soldiers that must have been needed. Within the outer walls lies another set of walls surrounding the main palace. Bounding the four corners of the inner walls are four towers built as mini castles designed to watch and guard. You have to cross the moat by a bridge to enter into the inner grounds. We had to wait in a long line to enter into the main castle or "Jo" which wound its way up through a massive Bailey and into the Jo through the main door/ gates. Inside they have many displays of armor, weapons and the art of the Nagoya Jo history. See the attached brochure and the many pictures that we took.
Another museum that we visited was the Tokugawa Museum. This was housed on what used to be the private gardens of the Tokugawa family and is also the site of the Hosa Library which holds the former collection of the Owari Tokugawa family. The current collection consists of about 110,000 items of classic Japanese and Chinese books and pictorial images handed down through the family since Ieyasu Tokugawa, founder of the Edo Shogunate. Besides the collection, we were able to photograph some of the many displays they have available for the public's enjoyment which include armor, scrolls and weapons.
The museums although informative were not the reason for our stay in Nagoya. GTO along with many of the people on the internet had the temerity to demand the phone number of Shidoshi Dallas's teacher, a man in his 80's. Originally we had contacted GTO with the same request of meeting with his teacher and having a phone number with which to contact his teacher, since we were taking GTO to meet with Insei Saija. The only contact we had with Mr. Velasquez (GTO) was an email, in which he stated, "that we would not be able to meet with his teacher nor get his phone number as it is only allowed to be given to his senior students." This is an example of the many double standards imposed upon Shidoshi Dallas and his teacher by GTO and the members of the hate groups on the message boards. After waiting on GTO for three days we had no choice but to continue on with our own trip. GTO never made an appearance.
We rented a Nissan Note - I highly recommend these cars if they ever come to the states. The four of us along with our backpacks were able to fit into this compact car and still have plenty of head and leg room. With the small wheel and tight roads it made for an interesting but fun ride, because 90kph felt like 90 mph. We would have probably gotten lost a time or two if it were not for our little "Tom-Tom," which came with the car. All we had to do to find a point was to enter in the address or phone number of the place we were trying to reach and it would pull it up on the map and take us there by the shortest route. A lot of the time it chose the expressways, but we often chose a shorter more scenic route.
This was how we discovered a village built using the traditional construction materials and techniques. As you can see in the pictures, the huts were built using rolled grass for the roofing material. This historical site was located in a park just slightly off the road, as we would see a playground situated over here in the states.
It only took us a morning of driving to reach the city of Iga Ueno, which glorifies its rich Ninjutsu Heritage. It was easy to find the Iga Ryu museum, because everyone seemed to be headed to or working there. The parking lot was packed, and off we went to explore not only the ninja museum but the Ninja Castle (Iga Jo). This castle has 30 meter walls completely surrounding it and was built around 1609 by Tokatora Todo. He did this while trying to repair the defenses of Ueno city under the direction of Tokugawa. Go up the stairs to the main entrance and enter the realm of the ninja of Iga Ryu. The 100 ft by 100 ft main room is completely surrounded by embattlements. The displays surrounding the main floor show historical suits of armor and weapons that were used in the defense of the castle. Also displayed on the main floor were the palanquins which carried the leaders and woman around. The one thing that stands out the most is how earlier generations were a lot smaller than we are today. Dominating the center of the room is a grand stairway going up to the next level. As you look through the pictures, take note that on one of the sets of armor is a medallion embossed on the facemask of the helmet. Each Ryu uses its own style of medallion, and this one resembles the Konigun medallion.
On the top floor you could see all of the surrounding countryside. Located in the center of the room is a miniaturized topographical model of the castle and the surrounding countryside with which they built and directed their battle plans.
From the castle we could see the ninja museum and the haiku pavilion, which were to be the next stops, once we descended the steps. Unbeknownst to me before my visit, Iga Ueno was home to one of the foremost Haiku poet masters, Matsuo Basho. There is a giant Haiseiden (Poets Memorial Hall) on the grounds of the Iga-Jo and Iga-Ryu Ninja Museum which we got to enjoy while we walked to the ninja museum. The museum is full of historical information and memorabilia. In the exhibits you are still able to see the many devices used by the ninja in their effort to gain information and practice their trade.
At one point I got to speak with one of the demonstrators at the ninja recreation center about Iga-Ryu Ninjutsu. He gave me the address of a school that still teaches Iga-Ryu style of Ninjutsu. When I asked about Hatsumi connection to the Iga-Ryu, he dismissively stated that there was never any connection.
We left the city of Iga Ueno and headed to the Koga Ninja Museum located in the next prefecture. The drive through the hills and mountains surrounding Koga was very scenic, which made it late by the time we arrived in the area near the ninja camp. So we camped near a beautiful lake. The night's downpour did little to dampen our spirits when we were greeted in the morning with a beautiful sunrise.
Still too early to visit the museum, we ate our breakfast and trained with Shidoshi Dallas. One of the topics discussed was, "what it means to be a ninja." After the class it was finally time to go and meet the Koga Ninjutsu Ryu.