The Last Ninja

Masters in the dark arts of espionage and silent assassination, they are rarely seen and never heard... until they strike. Employed by samurai warlords to spy, sabotage and kill, they are relics of an ancient code that have all but died out in the modern age. All but one.

As the 21st head of the Ban clan, a dynasty of secret spies that can trace its history back some 500 years, 63-year-old engineer Jinichi Kawakami is Japan's last ninja. He is trained to hear a needle drop in the next room, to disappear in a cloud of smoke. Ninjas, also known as shinobi, have been feared and revered throughout history for their talents as assassins, scouts and spies. They are mainly noted for their use of stealth and deception but also for their amazing powers of endurance.

'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. An engineer by trade, Kawakami started practicing the art of Ninjutsu at the age of six before he began training under the gruelling regime of Buddhist master Masazo Ishida. To improve his concentration, he would spend hours staring into the flame of a candle until he felt he was inside it. He climbed walls, jumped from heights and learned how to mix chemicals to cause explosions and smoke. He was also trained to withstand extreme heat and cold as well as go for days without food or water.

'The training was all tough and painful. It wasn't fun but I didn't think much why I was doing it. Training was made to be part of my life,' he said.

And at the age of 19, he inherited his master's title along with a cache of secret scrolls and ancient tools. But he says the art of the ninja lies in the power of surprise, never brute force or outward strength and is about exploiting weaknesses to outfox larger, more powerful opponents while distracting their attention to get the upper hand. And, he says, the ability to hide in the most unlikely of places is a ninja's greatest weapon. Kawakami now runs the Iga-ryu Ninja Museum, in Iga, 220 miles southwest of Tokyo and recently began a research job at the state-run Mie University, where he is studying the history of ninjas.

He has decided not to take on an apprentice to pass on the legacy, making him the last in the line of Ban clan ninjas.

Kemo D. 7

Credit: Daily Mail

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