Emergence of the Ryū
The Civil War in Japan
With the advent of the Samurai warrior caste and the bakufu (government center of the shogun) of the Kamakura period (1192-1333), the Golden Age of Ninjutsu began, which lasted for over 400 years. During this period between 25 and 70 different ryū (schools) arose, mainly in the Iga and Kōga provinces. During the same period, Zen Buddhism, the basic philosophy for the Samurai caste, was introduced to Japan.
The Hattori and Oe clans ruled the Iga province, while the Kōga province was ruled by more than 50 families.
In the 14th century Japan was shaken by bitter fighting. In 1392 Japan was united under one emperor. But just 75 years later, unrest broke out again. The local rulers, Daimyō, men whose clans had grown in power and influence over the centuries, had taken control of Japan and the shogun was reduced to a powerless puppet.
The Daimyō fought bitterly for 400 years until the general, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, finally succeeded in reuniting Japan in 1590. This circumstance led to the fact that Ninja were needed everywhere. Therefore, more and more Ninja schools were opened to meet the tremendous demand.
Firearms and Espionage
The first firearms (matchguns from Portugal) were brought to Japan by merchants in 1543. Among the Samurai, the use of teppō (arquebus) was considered dishonorable and this task was incumbent on the lowly ashigaru (foot soldiers, mostly peasants).
The Ninja had no compunction about the use of firearms, and with the advent of firearms, they simply incorporated them into their arsenal. From then on, wooden cannons, bronze pistols and anti-personnel mines were part of their arsenal.
Many generals hired Ninja to spy on their rivals. Two of these were Takeda Shingen and his rival Uesugi Kenshin. Takeda’s spies used beacons to deliver their messages, while Uesugi’s Ninja were often disguised as itinerant doctors. Tokugawa Ieyasu, the famous general, also often resorted to Iga and Kōga Ninja.
Ninja Provinces and Their Rulers
The Kōga province was ruled by more than 50 different Ninja clans, while the Iga province was divided into three ancient families: the Hattori, the Momochi and the Fujibayashi.
The Momochi clan ruled the southern part of the province, the Hattori ruled the center, and the Fujibayashi clan ruled the northern part of the province. In addition, the Fujibayashi could still fall back on Ninja of the Kōga province.
Their supreme leaders were Momochi Sandayu, Hattori Hanzo, and Fujibayashi Nagato, all three of whom lived in the 16th century.
In order to confuse his enemies and to clarify his identity, Sandayu had three different houses, each with a wife and children.
If an area became too dangerous for him, he simply changed his place of residence and his identity.
The Mass Emergence of Schools
Cities, Roads and Areas
|No.||City, Street, Area|
|1||Edo (today Tōkyō)|
|yellow||Iga and Kōga area|
When the political and economic conditions became more unstable in the 14th century, many new Ryū were founded. Families were forced to swim against the tide when creative thinking and original action were the last resorts to ensure survival. Other Ryū were merely activated temporarily to aid a particular warlord, military force, or religious order in a specific matter. When these Ryū had fulfilled their task, they were dissolved again. Some styles tended to be localized, aligning with other Ninjutsu schools in that area for geopolitical reasons. Still others relied solely on the experience, knowledge, and wisdom accumulated by the clan’s founder during his lifetime.
The historically attested Japanese Ninjutsu Ryū varied greatly in size and importance. There were very small clans made up of a few family members and others made up of hundreds of Ninja.
List of Main Schools
The following list includes some of the historically most important Ninjutsu Ryū, along with their leaders, areas of operation, and military and political affiliations:
- The Nakagawa-Ryū had its operational area in the Aomori district. It was organized by Nakagawa Kohayato.
- The Haguro-Ryū had its heartland in the Yamagata district. It is said to have been developed by the warlike ascetics of Mount Haguro.
- The Uesugi-Ryū was developed by Usami Suruganokami Sadayuki (Niigata District) for Uesugi Kenshin as a military espionage organization.
- The Kaji-Ryū was founded by Kaji Ominokami Kagehide, a disciple of the founder of the Uesugi-Ryū, but he also had connections to the fathers of the Hattori-Ryū (Iga province).
- The Matsumoto-Ryū operated in the Tochigi district.
- The Matsuda Ryū operated in the province of Ibazaki.
- The Koyo-Ryū, Ninko-Ryū and Takeda-Ryū were founded by Takeda Shingen to work as agents. These Ryū made extensive use of spies disguised as wandering monks or traders.
- The Fuma Ninpo (Kanagawa District) was founded by Fuma Kotaro and specialized in guerrilla warfare.
- The Akiba-Ryū and Ichizen-Ryū (Aichi District) were founded by Hachisuka Koroku Masakatsu, a famous warrior of the area.
- The Mino-Ryū (Gifu district) was developed during the reign of Saito Dosan and included the Kurokawa Ninja group of the Kōga area.
- The Echizen-Ryū (Toyama district) was founded by Iga Ninja who managed to flee from Oda Nobunaga’s troops.
- The Yoshitsune-Ryū (Fukui District) was developed by Minamoto Yoshitsune. This Ryū was a mixture of Ise Saburo’s espionage methods and various yamabushi teachings.
- The Kōga-Ryū was a regional Ninjutsu tradition made up of more than fifty families.
- The Iga-Ryū was also a regional Ninjutsu tradition composed of several important families, e.g. the Hattori and Momochi clans.
- The Negoro-Ryū was founded by Suginobo Myosan, a firearms specialist. The Saiga-Ryū trained firearms and explosives specialists to become Specialists. The Natori-Ryū was founded by Natori Sanjuro Masatake, the author of the Shoninki Ninjutsu Reference Book. These Ryū, along with Kishu-Ryū Ninjutsu, had their ancestral home in Wakayama County.
- The Bizen-Ryū came from the Okayama district.
- The Fukushima-Ryū (District Shimane) was developed by Nojirijiro Jirouemon Narimasa.
- The Kuroda-Ryū (Fukuoka District) supported the Kuroda ruling family.
- The Nanban-Ryū operated in the Nagasaki district.
- The Satsuma Ninpo (Kagoshima District) supported the Shimazu ruling family.
Except for a few, these Ryū had become extinct long before the beginning of the Meji Era in 1868.