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February 08, 2011

The 1989 All Japan Ninja Championships

[This is actually a cut-and-paste from a photo album I posted in Facebook; it seemed worth posting here also. I'm checking if I can just link directly to the pictures on Facebook.]

In 1989 I worked in Osaka for three months, and while I was there I attended something called the "All Japan Ninja Championship". I was telling my kids this and they were curious about it, so I dug up some pictures I had taken.

This is a all the contestants lined up before the competition. I don't know exactly what that sign says, but the second and third Kanji are "Nippon" (Japan), and the fourth and fifth are "Ninja", so I assume it says something along the lines of "All Japan Ninja Championships". [Later comment: According to babelfish the first Kanji does mean "All", and the next 3 Kanji after "Nippon" and "Ninja" do in fact mean "Championship". The one after that means "big" by itself, and I think the next one means "combine", but I don't know what they mean together (babelfish just translates them back as "large combination").]

Here they are throwing shuriken (throwing stars) at targets. Although they dressed like ninjas, don't kid yourself that there is actually a secret society in modern Japan; or if there is, it wasn't this crew.

This is the "jump over a wall" part. I have some recollection that the middle part of the wall could be raised up gradually, so the event proceeded like a high-jump competition, based on the highest level that each contestant could clear.

Here we see our heroes running along a narrow plank. Note the modern footwear! Most of them wouldn't have lasted five minutes in the Tokugawa shogunate.

I remember this guy, with bib number 1, begin the closest to having actual ninja skills. At least he had authentic ninja shoes.

This is an event that simulates storming a castle. The event was held in a small town called Koga, which evidently has all this stuff lying around.

Storming the castle phase 2. According to Wikipedia there are three towns named Koga in Japan; this was the one in Shiga Prefecture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C5%8Dka,_Shiga. Getting to Koga required taking a train towards Nagoya and then getting off somewhere in the middle and changing to another train going to Koga, which was just about the limits of my self-navigation skills in Japan.

Nearing the top of the "castle". I had planned out my trip ahead of time with the help of someone who spoke Japanese, but when I got to the station where I had to change trains, there was a train pulling away on the designated track. I went up to a conductor and said "Koga?" in a despairing voice, luckily he knew the English word "next", so with a little gesturing he was able to explain that I had NOT missed my train.

Another shot of the wall they had to climb (the camera was crooked, not the wall). It turns out that Koga (aka Koka) is the home of "infamous ninja leader Mochizuki Izumonokami's former estate", as described on this page: http://www.city.koka.shiga.jp/english/sightsee/sightsee_ninja.htm. I assume that is where the event was held.

The trick here is to cross a shallow pond on pieces of plywood floating on the water. If you go fast enough, you don't sink. Note that this ninja is actually a ninjette.

Ninja style! The whole thing was a little hokey (if you hadn't noticed). Also my "110" camera was a little lame (if you hadn't noticed).

I didn't have a memory of what was going on here, but then I found this article http://www.comicscommunity.com/boards/pop/?read=23021 which clearly describes exactly the same event, 14 years later (I was there in the fall, so the October timing lines up). This, then, would be the "Water Spider River Crossing".

According to the article this event was a relay. That made me recall that the guy on the right is carrying that white T-shaped object on his back to simulate carrying somebody; I think the last person on the relay team had to do that.

Water Spider fail. The article explained that those donut-shaped things actually float, and the competitors try to pole their way across. It also says that Moat Wall Climbing and Castle Wall Climbing, seen in earlier photos, were separate events, which I don't doubt. Although it doesn't mention the wall hurdle and the plank walk events. Maybe they were demonstration sports that didn't catch on.

This is an American couple I met there. Their last name, I believe, was Hourigan; he was a US government scientist of some sort. They had heard about the event the same way I had, by reading a short blurb in "Time" magazine that mentioned the event, the data, and the location, and made it sound a lot more mysterious (and talent-laden) than it actually was.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:40 PM | Comments (4173)