By Valerie Taylor | 31 March 2018
Japan is an astounding country, rich with a culture that has spanned hundreds of centuries. The Japanese have been training both mind and body to complete impossible feats since before karate was a worldwide phenomenon.
Nothing has been more enthralling than the idea of shinobi, or ninja, the masters of espionage and deception. While ninjutsu was a forgotten art for many years, it’s recently been making waves throughout Japan. More and more ninjas have begun to reach out to the general population.
A Brief History of Shinobi
Ninjas have been poorly represented in pop culture. The art of the ninja can most accurately be described as the art of running away. Many of the tools that ninjas utilize, such as shuriken, staves, swords, and kunai knives are used defensively. The ninja is trained to always look for weak points in their opponent and exploit them.
For example, if a ninja was at a restaurant and was caught spying on a group of soldiers, he would take whatever utensil he had—even the scorching hot ramen broth—and use it as a distraction. If the ninja was being carried, he would use shuriken to further debilitate the attacks. Lastly, if it came to a situation where blades were crossed, the ninja would use intense focus to power through his opponents and escape.
The Influence of Ninjutsu in Modern Times
The ninja might have been forgotten for a short duration, but the ninja spirit, just like that of the samurai, has never truly vanished. In fact, there are living ninjas working in Japan right this instant—though it probably is’t how you’d imagine.
Ninjas are permeate social media, performing arts, tourism, and even food. Yes, in Japan, ninjas pop up in the most unlikely of places. Next time you find yourself in Japan training, you need to check out a ninja-themed restaurant.
Even finding the entrance to Ninja Akasaka is tricky. Cloaked just like its namesake, the door doesn’t stand out in the nighttime and feels extremely secretive. Once you find the entrance, you’ll be greeted by a guide dressed in traditional ninja attire, who will lead you towards ‘the Village.’ As you move towards the Village, you go through a number of sliding doors and winding stairwells—reminiscent of ninja houses from the old times.
For tall people, this “Labyrinth” section can become quite the workout, since the space is narrow and the ceiling is low.
In fact, the interior of Ninja Asakusa is so historically accurate in its construction, that the restaurant has become the setting for many international movies that take place in Edo-period Japan. Also, this famous location has been visited by many stars, including Steven Spielberg and Lady Gaga.
Once you reach your table, the ninja guide disappears. All the food at the restaurant is ninja-themed, such as shredded vegetables salad, black fried chicken, shuriken blade grissini with foie gras dip, shuriken-shaped tofu and crackers and so on. You might be wondering, “How is any of this ninja-themed?”
Aside from the shapes of shuriken and ninja swords, the food is nutritionally balanced. Ninjas of the past used to make their own herbal supplements, lived generally off the land, and were always thinking in terms of nutritional density when they ate. They might not have had foie gras, though.
How to Find the Secret Entrance
The restaurant is relatively close to Akasaka-Mitsuke Station on either the Tokyo Metro Ginza or Marunouchi line. Take the Sotobori-dori exit then walk slightly north. The entrance is on the bottom floor of the Akasaka Tokyu Plaza building. The complete address is Akasaka Tokyu Plaza 1F, 2-14-3 Nagatacho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. Now that you know the address, good luck finding the entrance! Hint: It’s black and has a “ninja” sign.
Though there are a number of hands-on ninja experiences to try in Japan, getting a true “taste” of ninjutsu starts with incredible food and entertainment. In other words, if you ever wanted to try your hand at being a ninja, there is nothing stopping you. Okay, well, maybe the correct way to use chopsticks—but don’t let that stop you from tasting Japan’s ninja-themed goodness.
Have you visited Ninja Asakusa? What was your experience? Are you holding a secret ninja spot close to your vest why not share?