Ninja of Iga and Kōga 

Ninja and samurai warriors of Japan have held endless fascination for many. Their weaponry and combat tactics are still being used today.

The main difference between a ninja and a samurai is that the latter observes the bushido (way of the warrior) with its strict rules about honor and combat. Ninja (忍者) or shinobi (忍び) were the secret agents of Japan. Both the ninja and samurai were employed by powerful Japanese clans to defend their lands.These specially trained spies or mercenaries resorted in unorthodox methods in warfare to gain an advantage or to win. The ninja and samurai are iconic Japanese symbols for defense and attack forces.

Ninja illustration.

The cities of Iga and Kōga were known to produce the most skilled and well-trained ninja specializing in unconventional warfare, since the 11th century. Both cities had the ideal rough terrain for hiding. Warlords would specifically seek the aid of ninja from Iga and Kōga during the warring states period in the 15th and 16th century. These ninja were unmatched mercenaries who conquered castles and were victorious in many battles.

Kōka-ryū (“School of Kōka” or “Kōga”) is a hypernym for a set of traditions of ninjutsu (strategy and tactics of unconventional warfare practiced by ninja), originating from the region of Kōka.

Ninja in training. | go.biwako

The samurai of the Kōka-ryū were known as “Kōka-no-mono”, headed by the Rokkaku clan. They built a mighty army with Kannonji Castle as a base. The clan ignored the dictates of the shogunate and lived under their own rules. Ashikaga Yoshihisa, along with his army that supported the government and the help of other daimyōs from surrounding areas, tried to stop Rokkaku Masayori, Rokkaku Takayori, and other loyal Kōka samurai. The rebelling ninja used their geographical advantage and various surprise attacks against Ashikaga’s forces.

Iga-ryū (“the Iga School”), is another umbrella term for Japanese guerrilla warfare practiced by ninja from the Iga region.

Kōka Ninja Village, Japan. | go.biwako

Iga was divided into local jizamurai (lords of smaller rural domains) regions embroiled in guerrilla warfare for which Iga warriors developed specialized skills and tactics. When Ashikaga Yoshihisa attacked Rokkaku Takayori, both ninja from Iga and Koga fought side by side against the shogun’s attack. Iga ninja were specially trained in concealment, escape, medicine, disguise, explosives, and poisons as well as other conventional forms of warfare.

The elusive and effective style of warfare of the Iga and Kōka ninja became well-known throughout the whole country and in Japan’s history. Kōka Ninja Village is part of Kōka’s heritage being home to the famous ninja clans. It offers several activities that test anyone’s ninja skills. It’s a great place to visit for ninja enthusiasts and for anyone curious about the lives of these intriguing warriors.