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Media Release

For Immediate Release | March 13, 2019

Unmasking the Ninja

The Japan Foundation, Sydney presents Unmasking the Ninja, a talk event that sheds light on historically accurate truths about ninja—ones often overshadowed by embellished portrayals in modern pop culture. The free event will be held in Sydney on March 27 and 29 and in Canberra on March 28.

The ninja, a sleuthing assassin clad in all black, is a figure that has fascinated the world and ignited the imaginations of creatives. Making appearances in books and plays since 1700s Japan, the ninja character lives on as a hero in pop culture; as seen in the James Bond film, You Only Live Twice, popular American comic series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Japanese manga publication, Naruto.

However, these fanciful interpretations have removed ninja from their historical realities. In Japan, ninja are also referred to as ‘shinobi’ (忍び; meaning “to sneak”) among other names. As the alternative name suggests, a ninja’s core objective is to remain inconspicuous, generally by blending into the crowd. More often than not, they dressed like farmers. Ninja were first and foremost spies and informants. Their skilful subtlety meant that they were well-placed to conduct espionage and sabotage, and when the situation calls for it, assassination.

In a talk, researchers Yuji Yamada and Katsuya Yoshimaru from Japan’s International Ninja Research Center will share their expertise on ninja, from origins and historical roles of ninja through to the development of ninjutsu, the art of the ninja which encompasses combat techniques, philosophy and livelihood. Referencing iconic films, the talk will also explore representations of ninja in pop culture and wrap up with a brief demonstration of ninjutsu by the “last true ninja”, Jinichi Kawakami.

Unmasking the Ninja is presented by The Japan Foundation, Sydney in partnership with the International Ninja Research Center, Mie University. The Canberra talk in is presented in collaboration with Australian National University (ANU), ANU Japan Club and Za Kabuki Club.

About the event


Yuji Yamada is Professor of the History of Ancient and Medieval Japanese Belief Systems, Faculty of Humanities, Law and Economics, Mie Universty, Japan. He graduated from the Department of History, Faculty of Literature, Kyoto University in 1991 and received his PhD degree from the University of Tsukuba in 1998. His research draws knowledge from ancient texts known as ‘Ninjutsu Manuals’ which discuss a large scope of topics from attitudes and techniques through to diet and medicine.

Prof Yamada is also interested in restoring knowledge recorded in the manuals and applying it in contemporary life. Aside from ninja and ninjutsu, he research also covers religion and Japanese historical culture.


Katsuya Yoshimaru gained his Doctorate of Literature from the University of Tokyo (in the Humanities and Social Studies Department of Japanese Cultural Studies) in 2007. Currently he is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Humanities at Mie University. Specialising in Japanese modern literature, Katsuya is interested in the popularisation of ninja in books and theatre and the changing portrayal of ninja from villain in the Edo period (1603-1868) to hero in the Taisho period (1912─1926). He has also published numerous books and articles on ninja and ninjutsu.


Jinichi Kawakami was born in 1949 and since the age of six, has studied Koga Style (Koga-ryu), the art of the ninja. He is the head of Koga Shonobi No Den and is regarded as the last expert of the art of the ninja in the contemporary world. He opened his study centre in his hometown located in Fukui prefecture, and instructs martial arts and skills based on the theories of traditional Koga and Iga styles for modern day people to apply to their daily lives. Currently he is an honourable director of the Ninja Museum of Igaryu and a specially appointed professor of the Science of Ninjutsu at Mie University to research ninjutsu at the university’s research cooperation centre. He has been featured by BBC and has conducted a TEDxBermuda talk.


The International Ninja Research Center is the centre for research on ninja studies established by Mie University. Founded in 2017, the centre promotes educational activities and conducts research related to ninja, primarily focusing on the Iga region, and disseminates research results inside and outside of Japan, thereby contributing to the revitalisation of the Iga region.

The centre is currently compiling a database of historical sources connected to the ninja and conducting research on these sources. As part of their study, they collaborate with scientists to conduct experiments to test the efficacy of recreated items as described in ancient ninja manuals.

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Sydney Talks

Wednesday, March 27
Friday, March 29
(Both talks contain the same content.)

6:30pm – 8pm
Doors open 30 mins prior to start.


The Japan Foundation, Sydney
Level 4, Central Park
28 Broadway, Chippendale NSW 2008

Canberra Talk

Thursday, March 28 | 6pm – 7:30pm

Doors open 30 mins prior to start.


The Australian National University
Acton Theatre, JG Crawford Building
132 Lennox Crossing
Acton ACT 2600


Free admission
Limited capacity; bookings required

Media Enquiries

Jessica Chow
(02) 8239 0055

General Enquiries

(02) 8239 0055

Presented by

In partnership with

Canberra partners


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