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How to be a Ninja in Disguise

Updated on January 31, 2011

Disguise and deception were the primary survival tools of a ninja. How to be a survivor as an undercover ninja depended on what kind of mission you were executing. As evidenced by the earliest accounts of ninja activities, different disguises suited different situations, and situations in medieval Japan could vary greatly.

Disguised as a Komuso, or Zen Buddhist Monk

The ninja was often required to travel about on the enemy's land for extensive periods of time observing the deployment of troops, their composition end equipment, the defensive capabilities of enemy castles, etc.

In such cases, it was best to go undercover as a monk, and this couldn't have been done any better than by assuming the role of a komuso, a Zen Buddhist monk who played musical instruments, often the flute, and wore huge bags or baskets over his head.

Apart from providing musical entertainment, they were not doing much at all, but their usually routine of bagging for food on the roads of Japan near or inside towns, military camps and castles.

Komuso Monk. Their face is covered by the basket.
Komuso Monk. Their face is covered by the basket.
Yamabushi Monk. Beware! May be a Ninja.
Yamabushi Monk. Beware! May be a Ninja.
Saraguka Dancer. Face covered by Mask.
Saraguka Dancer. Face covered by Mask.

How to be a Ninja Spy

Undercover as a Yamabushi, or Mountain Monk

In full knowledge of how to be a master of pretense, a ninja was in possession of a diverse repertoire of techniques to act out different roles. He didn't always masquerade himself as a komuso.

On missions when the ninja's primary objective was to pay a short visit to a friendly ally and perhaps deliver a message to him, the safest way to get to his destination was by dressing up and acting like an itinerant yamabushi, or mountain monks. These appeared also regularly on the highways of Japan, and it was not uncommon that yamabushi were invited into people's houses to deliver prayers and provide blessings.

Masquerading as Sarugaka Dancer, Musician or Puppeteer

If a ninja had to spy on a daimyo's activity, military or otherwise, from within close proximity to him, the most common disguise technique was to set oneself up as a strolling player, such as a sarugaku dancer or puppeteer. This way the ninja could enter the daimyo's town, sometimes even his castle, without a considerable chance of detection.

On occasions like this, the ninja would be searched for weapons, but since their objective was not to kill, but to gather intelligence about what was going on around the enemy lord, this made little to no difference; not to mention the fact that the ninja could use his musical instruments as weapons or hide actual weapons in them.

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No comment.

How to be a Ninja and Survive

Daimyo, notable samurai leaders, emissaries, army commanders, pretty much everyone, but perhaps the new batch of Christian missionary priests form Portugal, was well aware of the tactics the ninja employed to infiltrate, spy and even kill.

Therefore, even a hubble Buddhist monk begging for provisions on the Japanese streets might have been be a ninja. In this climate of suspition and paranoid fear coupled with the possibility of treason, you can imagine how difficult it was to be a ninja and stay alive.

Komuso Monk and Saraguka Dancer in one Video


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