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Hierarchy Inside the Ninja Village

Updated on March 4, 2011

The social structure within the ninja community of Iga Province was as rigid as you would expect in medieval Japan.

The heads of samurai clans associated with ninja activity were called shonin and they sat at the top of the social hierarchy. The shonin could come in many shapes and sizes: they could be rich and powerful like Japanese daimyo, or simple village headmen living in more modest conditions.

If you have come across the names of Hattori Hanzo, Momochi Sandayu or Fujibayashi Nagato-no-kami, you have heard about a few of the more distinguished shonin of the Iga province and Koga area.

Ninja Ranks and Hierarchy

Below the shonin in rank were the chujin, or the clan's chief executive officers. They actually ran the family, arranging meetings, signing contracts and treaties, hiring out the services of the family's trained ninja warriors.

After the chujin came the lowly genin. They were the ninja sent out as mercenaries to complete the missions assigned to them by their hirer, often a Japanese warlord, or daimyo.

Ninja Village in Iga Province, with a disguised ninja in the foreground. Click to enlarge.
Ninja Village in Iga Province, with a disguised ninja in the foreground. Click to enlarge.

In the foreground of the above illustration is a ninja disguised as a yamabushi, a mountain monk, wearing the traditional pillbox hat and the white clothes with big pompoms. He is observing the village from a distance. The big horagai, or conch shell trumpet and shakujo, or rattle, completes the image.

  1. A simple Buddhist temple with a Shinto shrine and a cemetery.
  2. Subtle village defenses: a chain of smoke beacons on hilltops to warn of approaching enemy, a simple watchtower on the edge of the settlement.
  3. Within the walls the homes of the genin laid out on the outskirts among rice fields.
  4. The shonin's house in the center of the village surrounded by a maze of moat-like rice fields with narrow lanes in-between.

Traditional Layout of the Ninja Village

A traditional ninja village didn't look anything like the imaginary ninja residence at all. At first glance they would probably resemble a wealthy agricultural community in the average daimyo's territory. The big, yet indistinguishable difference between these and a ninja village could be found in the ways used to protect the community from threats from the outside.

These would include putting a series of smoke beacons on the surrounding hills to be able to receive notice of any assault planned against the village well in advance. Within the village walls the homes of the genin would surround the residence of the shonin located in the center of the ninja settlement.

The shonin's residence might be nothing more than a simple wooden farmhouse, but it would be engulfed in a labyrinth of rice fields with narrow paths acting as a moat when flooded. A series of steep earthen banks and a bamboo fence or prickly hedge would provide extra protection. There might also exist a bell tower as a means of alerting the villagers of impending danger.


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    • Haunty profile image

      Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary

      I'd like to say you're imagining things, but no. Actually I think it was probably even more important. Like... you don't respect the head of the clan and your own head might roll. :)

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 6 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      I'd imagine class destinction was as important as religion in this culture.;)