Specialised Ninja Equipment and Gear
The ninja could use a diverse array of specialized weapons and equipment under appropriate circumstances. The majority of these ninja tools appear in Bansen Shukai, a famed seventeenth-century ninja manual.
Although, specialized ninja gear could include a variety of different tools serving different purposes, our nightly shadows rarely brought everything with them on a mission. Depending on the difficulty, length, nature and, of course, objective of the ninja's mission, he packed his bag with ninja equipment accordingly.
This hub is about specialized ninja equipment. For essential ninja gear, such as weapons and containers, see my hub on standard ninja tools and equipment. For more on the ninja uniform, please, refer to Ninja Costumes and Outfit.
First, let's examine the traditional ninja equipment used when attacking a castle under the secrecy of darkness.
Ninja Equipment for Getting across the Moat
In order to cross the ditch or moat around the medieval Japanese castle, a ninja might want to utilize his hooked rope to cross the moat hand-over-hand, or, depending on the width of the ditch, employ a simple flotation device and paddle across the water.
This might look like overkill, because, even in medieval Japan, the simplest way to cross a small body of water was to swim across it, and ninja, just like every-day samurai, were expected to swim well. They could even use their weapons while wading through water, because their training included this exercise.
Nevertheless, the ninja might not want to get himself and his ninja gear wet, because on occasion explosives might play an active part in the ninja's plans and he, therefore, could not risk getting the gunpowder wet. Instead, he would use a ninja technique to cross the moat, rather than his swimming skill.
In Bansen Shukai, we can see one of the most famous ninja tools, the mizugumo, or wooden water shoes, which actually look rather unstable. Bansen Shukai also has illustrations for pre-constructed ninja boats. On the other hand, if a team of ninja were involved in an operation, one of them could tread across the moat to help his mates rig up a simple rope ladder.
Ninja Gear for Climbing the Castle Wall
Once on the castle's side of the moat, the ninja had to face the challenge of climbing the wall. In some cases the stone walls of medieval Japanese castles and fortresses were deeply curved and dotted with many gaps making it easy for the ninja to scale them without the extra effort of using any type of ninja gear. Other times, mechanical devices had to be used.
Beyond the afore-mentioned standard hooked rope, for more challenging ascents, the ninja might want to use some sort of portable ladder. This could be an ordinary rope ladder with strong rungs of wood and a bulky hook at the top.
A cunning version of this was constructed of a series of short bamboo sections with a rope threaded through each section, alternating with pieces threaded across the middle and through their entire length. A hook was joined to the top, and then the entire length of the rope was safely tightened resulting in a light-weight contraption of a ladder. On the feet he ninja might wear spiked scaling equipment quite like crampons.
Other Ninja Gear for Wall-Climbing
The kurorokagi (1) was a metal climbing device consisting of a strong iron hook mounted on a wooden handle. Its purpose was to aid scaling walls. It acted as an extension to the hand, and it was also used to provide steps during a descent.
The hokode (7), or hand claws, were used to help a ninja scale a wall, but it could also act as melee weapon in a fist fight.
The tekagi (8), or knuckle dusters, were originally designed for wall-climbing purposes, but they were soon gaining ground as fighting ninja equipment.
Once on top of the stone base of the Castle wall, the ninja reached the white plaster walls, sometimes simple outer structures decorated by gun and arrow ports, other times elaborate superstructures with towers mounted on them.
The surfaces of these outer walls were commonly protected with tiles, making it difficult for the ninja to climb them.
Instead, he could force his way into a defended spots, where the walls were made on a wattle and daub core and plastered over, so a ninja could employ his kunai (5), a cross between a broad bladed knife and a paint scraper, to cut and carve and eventually make a hole through which he could get inside.
Ninja Explosives and Firearms
Ninja were familiar with a number of explosives and firearms of mainly Chinese origins.
One of them was soft-cased bombs constructed round a paper or wicker carton, devised to emit smoke or poisonous gas, or to simply alarm an enemy by its loud explosion.
These bombs could be devised to take out single or multiple enemies by the use of iron fragments, broken pottery or even dried human faeces.
Another type of explosive commonly employed by ninja was hard-cased bombs of iron or pottery.
These could inflict fatal damage in the manner of a fragmentation bomb, and larger versions would have had enough power to bust a hole into the plaster walls of a fortress.
Smaller models could be thrown by hand, in the manner of hand grenades. They would be set on fire with a tinderbox or a smouldering cord carried in waterproof lacquered containers.
Traditional Martial Arts Weapons
Ninja also utilized traditional martial arts weapons originating from agricultural implements, such as the kusari gama or shinobi gama (6), a hybrid of a sickle and a chain.
Having a weight on both ends, the chain could be flung to stop an enemy in flight or even a pursuer. The ninja would then knock him off his feet and finish him off with the sickle blade.
Ninja Tools for Getting past Guards and into inner Buildings
Ninja Ear Trumpets
The buildings located within the walls of a medieval Japanese fortress were most often made of wood, including the daimyo's yashiki, or mansion. The daimyo's mansion was a palatial structure added to the structure of the keep and most often used for entertaining purposes.
This place would be probably the most heavily guarded area within the castle. The ninja would use saoto hikigane (2), portable listening devices like ear trumpets, to eavesdrop conversations and learn the movement patterns of guards.
The ninja would usually enter such wooden buildings by utilizing some sort of saw. The hamagari, for instance, was a long thin saw with a myriad of very sharp teeth mounted on a folding iron shaft similar to a penknife. It was a devastating weapon when it came to getting wooden structures out of the way.
Alternatively, using tsubokiri (3), the ninja could carve small gaps between the planking and use a two-pronged iron fork to extend their size to big enough for the insertion of a thin leaf-shaped saw, or shikoro (4), with small teeth that, in turn, would enlarge the hole enough for the ninja to get inside.
Ninja Bow and Arrows
Ninja were trained to be masters of bow and arrow skills. Ninja bows were usually smaller versions of samurai longbows in order to be carried more conveniently.