Experience the deep history and culture of Iga on a ninja-themed tour of fun activities

Experience the deep history and culture of Iga on a ninja-themed tour of fun activities

One of the most popular historical characters in Japan is the mysterious ninja. Many foreign visitors have a strong desire to seek out experiences that can offer a glimpse into the secretive world of the famous spies of feudal Japan. A trip to Iga in the western valley of Mie Prefecture is a great way to learn more about the ninja and there are many fun activities that can be packed into a short visit. The area is famous for being the birthplace of the ninja and home to their ancient training grounds in the forests outside of the city. In addition to all of the ninja themed attractions in the area, visitors can also enjoy the rich taste of Iga Beef and the natural beauty of Mie. There are many spectacular waterfalls and the autumn leaves are breathtaking if you come in the right season.

Written by Nathan Raymond
About the author:
I live in Minokamo, Gifu with my family. I have dedicated my life to understanding Japan so I can connect others to it. I have been interested in ninja since I was a boy in America and I went to Iga to learn all I could about their history and training methods so I could share that information with others who have similar interests.

Akame 48 waterfalls

Caption: Throwing ninja stars in the forest allowed my imagination to run free.

I started my day at Akame 48 Waterfalls where ninja trained in the mountains during feudal times in Japan. I wanted to see how the skilled spies prepared for their missions and try some similar activities to find out if I could be a ninja. 

The ninja training experience at Akame 48 Waterfalls is a perfect place to jump right in and start having a good time. As soon as I arrived, the staff members were helpful and friendly guides on my journey into the ancient world of the ninja.

Caption: I had to maintain my focus as I moved along the narrow ledge

The first activity was using throwing stars to try and hit some targets. When I was young, my image of ninja was influenced by the martial arts movies that were popular in America and this weapon was the most common one seen in those films. It was difficult to throw the stars accurately at first, but I had a lot of fun practicing and improving my aim.

After the throwing star activity, there were many other challenges to be faced in the forest. My guide was supportive and gave me the insight I needed to complete each stage of my training. I learned to move quietly in tight spaces, keep my balance while climbing ropes and use various other traditional weapons.

Caption: To clear each obstacle, I had to be prepared with a plan.

When I had finished the training course, my interest in ninja culture and my appreciation of their skills was stronger than ever. It had been an unforgettable experience to test myself in ways that were similar to the ancient methods of the mysterious spies. To have this experience in the same forests where actual ninja trained in feudal times made it even more special.

Iga ninja museum

Caption: The entrance of the museum is welcoming and the courtyard is used for performances. 

The next stop on my ninja tour was the Iga Ninja Museum, which contains an extensive collection of authentic ninja items that would delight any fan of Japanese culture. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the museum, but I was sure that I would get to see some ninja related items for the first time.

As soon as I arrived, I knew it was going to be a great experience. The exterior of the museum looked very nice and there was a large courtyard that I later learned is used for performances of ninja skills. 

Caption: The displays are well organized and informative.

Once I entered the museum, I was immediately impressed by how modern and well designed the displays were. The collection of artifacts is extensive and I was able to see many weapons and other items that were new to me. 

Each item on display had a detailed description that made it easy to understand its significance and history. It was clear that the museum staff had taken great care to ensure that visitors learn as much as possible about the ninja.

As with all historical figures that become part of pop culture, there are some misconceptions about ninja and their role in feudal Japan. The descriptions on the displays did a very good job of setting the record straight and telling the honest history of the ninja for visitors looking for the real story. It was a true learning experience for me and I enjoyed expanding my knowledge while seeing all of the interesting items.

Caption: The landscape models gave me a view into feudal Japan.

The museum used detailed models of how land and buildings were organized and designed in feudal times for multi-purpose use. Some consideration was given to a strategy of protection in the event of an attack. Farms and villas often also provided escape routes for inhabitants if a situation required a fast get away.

As spies, the ninja’s primary purpose was to traffic in information and the museum’s displays show how far people are willing to go to get it. Almost all of a ninja’s activities went on in the background of everyday life and it was very interesting to learn more about how that was possible. My stop at the Iga Ninja Museum was an enlightening and engaging experience.

Iga Ueno City hotel

Caption: The ninja theme is present in many parts of the hotel.

For my accommodation, I had decided to continue with the ninja theme of my trip by staying at the Iga Ueno City Hotel. This hotel features many ninja symbols and designs that help to create a fun and interesting experience.

Everywhere I looked in the hotel, I found references to and images of ninja on banners, curtains, wallpaper and even the toilet paper. It was a truly unique stay in world surrounded by the ninja theme and it was a perfect place to lay my head for the night in Iga.

Caption: My room had many unique design features and it was clean and comfortable.

When I first entered my ninja themed room, I was amazed by the incredible detail and commitment to the ninja. There were also many books about ninja in the room for me to read and it was a very comfortable and cozy space. A lot of effort had been made to create a fun hotel experience, but I was also impressed by the luxury of my room. I was looking forward to getting a good sleep after an active day of ninja training and walking around.

Caption: This note in my room said, “Welcome to the city of ninja. Here is a ninja star for you to take home.”

I had a wonderful sleep and woke up to the ninja on the wall of my room greeting me to start the day. I was ready to get going and enjoyed using the clean and modern facilities in my room to prepare for another interesting day in Iga. Once I was ready to check out, I gathered my bags and made my way to the hotel lobby.

Caption: The lobby was filled with ninja themed souvenirs for sale.

When I reached the lobby, I took some time to check out all of the cool souvenirs that were available for guests to purchase. There were many different items that would make great keepsakes and gifts for friends or family members. I picked out a few items to take home with me and went to the front desk to finish my stay at the Iga Ueno City Hotel.

Caption: The ninja backdrop in the lobby is perfect for taking photos.

It had been the perfect accommodation for a ninja enthusiast like me and I was glad that I had chosen to keep every experience on my trip connected to the theme. One of the things I love about Japan is the attention to detail that is put into places like the Iga Ueno City Hotel to make sure that guests have a special experience. I would recommend this hotel to anyone looking for a comfortable overnight stay in Iga.

Katayaki at Ozawa Confectionery

The final stop on my ninja tour of Iga was the Ozawa Confectionary where they make the famous Iga souvenir snack called katayaki, which translates to English as “hard baked cookies”. In fact, these sweet hand-made treats are considered to be the hardest cookies in all of Japan.

Katayaki are made from flour and sugar and are said to have been used in feudal times as an emergency snack by ninja because they can last for a long time on a journey. Because the cookies 

Caption: The confectionery is a finely tuned operation.

The current owner’s family started the Ozawa Confectionery in 1965 and he proudly carries on the family tradition. There are so many family businesses like this in Japan and I appreciate how these connections to the past keep traditions alive. Even though baking technology has evolved, all of the katayaki are still made by hand at Ozawa Confectionery using the methods and techniques passed down from each preceding generation of family members.

Caption: The katayaki are still made using traditional methods to ensure a quality product.

As I watched everyone focusing on their tasks, I could sense the pride and craftsmanship that they took in making around 7,000 cookies every day. It was impressive to see everyone working so hard and with a common purpose of making a product that stays true to the past and tradition. 

After I had seen where and how the katayaki are made, it was time for the best part of my visit. I wanted to try the hardest cookie in Japan. I used one of the small wooden mallets to crack the hard little snack and put a piece in my mouth to savor it. The flavor was sweet and I resisted the temptation to bite down on it and risk damaging my teeth.

I thanked the owner and his staff for all of their warm hospitality and told them that I was sure my family would enjoy their products. Visiting the Ozawa Confectionery and eating a traditional ninja snack was a wonderful way to finish my visit to Iga. I said my goodbyes and was off to the train station to head back home with many memories to cherish.

Caption: I thanked my host at Ozawa Confectionery for a memorable experience.

It was an incredible visit to Iga and my interest in ninja and feudal Japan is stronger than ever. My ninja training at Akame 48 allowed me to move my body and let my imagination whisk me back in time to test my skills in a fun way. The Iga Ninja Museum had increased my knowledge of ninja culture and helped to give me a more realistic idea of how they operated. After all of that activity, I enjoyed a relaxing night to refresh in a ninja themed room at the Iga Ueno City Hotel surrounded by the imagery of the secretive spies. It was a pleasure to see the Ozawa Confectionery in action and eat some special ninja cookies that are famous Iga souvenirs. It had been an all-out ninja adventure that can only be experienced in the western valley of Mie Prefecture.

Tourist attractions covered by this article