1-Day Itinerary: Experience Ninja History and Culture in Iga

1-Day Itinerary: Experience Ninja History and Culture in Iga

Iga is a former castle town known for its rich history, including its association with the famous Iga-ryu ninja clans. Since ancient times, it has been called Iga no Kuni, which means “The Land of Iga”. The city is home to numerous attractions related to ninja history and culture. Most of the popular tourist attractions such as the Iga-ryu Ninja Museum, Iga Ueno Castle and the Danjiri Museum can be found around Ueno Park, once the grounds of Iga Ueno Castle. Other attractions are only a short walk from Ueno Park, making the city a compact and easy place to explore on foot. The following route is recommended for visitors looking to spend a day in interesting Iga.

Written by John Asano

-Table of Contents-

・Danjiri Museum
・Ueno Tenjingu Shrine
・Lunch at Nikaku Shokudo
・Iga-ryu Ninja Museum
・Iga Ueno Castle
・Kumi no Sato
・Katayaki Cookies
・How to Get There
・Wrap Up

Danjiri Museum

Danjiri Museum

Outside the Danjiri Museum

Start your day of sightseeing in Iga at the Danjiri Museum located only a short 5-minute walk northeast of Uenoshi Station. This fascinating museum is dedicated to the festival floats of the Ueno Tenjin Festival. During the festival, which is held annually for three days, on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday preceding October 25, nine exquisitely decorated danjiri floats are paraded around the town to the accompaniment of flutes and drums. Three danjiri festival floats are permanently displayed in the museum along with life-sized figures, recreating the festival’s amazing atmosphere.  

Feel the atmosphere of the Ueno Tenjin Festival at the museum 

The festival is also home to a procession of around a hundred demons, which is a rarity in Japan. Visitors can see some of the demon costumes in the exhibition room. I found the various facial expressions of the demons particularly frightening.   

Some of the scary demons at the museum 

Visitors can also transform themselves into a ninja at the Danjiri Museum. This should be your first stop to change into your ninja costume ready to go out for a stroll around the town and a day of sightseeing. This ninja costume service is available for ¥1500 per costume from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.  

I was glad they had a short-sleeved ninja costume for summer, as Iga can get pretty hot during the warmer months. The costumes are available for rent in several colors depending on size. Of course, I had to go with the traditional black of the shadow warriors.   

Decked out in my summer ninja costume 

Ueno Tenjingu Shrine

An 8-minute walk from the Danjiri Museum is Ueno Tenjingu Shrine, also known as Sugawara Shrine. This Shinto shrine is dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, the god of learning and is affectionately called Tenjin-san by the local residents.   

The main shrine gate of Ueno Tenjingu Shrine 

The Ueno Tenjin Festival, which has a history of over 400 years, is dedicated to this shrine every October. The festival is said to be one of the three major autumn festivals of the Kansai region of Japan.  

Cows are believed to be divine messengers of the shrine gods  

Lunch at Nikaku Shokudo

Discover one of the hidden secrets of the ninja city, Iga Beef at Nikaku Shokudo. Iga is known by the locals for its tasty cuisine which includes Iga Beef, a type of wagyu. This holy grail to ninja is just a 5-minute walk back to the Danjiri Museum from the shrine.  

Some of the ninja décor at Nikaku Shokudo  

Entering the restaurant is a trick in itself with a revolving ninja wall panel acting as the door. Inside, the eatery is full of ninja paraphernalia including weapons and items related to ninja culture. I had the Iga Beef Steak Set which came with grilled Iga Beef, a variety of side dishes, wild rice and miso soup. A tasty lunch to refuel for the afternoon ahead.  

Iga Beef steak set at Nikaku Shokudo 

Iga-ryu Ninja Museum

This museum is small but worth the visit and it is only a short 10-minute walk from Nikaku Shokudo. It consists of a ninja residence, two exhibition halls showcasing ninja weaponry and important knowledge about the history of ninja in Iga, and a stage that hosts ninja shows.  

Outside the Iga Ninja Museum

Some of the exhibits inside the ninja museum

Ninja Trick House

Explore all the hidden traps and ingenuity of the Iga-ryu ninja at this ninja house. It may look ordinary from the outside but is full of surprises with revolving walls, trap doors and hidden compartments for stashing weapons. I was really surprised at how simple but effective everything was. Ninja could seemingly vanish into a secret hiding space, spy on intruders from within the walls, or escape without a trace. Definitely one of the highlights of Iga for me. The guided tours around the house, given on weekdays, will carefully show you all its little secrets and tricks in both Japanese and English. On weekends and holidays, visitors can experience these tricks hands-on.

Ninja fun inside the trick house 

Playing around with one of the many revolving walls 

Ninja Performance

Sit back and enjoy the entertaining and thrilling ninja performance from the Ashura group of Iga-ryu ninja. The combat show features a variety of ninja weapons including swords, shuriken throwing stars and kusarigama (sickle with chain). The weapons are real, the ninja skills are authentic, and the performance is not to be missed. I really enjoyed the humor in the show and the fact that they also dispelled some of the false information about ninjas. Ashura performs 2-4 times a day at the Ninja Museum.  

Enjoying the action-packed ninja show 

Throwing Shuriken

Experience one of the most well-known acts of the ninja, throwing shuriken (ninja stars). Here visitors can practice throwing shuriken at a target.  

Admission to the museum is ¥800 with a ¥500 entry fee for the ninja performance.  

Tourist attractions covered by this article