Iga Ueno Ninja Festival 伊賀上野 NINJA フェスタ is a 5 week event that is run by the city of Iga 伊賀市 in Mie prefecture 三重県 from April 1 to May 6 each year. When the suggestion came about to hire a car with a couple friends and drive down for the weekend I was more than keen to get my ninja on!
Departing in the wee hours of the morning we made the trip from Kobe to Iga (around 130km) in about 3 hours taking the extremely expensive toll roads and at times thinking we were going to die due to the ‘skilful’ driving of ‘Lady Wei’. Generally its crazy to drive in Japan due to the cost, however with 4 people in the car the split cost was comparable to what the train fare would have been and far easier since Iga is fairly inaka. Post arrival we were met up with another 20 or so JETs from across Kansai who had also been invited to participate in the days festivities, before being greeted by the Iga city JET who took us to the city hall where we would receive our ninja costumes for the day! Now I assure you although the ninja garb appears to be quite simple, each outfit was made up of 9 separate parts that needed to me meticulously put on in just the right way, lets just say thank god they had helper ninjas to dress the clueless gaijin 😄 After suiting up the city had organized a walking ninja tour for us, which included a stop at the Iga Ninja Museum 伊賀流忍者博物館. Dedicated to the history of the ninja and ninjutsu, it showcases a wide array of genuine ninja tools and weaponry, in addition it contains a model ninja village where we were lead around by female ninja who demonstrated all the secrets of the house that could be used in case of intruders, such as hidden weapons, secret doors and deadly traps! After the tour of the village concluded, our next stop was a live ninja show! Hilariously cheesy it featured shuriken throwing demonstrations and a number of mock ninja battles demonstrating the various ninja fighting techniques and weaponry. The best part being that with each fictional kick, punch or sword slash there was an accompanying ninja battle sound effect and often smoke bombs! ALL THE WINNING!
The afternoon we occupied with heading up to Iga Ueno Castle 伊賀上野城, a cute little castle perched upon a hill, its elegent design resulted in it often being refered to as White Phoenix Castle however it is a reconstruction of the original that was destroyed by a storm in the 16th century. Whilst up on the hill we decided to take some fun ninja battle photos 😄 To conclude the days festivities, we headed to the ninja café to sample some ‘ninja deserts’ with our fellow ALTs come ninja. The four of us decided upon the shinobi parfait 忍びパフェ, the café’s speciality which came with an edible shuriken 手裏剣 (throwing star). We were also meccha lucky to run into the actors into the actors from the ninja show outside of the café who posed to take some photos with us *^^* During the festival the entire city of Iga is filled with these ninja mannequins that are hidden everywhere you look. Finally although it was very convenient for us to drive since we saved a huge amount of time and headaches with transfers, I would have liked to had had the chance to ride the ‘ninja train’ LOOK HOW KAWAII IT IS!!! (and free for ninja to ride during the festival. If your ever in Kansai around April head down to Iga, its certainly worth the trip to the countryside to get to be ninja for a day!