December 6, 2017 1:30 pm JST

Ninja cafe teaches ways of the shadow warrior in central Tokyo

Swordsmanship, blade-throwing, ancient tales on the menu of 2-hour lesson

SHU MATSUDA, Nikkei staff writer

Visitors at Ninja Cafe Kunoichi learn to hold a Japanese sword and to pose photogenically from ninja master Sayaka Oguri.

TOKYO -- Like a stealth attack on a well-protected castle, Ninja Cafe Kunoichi appeared unexpectedly in Tokyo's busy Shibuya district in November. This reporter jumped at the chance of a two-hour 8,000 yen ($71.17) ninja experience it offered.

Passing through a wall-like door that rotated into the ninja space behind the cafe was a bit of a thrill. There, I found a tatami-floored area, or dojo, typical for practicing martial arts. I changed into a black ninja costume with red trim, provided for free.

Female ninja master Sayaka Oguri then began teaching me how to use a Japanese sword, or katana.

Female ninja are traditionally called kunoichi. Oguri, a professional, modern kunoichi, began learning Japanese arts and skills at the age of 2. She is now a licensed master who teaches techniques that can be used in real combat and self-defense. She gives ninja lessons twice a week.

You set the sword through the waist band on your left-hand side, then draw it with your right hand while holding the sheath with your left. A video helps you get the pose right.

"All right, that's easy," I told myself.

The most difficult part was returning the blade without looking down, using the blade's back edge to guide it. Ninja must always keep their eyes on their surroundings.

I learned the basic sword position of holding it raised to the right with both hands. The position of holding the blade almost flat above your head is effective in protecting yourself from sword attack from above.

I practiced drawing the sword, holding it and returning it to the sheath several times until I could perform the movements as quickly and smoothly as the instructor.

The lesson moved on to throwing shuriken, palm-size blades, a typical ninja weapon. The technique is similar to throwing darts. We played a game of shooting at targets at a distance of two meters -- nine panels hung within a square frame, similar to a baseball pitching game popular on Japanese TV shows.

Each person had 10 throws. I shot out seven of nine panels, but was not satisfied and had another go. The next time I hit eight of nine -- a record, according to the shop.

Ninja in the city

We had a little spare time, so I learned some self-defense techniques, such as escaping from a wrist hold. The instructor also explained some ninja tales.

I was excited by the unusual but refreshing experience of touching the spirit of highly trained shadow people from centuries past in busy central Tokyo.

At the end of the lesson, there was time to take some photos and video. While renting the costume is free, other accessories which add to the authentic ninja look, such as masks and long gloves, cost extra, starting at 500 yen.

The cafe space offers ninja-themed food and sweets, as well as sake and other alcoholic drinks, and soft drinks.

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