Unmasking the Myth
‘A valuable book that deftly steers through confusing and controversial materials. Even ninja apologists will feel that honour has been served. Turnbull admirably exposes and investigates the “careless retrospective interpretations” of the 20th century, but in doing so, manages to reclaim the historical shinobi.’
Jonathan Clements, Author of A Brief History of the Martial Arts
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The ninja is a well-known phenomenon in Japanese military culture, a fighter who is widely regarded as the world’s greatest exponent of secret warfare. He infiltrates castles, gathers vital intelligence and wields a deadly knife in the dark. His easily recognisable image is that of a secret agent or assassin who dresses all in black, possesses almost magical martial powers, and is capable of extraordinary feats of daring. He sells his skills on a mercenary basis and when in action his unique abilities include confusing his enemies by making mystical hand gestures or by sending sharp iron stars spinning towards them.
That is the popular view, but it is much exaggerated, as this exciting new book explains. The Ninja Unmasked is a revealing, fascinating and authoritative study of Japan’s famous secret warriors. Unlike all previous books on the subject the author, who is an expert in the subject, does not take the ninja for granted. Instead he examines the entire phenomenon in a critical manner, ranging from accounts of undercover operations during the age of Japan’s civil wars to the modern emergence of the superman ninja as a comic book character. The popular ninja image is shown to be the result of several influences that were combined to create the world’s greatest secret warrior.
Many well-known features of the ninja tradition such as the black clothes and the iron stars are shown to be complete inventions. One important feature of the book is the use of original Japanese sources, many of which have never been translated before. As well as unknown accounts of castle attacks, assassinations and espionage they include the last great ninja manual, which reveals the spiritual and religious ideals that were believed to lie behind the ninja’s arts. The book concludes with a detailed investigation of the ninja in popular culture up to the present day including movies, cartoons and theme parks.
Turnbull’s excellent case study of the ninja myth takes readers on a whistle stop tour of Japanese history. With references to Japanese linguistics, art and modern popular culture, Ninja: Unmasking the Myth is truly an entertaining and fascinating work. Above all, Turnbull breathes new life into the ninja and teaches us an important lesson: we should be critical and look deeper into the history of the things we blindly view as fact. Ninja: Unmasking the Myth really does, without a doubt, prove that the true history of the Ninja is just as interesting as the myths themselvesJapan Society Review
The result is a valuable book that deftly steers through confusing and controversial materials. Even ninja apologists will feel that honour has been served. Turnbull admirably exposes and investigates the “careless retrospective interpretations” of the 20th century, but in doing so, manages to reclaim the historical shinobi.All The Anime.com
Read the complete review here.
Click here to listen.BBC Radio Leeds, 7th April 2018
NOTE: set cursor to 1:10:50 for interview.
A valuable book that deftly steers through confusing and controversial materials. Even ninja apologists will feel that honour has been served. Turnbull admirably exposes and investigates the “careless retrospective interpretations” of the 20th century, but in doing so, manages to reclaim the historical shinobi.Jonathan Clements, Author of A Brief History of the Martial Arts
From lowly attendants (samurai literally means ‘those who serve’) to members one of the world’s most powerful military organisations, the samurai underwent a progression of changes to reach a preeminent position in Japanese society and culture. Even their eventual eclipse did not diminish their image as elite warriors, and they would live on in stories and films. This proud and enduring tradition is exemplified and explored by the carefully selected objects gathered here from Japanese locations and from museums around the world. These objects tell the story of the samurai from acting as…By Stephen Turnbull
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