Capability of Ever-changing Appearance

Fully Committing to a Role

Some ninjas served as low-ranking warriors, farmers, and sometimes even members of vigilante groups, and when they were engaged in public activities, the ninjas had a camouflage technique called “shichihode,” in which they disguised themselves as monks, peddlers, and street performers. For example, if pretending to be a monk, they wore the scent of incense and chanted sutras. If disguised as a medicine seller, they wore the scent of Japanese medicines, and as a draper, they wore the scent of kimono dyes. They also acquired knowledge of products and learned how to behave for each role. What an effort they must have put in!

The reasons for going so far to disguise themselves were for these important missions: 1) to secure locations and networks necessary to obtain critical information, and 2) to move freely wherever they needed to without being suspicious.

Fun fact: in the Edo period, people used to compose senryu(a 17-syllable satirical poem)  such as “a monk disguised himself as a doctor and played with women.” Perhaps disguises were not so uncommon for people in the past.

Ninjas who were dedicated to their duties had a variety of knowledge and wisdom to live by. It was not only knowledge of medicine, astronomy, and gunpowder, but also something rather eccentric like memorizing techniques. (Interestingly, a similar memorizing method introduced in the study of Physiology and Medicine won the Nobel prize in 2014.) Ninjas pursued knowledge thoroughly once they determined to do so.

The famous Iga ninja named Tanba Momochi was said to have always disguised himself as a “shihohatsu” ninja, playing four different roles, living in four different houses, each as a different person unrelated to his duties. Since he had only one body, he lived in each of the four houses as a person whose occupation did not raise suspicion, even if he was not at home at all times.

And in fact, Momochi Tamba was believed by the locals to be just a local samurai. What was his purpose in living that way? What house did he return to on the last days of his life, and why did he choose that house? We have no way of knowing that now, but I am personally very curious.

Those ninjas were able to disguise themselves using a variety of techniques. However, their techniques were not superficial “tricks” but the embodiment of realistic and comprehensive knowledge from their dedicated work. They have proven that people can become anything if he/she puts great effort into what they want to achieve. Ninjas also had mental flexibility and a never-give-up spirit to help them realize their goals. There must have been many times that their efforts didn’t pay off, but the fact that they’ve also achieved numerous things is amazing and gives us hope, doesn’t it?

For those ninjas, a disguise was nothing out of the ordinary, but for those of us living in the modern times, it can be a tool to feel a sense of unusual. So, why not use a wig, fake beard, or fake mole to change your appearance? Or perhaps try a new scent? You may be able to gain a new perspective and find that you feel and think differently.