Shiga: Fictional Koka, Iga Rivalry

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Jinichi Kawakami poses for photo at his home in Wakasa, Fukui Prefecture.

Koka, Shiga Prefecture, and Iga, Mie Prefecture, are considered to be the two major regions that produced ninjas. Each group of ninjas was distinguished as Koka-shu and Iga-shu, or Koka-ryu (Koka School) and Iga-ryu (Iga School).

In comics and novels, they have often been described as adversaries. But Yuji Yamada, a professor at Mie University, said that the Koka-ryu and Iga-ryu were in fact cooperating with each other.

Yamada is a leading authority on ninja research and also serves as deputy director of the International Ninja Research Center at Mie University.

In both Koka and Iga, these autonomous groups long thrived because they were both surrounded by fortress-like mountains and the power of the feudal lords was weak. As the two were adjacent to each other, there was close interaction, including intermarriage.

During the Sengoku period, the Koka-shu and Iga-shu joined forces to resist the Ashikaga shogunate (1336-1573), according to records.

There are also records from the late 16th century suggesting that the two sides met to resist Oda Nobunaga, who was then the most powerful lord in Japan. The Koka-shu once came under Nobunaga’s command and attacked the Iga, but it was a rare case.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yuji Yamada poses for photo at Mie University in Tsu, Mie Prefecture.

“We haven’t found any differences in their techniques, and both were skilled with fire and medicine. There was a widespread trend for both sides to form a relationship of kinship, which suggests that information was also shared with each other,” said 71-year-old Jinichi Kawakami, the inheritor of the Koka-ryu ninja style.

Kawakami, who serves as the honorary director of the Ninja Museum of Igaryu, is well-versed in both Koka-ryu and Iga-ryu. He is known as the last ninja.

“It looks like they had their ups and downs, tossed about by the times, but they never sunk. They lived proudly and strongly,” he said.

The reason they have been described as adversaries is because it makes a more interesting story when the two sides confront each other using ninjutsu, Yamada said.

■ Locals make their mark in fight scene of short-film

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A film’s main character, left, engages in battle with ninja during a shoot in Koka, Shiga Prefecture in November 2020.

Local residents have been cast as extras in a short film about ninja that was shot in Koka in November last year.

The film was directed by Chisato Ouchi, a dentist from Ikeda, Osaka, a city historically associated with the Koka ninja clan. The municipality, capitalizing on this association, has attempted to revitalize the area through a number of ninja-themed events.

Ouchi, who has been making films since his college days, was inspired to make a film that would help promote cultural exchange and tourism in the two cities.

In the film, written by Ouchi himself, a clan of ninja move from Koka to Ikeda and try to fulfill their ninja duties while staving off an invasion by Oda Nobunaga alongside the lord of Ikeda Castle. The film was shot on location in Koka and contains a fight scene featuring local extras performing alongside professional actors. As well as professional cameramen and stunt performers, a number of Ouchi’s friends also worked on the film.

“Koka is blessed with so many naturally beautiful places. No matter where you go, it’s like an open set,” Ouchi said.

Ouchi gave sword fighting lessons to some of the extras.

“I’ve been training for about three months and even practicing on my own,” said one of the extras. “Performing on the day was tough, but it was a lot of fun and I fell in love with ninja all over again.”

The film is set to be completed next month and is scheduled to be screened in both Ikeda and Koka through March.