Graduate programs in ninja studies are things that actually exist

by Nick Gonzales

Among the many things we like to idly daydream about is what we’d study if we ever went back to school. And as of June, that question is even harder to answer than it was before.

According to CNN, Japan’s Mie University has been home to the International Ninja Research Center since 2017. Last month, a man named Genichi Mitsuhashi became the first person to earn a master’s degree in ninja studies from the university. It sounds like he plans to pursue a doctoral degree in ninja studies next. This would, of course, make him a doctor-ninja.

“He literally (devotes) his life to ninja,” Ninja studies professor Yuji Yamada told CNN.

The program focuses on the study of the history, fighting techniques, and traditions of ninjas, who were master spies and assassins starting in the 14th century. They were also independent farmers in the Iga Province, southwest of Tokyo, an area that is apparently quite mountainous.

In addition to martial arts and survival skills, Mitsuhashi learned how to traverse mountainous areas undetected. That sounds like a skill that could prove super useful in Southwest Colorado. Sure … we can’t describe exactly how we’d use it, except maybe for avoiding tourists on popular trails … but there have to be all sorts of local uses for ninjitsu.

According to the center’s website, ninjas, or “shinobi,” were used during Japan’s feudal period to gather intelligence for lords. The power of said lords in the Iga province was relatively weak, so local warriors developed ninjitsu as a way to defend themselves. Ninjas continued to be employed after the feudal period ended in the 19th century, sometimes for secret missions and spycraft, but also as guards of castles and towns. Today, Mitsuhashi, the only ninja we know about, grows rice and vegetables and runs an inn in Iga when he’s not teaching ninjitsu at his dojo.

Throughout their history, ninjas wrote about all of their techniques in manuals that the center is dedicated to gathering and making available for academic research. The data contained in those manuals includes information on medicine, food, astronomy, meteorology, making stuff like gun powder, infiltration, disguise, how to speak eloquently, and, apparently … magic.

According to the university, Ninjas probably weren’t the shadowy figures that leap to mind, at least not on a day to day basis. Instead, they would have had to blend in with everyday civilians. In fiction of the early 19th century, ninjas were depicted as villains, a stereotype that has stuck around, but that also isn’t necessarily true. In other words, if they were around today, they could be anybody you pass on the street — especially these days, when you can wear Mortal Kombat-style masks around town without being conspicuous.

Come to think of it, ninjitsu might be the perfect thing to study during a pandemic. We have to imagine that if anybody was going to naturally socially distance themselves from everyone else, it would be these ultra-stealthy assassins. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have a graduate program we must apply to. (*Author throws smoke bomb at the ground and disappears in a burst of ninja magic.*)

Nick Gonzales

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