Friday, October 21, 2016

Ninjas and Nara

One of the students who is responsible for sending me down the rabbit hole of anime was absolutely in love with a certain character, which you may have heard of even if you're not a fan of anime - Naruto.  So much so that she called herself Mrs. Uzumaki - which seems like a perfect code name if she shows up in the blog again.  She wanted me to watch it, and I did, starting with the second part of the anime, Naruto Shippuuden, but I just couldn't get into it.  A year and countless memes and references later, I decided to give it another shot, but started at the beginning, and this time I got it.  Naruto was awesome, although not my favorite character (that would be the super-sexy sensei, Kakashi...we could get together and read dirty books together all day...but I digress...)
When I went to Tokyo in 2014, I learned about a ninja village that I wanted to go to but didn't have the time.  This time around, I still didn't have the time, but instead there's a Ninja Dojo in Kyoto, which I found on TripAdvisor, and having been converted to Naruto and his way of ninja, it was definitely on my list.  I was a little nervous about the dress-up part of the experience, because my body is definitely not shaped like a ninja's...except for Chouji (and if you get that reference, congratulations, you're my new favorite reader).  However, they made it work.  It might have been a little harder if I hadn't worn black like they suggested, but I just happen to have a black knitted shirt that I've been occasionally casual cosplaying without anyone noticing.  Well, until Ichikawa Sensei noticed that we were sort of wearing the same shirt.
We started with bowing and ninja meditation, which involved some hand signs which seemed vaguely familiar.  I always just assumed the hand signs in Naruto were a made up part of ninja lore, but apparently not.  During our meditation, Ichikawa Sensei also talked about breathing in the energy of nature and concentrating it in your abdomen.  I might have totally fangirled if he'd called it chakra, but fortunately I was spared that indignity.

Meditation is all well and good, but I was looking forward most to some truly badass ninja stuff, and they delivered.  Sensei showed us some of the features of ninja dojos, such as the revolving door and hidden weapons, and then we got to use the weapons.  Ninja sword was first, and probably my favorite weapon.  We learned how to draw, slash, and then flick off the imaginary blood of our imaginary enemies, before sheathing our swords.  They weren't sharp, which was a very good thing, because at one point I sort of forgot where my thumb was while sheathing my sword, and I would have sliced it right off, otherwise.

Next we learned how to hold and slash with a kunai, the main advantage of which is that the enemy never sees it coming.  This was a little disappointing for me, because in Naruto they are throwing those things, all over the place, and I was picturing myself doing something kind of like this:
Using shuriken, or throwing stars, made up for this, though.  That was a lot of fun, and not as difficult as I thought it would be.  Aiming them was difficult, but I hit the board and got them to stick, most of the time.  They weren't really sharp...but if you hurl something with enough force, it doesn't have to be.
My best weapon was the blowgun though.  It was relatively easy to aim and shoot, even from the back of the dojo.  It's too bad that it doesn't look super cool, or else I might have found enough words to justify putting it in.  As it is, I'm about to fall asleep, so I'll move on.  By the way, all the photos I've used above were taken by the assistant at the dojo, whose name I didn't catch, but she did an excellent job.  They were provided as part of the experience.  If you're interested in ninjas, or Naruto, or hell, you just need a break from shrine-going, I highly recommend it - it was a lot of fun.
My...underbrats?  That seems like a good term for my younger favorite class.  My underbrats contain a significant number of Naruto fans, and this has probably contributed to their ability to steal the number 2 spot (along with their overall intelligence and ability to banter).  One of the things I love about this series is that there are so many interesting characters, and people are fans of more than just the two main characters.  One of my top underbrats likes the smart-albeit-lazy character, Shikamaru, who is a member of the Nara clan, who have a special bond with deer.
I took a great deal of pleasure in telling him that I was going to visit the city of Nara, which is famous for their park where tame deer have been living for over a thousand years.  They were really funny - you are only allowed to feed them special deer crackers, which are for sale every block or so for 150 yen, but they don't last long.  They look about as appetizing as a rice cracker (so, not at all), but the deer love the heck out of those things, and once they know you've got them, they will butt you with their head and even chase after you to get their fix.
I talked to Blondie at one point about my regret that I didn't get to see them the last time I went to Kyoto, and she said that she'd seen "the creepy deer."  Admittedly, it is a little creepy to see deer waiting for stoplights and using the crosswalks.  However, I didn't think they were that creepy until I remembered the part in Naruto where the deer actually play a part...watching over a defeated, undying enemy with those unblinking eyes.  

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