Alright, so I`ll be the first to admit that I never knew about this place until the other day. I have heard of the town, it is a famous onsen region here in Kyushu but did not know about the ninja thing, I wonder if it is still operating? Covid has probably killed it off faster than any evidence that ninja had ever wandered through town. Thanks Adam for the write-up. Time to delve deep into the fantasy and ready made world of ninja.
First there was Iga (伊賀), then there was Kōka (甲賀), and now there is Saga (佐賀)! So there’s a small town down in Kyūshū called Ureshino. It was an out of the way onsen resort town but visitor rates were falling with each passing year. Ureshino was once a stopover town along the Nagasaki trade route which ran through the north of the island. Building on this history, the town opened a historical themed park with reconstructed buildings, such as a Honjin, Daikansho, shrines and inns, and put on samurai shows. Of course, such an attraction proved fertile breeding ground for the illusive ninja. Overnight the town became a great place to visit with children! As Ureshino’s ninja fame grew, the tourists began coming back to the town like never before.
But, there was a problem. There was absolutely no evidence whatsoever of their ever being ninja in the town historically! The call went out throughout the town and on the internet: we need evidence of ninja! At first it seemed like there were no ninja to be found. The TV company sent two comedic investigators with a microphone to interview the townspeople. Even though they asked many people from the older generation, nobody could remember anything about ninja in the town from before the opening of the park. There were no clues of ninja in town. At one point an international female spy from the Bakumatsu Period called Ōura Kei caught people’s attention, but it turned out she was from nearby Nagasaki. They were getting desperate and thought they could rely on the old chestnut of simply conflating Yamabushi with Ninja, but Yamabushi were everywhere in Japan so there was nothing special in that claim. Then a document was produced called 鍋島家蓮池藩日記 Nabeshima-ke Hasuike-han Nikki (Nabeshima Clan Diary of Saga Domain). An obscure term in the document arrested researchers’ attention: Saisaku 細作, dated to 1667. In English we can translate Saisaku as “the slender men”. This was Ureshino’s last chance. They got on the phone with the big man in Mie. Kawakami Jin’ichi answered the call. “Saisaku,” they queried, “could this be ninja?” Kawakami-sensei confirmed that Saisaku were a type of spy used in the area. And, much to their mystification and happiness, the term Saisaku also appears in the Mansenshūkai, bible of the ninja. Saisaku was the spring from which all things ninja flowed. Ureshino had done it. They had become a real ninja town.
Website of the ninja village in Ureshino, Hizen Yume Kaidō Ninjutsumura (肥前夢街道忍術村): https://www.hizenyumekaidou.info/
What can we learn from this, like seriously? Every locale in Japan had words for spies and types of clandestine warriors. Frankly, the fact that Ureshino couldn’t find any proof sooner of having had spies in its territory probably makes it the least ninjery place in Japan. But eventually even they found something they could claim to be ninja. Which just goes to show that since everywhere in feudal Japan had some form of spy or secret scouts, any town anywhere can potentially open a ninja village!
Words by Adam (cheers bud), and me (Stuart).
May the ninja kami be with you.