Why I Read It: Constant fascination with Japanese culture.
Summary: A journey, both physical and historically, through the history of the ninja.
My Thoughts: I do believe there were ninjas. And I believe, like the author attempts to prove, that they lay somewhere south of the exaggerated, stylized version we see in print and movies today.
The author sets off into the heart of Japan, particularly Iga and Koga, to find the true roots of the ninja story. He meets descendants who claim to hold the secrets and museum keepers who have questionable collections, and visits the shrines and sacred places associated with the shadow warriors.
Along the way, he explodes the modern day image of the ninja. The ninja didn't wear black, for instance. In fact, he tried to blend in wherever he went. If he needed to use stealth at night, he wore blue, as it worked better with the moonlight. He used some of the tools attributed to him, but definitely not all. And he was almost the exact opposite of the samurai.
Most of us get that, but once in a while things get convoluted. James Bond was one who almost ruined it for us all, in You Only Live Twice. The "ninjas" in the movie act like samurai, choosing to throw themselves into combat to die for their master. That is the work of the samurai. The ninja's main goal was to survive at all costs to bring information back to his chief.
The story is told through first-person exploration and through the long history of ninjas in the warfare that tore up Japan for so many centuries. It's even told through ancient "how to be a ninja" documents that reveal some of the secrets. We learn that there is actually a strong Chinese tie to the ninja story, that it is not entirely Japanese from the beginning.
There may be more to the story, but Man gives us more than enough to chew on as we re-envision the role, the stereotype and the history of this mysterious character.