The history of the ninja is closely associated with Mie Prefecture in southern Japan, where a small museum is dedicated to their history and art. Located close to Iga Ueno Castle, the museum celebrates ninja stealth and skill through artifacts, secret passages and traps doors, and hands-on demonstrations.
The history of the ninja is clouded in centuries of mythology, but they seem to have become established during the medieval Sengoku or Warring States period of political unrest, which began in the mid-15th century.
Somewhere between a spy and a mercenary, ninja (the word is both singular and plural) used specialized skills to gather covert information and perform assassinations on behalf of feudal lords. Ninja were in many ways the opposite of samurai, who fought openly and lived highly structured lives centered around rituals. Coming from the lowest, most "invisible" social classes, ninja developed their own methods of secrecy, misdirection, and espionage. "Ninjitsu" describes both the physical skills of espionage and survival, as well as the ninja philosophy.
The museum is divided into sections devoted to different elements of ninja lore and history. The Ninja House is a model home full of trap doors, hidden stairs, and concealed escape routes. Other areas feature demonstrations of skill and exhibits of ninja miscellany such as shuriken (throwing stars), swords, secret codes, and, of course, a ninja gift shop.