written by Robert, photos by Junko
The Togakure-ryu Ninja hail from the Togakushi mountains, in Nagano Prefecture. Today, you can meet real Ninjas, if you are lucky.
Togakushi’s most visited shinto shrine, Okusha, is known as a “power spot”. The local people go to Okusha Shrine when they have to make important decisions in their lives.
When visiting the shrine, once off the bus, head downhill from the road and you will see the torii gate which marks the start of the straight walking path to the shrine. Though it is a 2 km walk to Okusha shrine, it is at the halfway point that you will see the real reason for visiting this place.
Here the walk is lined with dozens of 400-year-old cedar trees, with a single thatch roof gateway spanning the road. Standing among these majestic trees, it is no wonder this area is regarded as a power spot. Note how some of the trees have hallows in them large enough for an adult to enter.
Continuing up the road, it becomes less straight and considerably steeper, with stone steps leading finally up to Okusha Shrine and the adjacent Kuzuryusha Shrine. Okusha Shrine is half concealed in a cave on the side of the mountain range behind it. While this shrine is not exactly a spectacular conclusion to the journey, it is really the journey itself that is why you came out here.
Across the street from the Okusha Shrine entrance, and slightly uphill surrounded by trees, is the Togakushi Ninja Museum. This place is actually a compound of old buildings housing the Togakushi Folk Museum, Ninja Museum and Trick House.
The folk museum features artifacts and displays which show the traditional tools, clothing and typical possessions of residents of old Togakushi, long before the modern world arrived. Uphill from the Folk Museum is the Ninja Museum, displaying tools and weapons used by the ninja who once secretly trained in this area, as well as photos and illustrations of ninja using these items. But the biggest draw here is the Trick House.
This structure is literally a maze in which visitors must find their way from room to room, utilizing secret passages which must be found before passing through. The climax of the visit is an enormous room built deliberately at a steep angle. Try not to get dizzy or disoriented in that room!