Myth Or Fact: Did Ninja Actually Wear All-Black Costumes?

Ninjas, the covert agents in feudal Japan that were masters in unorthodox warfare. Their missions varied from just spying to collect information, to sabotage missions, infiltration and of course, assassinations. 

In fact, they were so much feared at the time, feudal lords invented a Brilliant Ninja Intruder Alarm System we’ve talked about in one of our previous articles.

When we think of a ninja, we all think of a shady man, dressed in an all-black costume and silently approaching its target. In fact, this image has a long history; here’s a ninja drawing made by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai back in 1817: (the article continues after the ad)

Photo: Katsushika Hokusai, derivative work: AMorozov / Public Domain

But is this the case though? Did ninja actually wear all black outfit?

Well, the truth is that we don’t know for sure. However, historical facts, the complete lack of evidence than they did and a bit of… common sense suggest otherwise. You see, ninjas didn’t want to stand out from the crowd, they wanted to blend in with the crowd. And in order to do so, they had to look just like ordinary people as their lives depended on not drawing too much attention. So, what did they wear? Normal clothes; the clothes everyone was wearing at the time.

For example, if a ninja was in a rural area, chances are he was wearing the clothes of a peasant:

Photo: Unknown author (circa before 1902) / Public Domain

So, what about night missions?

Again, even during night missions, ninjas would wear clothes that would help them blend in with the environment and make them look ordinary. If they were sneaking into a snowy area, black wouldn’t be ideal, right? Moreover, before approaching their destination, they had, even during nights, to walk in the streets and hence, be seen by other people. Wearing all-black would have definitely raised suspicion.

The stereotype of ninjas wearing black most probably originated from the Kabuki theaters – the classic Japanese dance-drama shows. Because ninjas were shrouded in mystery, actors were often dressed in black in order to reflect that image of being enigmatic and invisible. The idea of black being invisible comes from the kurokos, the persons in the Kabuki theaters that were helping in scene and costume changes of the main actors. Because they weren’t a part of the play and in order to not attract attention, they were wearing all black:

Photo: Waseda University Collection / Public Domain

Myth busted.

If you like what you read, then you will definitely love this one: The Brilliant Ninja Intruder Alarm That Japanese Had Been Using For Centuries

Photo:  Unknown (Fair Use)Unknown author (Fair Use)
Photoshop: I’m A Useless Info Junkie
Sources: Ninja’s ever-changing Costume  | DO NINJAS WEAR BLACK COSTUMES? | Why did Japanese ninjas like to wear black costumes and masks? | Ninja AD 1460–1650

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