April 13, 2010

by Kanami Okabayashi; Ryosuke Makino

Japan has a long history of ninja. Ninja are agents who act as spies for a feudal lord. Their mission is to steal into the enemy’s territory, learn the inside facts, and sometimes kill or destroy. Because of their dangerous occupation they must live in a special house.

Ninja lived in various places. Especially in Kyoto, ninja undertook many important missions. In the past ninja worked out of Nijo Castle in Kyoto, where a famous Japanese shogun lived. Ninja lived in special ninja houses near the castle, and the houses were designed with many interesting defensive devices. We’ll introduce a ninja house called Nijo-Jinya and the unusual features of the house.
Here is information about other ninja houses in Japan:

Nijo Castle
It was built in 1626 by Iemitsu, the third Tokugawa shogun. The architecture is typical of samurai houses built during the Momoyama era (1568~1603). It is designated as a national treasure. There are many splendid rooms and an unusual corridor called Uguisubari.

Nijo Castle has many defensive devices like a ninja house. One especially interesting device is the Uguisubari corridor, which has floorboards which “sing like a bird” when someone walks on them. The corridor leads from the entrance of the Ninomaru Palace to the Ohiroma. Dry boards naturally creak under pressure, but these floors were designed so that the flooring nails rubbed against a jacket or clamp, causing chirping noises. It warns residents that enemies have broken into the castle.

The building was built between 1661~1673, more than 300 years ago. Historical documents say it originally served as a rice exchange until 1791 when it became a private house. “Manya-hyoemon”(萬屋平右衛門) was the original owner’s name in retirement. “Manya” is used for some other shops’ names, too. It is said that the Ichiriki teahouse in Kyoto used the “Manya” name, and they exert a great influence in Gion.
A rice exchange would exchange rice for money at a time when samurai got their pay in rice and wheat. The rice and money exchange rate was set by the exchangers themselves, so they had absolute economical control over the samurai.
Manya-hyoemon worked not only as a merchant but also as a public affairs officer, what we today would call a lawyer or judicial scrivener. The Tokugawa government established kujikataosadamegaki (公事方御定書) for law preparation. This house was built in the government office quarter near Nijo Castle.
The house was renovated from a rice exchange to a private house because of a fire, so it has defensive features as part of its architecture as a safety measure. The house is private property now. It was designated as an important cultural property in 1950. And Nijo-Jinya was opened to the public by its owner.

Tour of the house

Big Hall (大広間)

This hall is a traditional Japanese formal reception room used by the owner of the house. One of the walls serves as a tokonoma, which is a recessed alcove where scrolls and ceramics are displayed. In this hall’s ceiling, there is secret watch room called “mushakagakure.” It is used as a skylight in this hall, but on the blind side that is opposite from where visitors would sit is a secret passage leading from the room.

Space for Noh (能の間)

Noh is a type of classical Japanese drama employing highly stylized dance and is accompanied by flute, two or three drums, and dramatic chants. So, this room has excellent acoustics. Actors and musicians performed noh on special occasions in this room, but usually the owners used it for a living room in the past.

Kasuga room (春日の間)

This room is used to praise an ancestor of the house owner and also serves as a waiting room for the Kainyoan tearoom. The cloud-capped peak of Mt.Mikasa and Todaiji-Temple, both near the Kasuga Shrine in Nara, are depicted on the wall.

Kainyoan (皆如庵)

Kainyoan is a tea ceremony room. The wall is painted with iron powder, so this room’s atmosphere is rustic. There is an unusual round hearth. That’s because this room is also used for business talks. The round hearth was designed to lead to smooth business negotiations.

Tomahune no ma (苫舟の間)

There was a beautiful stream that flowed beside the house near the tea ceremony room. The ceiling is like a roofed pleasure boat, and visitors could feel as though they were on board a boat and enjoy the tea ceremony.

Defensive architecture
Defensive architecture is a special feature of Nijo-Jinya and enables visitors to escape or to hide if the need arises.


Mushagakure is secret watch room built in a big hall’s ceiling. It cannot be seen from where visitors would usually sit.

Secret staircase in the ceiling

Visitors cannot easily find their way to the second floor. This hidden staircase looks like a shelf for tea utensils because it is located near Kainyoan, the room reserved for tea ceremony.

Another hidden staircase

This staircase is hidden in a closet behind Japanese sliding doors, and visitors can’t find this staircase easily.SaruhashigoIt is an emergency exit. The name Saruhashigo means “monkey’s ladder,” and suggests the way that ninja would come down the stairs, like monkeys.

For visitors
Nijo-Jinya is a private house owned by the Ogawa family. It was designated as a public cultural asset among Japanese private houses in 1944. Reservations are necessary to view it, because it’s private property. One-hour tours are conducted by a family member or by a specialized guide in Japanese only. So foreign visitors should arrange their own interpreter.Nijo-Jinya will be closed for repair work for about three years from May 2009. Check its homepage for when it’ll reopen.

Time table




Time required





50 min.





50 min.





50 min.





50 min.


Entrance fee



High school student



Tel: 075-841-0972

Reception hours


You can go to Nijo-Jinya by Kyoto city bus, subway, or taxi. It is about an eight-minute walk from the Higashi Otemon gate of Nijo Castle. Please consult the map below. (The star marks the location of Nijo-Jinya.)
For additional information in Japanese click on the following URL: (Nijo castle)

English information URL:

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