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Ninjas – Pop Culture Victims

Ninjas are cool.

All geeks know that.

These silent assassins from Japan have appeared in all manner of geeky endeavors, from toys to movies to game shows.

Heck, they even have their own internet meme, in which they do constant battle with Blackbeard and his ilk. It is perhaps not surprising that ninjas suffer quite a bit from popular culture distortions… even the very “typical” ninja suit is actually the legacy of a bit of popular culture.

In fact, of all the famed tools, the black outfit was most likely never used by actual ninja.

Before you send your verbal shuriken hurling my way…do a little experiment.

Some dark night, go out into the woods, far away from natural light. Let your eyes adjust. Notice the colors that dominate your vision. By and large, they will be various shades of grey, rather than the pure black of the stereotypical ninja suit. In fact, someone wearing black in such a situation will actually stand out, rather than blend in. When it comes to sneaking around in the shadows, gray’s the way to go.

Good Ninja fashion

Truth be told, ninja themselves did not have a particular uniform. Rather, they disguised themselves as servants, gardeners, or various other nobodies whose presence did not warrant attention by those they targeted.

Not the best example of Ninja camouflage

Rather than trying to camouflage themselves into a particular environment, ninjas tried to camouflage themselves into the local population. It was far easier to get lost among the crowds Kyoto if one didn’t wear an outfit that screamed “Here I am! I’m a Ninja!”

 How, then, did the ninja suit come about?

Believe it or not, it was popular culture, centuries before the invention of movies I might add. In traditional Japanese theater, the stagehands were covered from head to toe in black (sound familiar?). The audience still saw them, but generally suspended their disbelief and pretended that they weren’t there. Some director got the brilliant idea that if a character needed to come out nowhere (a ninja, perhaps?), the best way to sneak him onstage was to have him come in dressed as a stagehand, move around a prop or two, and then suddenly attack.

Thus, in the mind of the popular culture, the ninja and the black suit merged… and so they remain today.

I hope that you have enjoyed this little foray into popular culture and the ninja.

The next time you see one of the cunning assassins depicted in an action figure, or valiantly battling a pirate, remember that what you’re actually seeing is a mixture of fantasy, history, and Japanese theater.

Your Obedient Servant.

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