"Anyone who wants to master this skill of disguise should always train himself with the utmost effort" - Fujibayashi Sabuji (Bansenshukai)

The guise of a farmer. 19th century Meiji era photgraph

Disguise is the art of altering one's appearance to conceal one's identity. It is also the ninth Ancient Way of the Shinobi in the Shoninki. Natori calls this art "Joge-nin" (如焰忍) (disguise or mutation shinobi no jutsu). It's a form of deception.

During the Warring States period and the Edo-period in Japan, there existed checkpoints at every district's boundary and a shinobi couldn’t pass right through without a disguise. He had to behave completely like the person he was disguised as, such as as a samurai, a merchant, a farmer, a priest, a street performer, a sick person, a blind man or a handicapped man. To do so, it is not sufficient enough for a shinobi to only look like the person he was impersonating, he needed to acquire all kind of attributes which belong to the model of his disguise. They were, for instance, the knowledge, speech, gestures, sex, age of that person.

In certain clans, a teacher imposes a test on his student. The objective is for the students to disguise themselves and board a ferryboat. After several hours, the teacher also boards the same ferryboat, and asks the ferryman of the boat if he found anyone suspicious? If the ferryman answered something along the lines of: “No, sir, not at all. I have been engaged in this job for many years, if there was someone on board up to no good I would soon notice", it would mean that his student had passed the test. If, on the other hand the answer received was "Yes, today I took a certain young man off this boat, he was kind of suspicious and restless" then it would mean the student failed the test. Such a test proved that shinobi not only had to look the part, they needed to play the part too.

Kishu-Ryu Joge-nin (如焰忍)[]

"The underlying principle of the shinobi is not to be discovered by others. Therefor, you should provide yourself with those outfits that will change the way you look. Masters of the shinobi arts in ancient times were scarcely recognizable, even between father and son or between brothers, even more so if they were unrelated to the shinobi" - Natori Masatake (Shoninki)

According to the Shoninki, a shinobi could read people's thoughts by pretending to be an ordinary person, putting them off their guard by disguising his appearance and gaining information through their trust. Black ink used to blacken the face could aid in stealth, although could also be interpreted as blackening a blade using ink. Natori goes on to say that a shinobi should be fully aware of the risks that go with disguising one's self. The Shoninki also states that the color of a shinobi's clothing should be one of the following: brown, a shade of dark red called numerigaki, black, or navy blue. These were so common during the Sengoku period and early Edo period that it was hard to stand out while wearing them. You can also use a coat to change your appearance and body shape.

Portrait of a Japanese bearded man by Paul Jacoullet

Natori claims that if the shinobi could reshape his eyebrows, blacken his teeth with iron, change the shape of his forehead's hairline, wear ink on his face and tangle his hair, he would look completely different. He then goes on to list three recipes for creating pigments that a shinobi could use to change his face.

  • Usuzumi (うす墨) (gray ink) with shu (朱) (scarlet), which is made from cinnabar and mix in oshiroi (おしろい) (white make up powder) shu (朱), and odo
  • Usu'oshiroi (diluted white make up) with kiwada (きわだ) or (黄檗) (yellow) made from the bark of the amur cork tree, then add odo (黄土) (yellow ochre)
  • Usukiwada (pale yellow) with beni (紅) (red) and airō (藍蝋) (dark blue) obtained from fermented leaves of the indigo plant

Natori recommends blending these colors and trying some on the skin. If it doesn't fit naturally into the "theme" of the shinobi's face he advocates avoiding the use of ink. Natori also mentions the use of fake beards to hide one's features.

The Seven Disguises[]

"Those who have mastered the shinobi arts can creep into any difficult situation and return, even if there is no way back" - Natori Masatake (Shoninki)

A shinobi would pick the identity that best suits their personality in order to remain calm during his mission. The following are the seven disguises listed in the Shoninki.

Komuso Zen Monk

  1. Komuso Zen Monks: These monks would sometimes wear the straw amigasa hat which would give a shinobi good visibility while still hiding his face
  2. Shukke Monks: Easy approach for both men and women according to the Shoninki
  3. Yamabushi Mountain Priests: Also an easy approach for both men and women. This disguise allows a shinobi to carry a katana or wakizashi without being questioned
  4. Merchant: Makes it easy to approach people
  5. Hokashi street entertainers: Like a merchant's guise, this disguise also makes it easy to approach people
  6. Sarugaku performers: People are less likely to question someone skulking around in this disguise
  7. Tune no Katachi (Street Clothes): A flexible disguise