Edo Period Ninjutsu – and the art of conjuring demons

There is a misconception that ninjutsu ceased to exist during the Edo Period. Some believe that after Oda Nobunaga’s decimation of the lands of Iga and Tokugawa’s pacification or subjugation of the rest of the nation, that the shinobi became unnecessary and quickly ceased to exist.

The shinobi definitely did not cease to exist.

Despite what some authors think, like Stephen Turnbull, the Edo Period was actually full of amazing ninjutsu history. There is plenty of evidence to support the idea that there was a continuity in the transmission of the schools of ninjutsu from the Warring States Period (1467 CE to 1615 CE) through to the end of the Bakumatsu (1853 CE and 1867 CE), when Japan was forced to end its isolationist foreign policy known as “sakoku”. After this they rapidly changed from a feudal Tokugawa shogunate to the modern empire of the Meiji government.

During the interim Edo Period (1615 CE and 1868 CE), all Daimyo Lords were subject to the authority of the Tokugawa Shogun. Therefore, every shinobi of every domain had come under the direct control of the Shogun through his special agency of falconers (Takajō/Torimi) and secret investigative police (Onmitsu). The 32nd generation headmaster of the Togakure Ryu ninjutsu, Toda Sensei, was one such master falconer.

During the transition from the Warring States period to the Edo Period several hundred shinobi and their families from Iga, Koka and Negoro that specialized in black powder production and muskets took up positions as the shogun’s personal musketeers in units called “Hyakunin-Gumi”.

It would be wrong to think that these men, now working for the shogun as public figures, had given up on the traditions of their past and let them go. It is a fact that many of them passed on their arts in secret, just as they had done in the old days of constant war.

Ninjutsu never completely went away. It was just kept in the shadows, to be kept sharp and ready, should the art ever need to be called upon again.

To support my belief, I would like to show you a passage from a ninjutsu densho of the Fukushima Ryu. This is a secret book handed down by the founder of the school, Nojiri Jirouemon Narimasa, a shinobi vassal of Fukushima Masanori (福島 正則, 1561 – 1624 CE), a Japanese daimyō from the late Warring States period to the early Edo period who served as lord of the Hiroshima Domain. From there this densho was later passed down to Terasawa Naosaku, also known as Yukihiro, the grandson of the ninth head of Hyogo domain on April 9th, 1797 CE. This is long before the end of the Edo period by nearly 100 years. So, it is obvious that the Fukushima Ryu, through nearly 200 years of mostly peace, kept the art of ninjutsu alive and its secrets protected until at least the start of the 1800’s.

This handwritten copy of the original densho was transcribed in October of 1810 CE. It was being kept in the secret treasured collections of Ishikawa Mitsunori (). In more recent times it was donated to the Tokyo National Library by Earl Tokugawa Muneyoshi, an Imperial Japanese Army second lieutenant, politician, educator, and Shintō priest. Keep in mind he is a Tokugawa, a direct descendant of the last Shogun, and likely had a collection of manuscripts that would make most of us highly envious.

The passage I want to share is amazing on many levels. As you will see, the shinobi at the end of the 1700’s had an extremely deep knowledge of natural poisons and medicines. Not only herbal concoctions but even poisons from various insects and animals. They were intricately aware of these poisons and their effects on the human body and they knew how to combine them together to enhance the effects of each one and make them work in unison better and with greater control.

For safety purposes I did not choose a passage that contains a recipe for a poison that would kill the victim. Instead, this little gunky pill will only conjure up demons in the eyes of the victim for a whole night.

Now please understand this is for historical and educational purposes only, DO NOT AATEMPT TO MAKE or INGEST THIS!!

In today’s world there is already enough readily available drugs that criminally inclined people often use on unsuspecting victims, so I feel the following recipe is not a danger to the public. It would be a lot of work to go through when things like LSD, DMT, etc. is so easy to obtain on the street.

Again, this is for historical and academic purposes only. Do not attempt to make this. I do not and will not accept any responsibility for anyone foolish enough to experiment with this.

That said, let us move forward.

This passage is titled “the art of making one see demons”, Sound scary enough?

Well, it should because this little recipe calls for a serious hallucinogenic. One that can scare the bejesus out of anyone should it be ingested unknowingly.


七月七日の蛍又蟇 五月五日ノ鼡ノ油 蝙ノ肝


The art of making one see demons

Mid summer’s fireflies or the Bufo toad

The oil of a rat from the start of the rainy season

The liver of a bat

Roll these up, and if swallowed, one will see demons for a night.


Now, does that not sound delightful? Like a Betty Crocker homestyle meal?

If you are like me, you are most likely gagging at the thought of swallowing something like this.

The complete and thorough knowledge the shinobi had of the individual ingredients of this, for a lack of a better term, poison, were incredibly well understood. While this densho book that we are looking at here is an 1800’s copy, the Fukushima Ryu itself goes back much further and evidence supporting their knowledge of the effects of these ingredients can be found in both ancient Japanese and Chinese texts.

Let us look at this recipe one more time again, this time looking at each individual ingredient in detail including what it does to the human body.

Mid summer’s fireflies

Scientists believe that the bright glow of a firefly is a warning to predators that these insects are full of a potent cardioactive steroidal chemicals. The compounds are close chemical relatives of toad toxins. Scientists named these toxic steroids lucibufagins, by combining the Latin lucifer (light bearer), with Bufo, after the toads that produce these similar chemicals. (*)

Typical noncardiac effects of these compounds are delirium, hallucinations, photophobia, blurred vision, and scotomata.

The reason for the July 7th reference in the original passage is referring to mid-summer when the fireflies are producing the most of their luminescent chemicals to signal others for mating. The date also refers to Tanabata (七夕), meaning “Evening of the seventh”, also known as the Star Festival (星祭り). It is a Japanese festival originating from the Chinese Qixi Festival that celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi. According to legend, the Milky Way keeps these two lovers separated, and they can meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. So, I guess my take on this would be to catch the horniest fireflies, the one that flash the most, trying to attract their lover. They should be your most potent. They only need to be ground up and thoroughly mixed in oil to be kept for long periods of time.

The Bufo toad

The Japanese stream toad (Bufo torrenticola), also known as the Honshū Toad, and the Japanese common toad (Bufo japonicus) are just two of the species of toad in the family Bufonidae that are native to Japan. The poison of both toads contains potent amounts of bufotoxin. Since ancient times they have been used as ritual intoxicants owing to their viscous milky-white venom that contains bufotenin and bufotoxin. If orally ingested in large enough doses Bufo toad venom can be fatal but smaller doses and single deep inhalations of smoked venom can produce intense and transient psychoactive effects. Mainly auditory and visual hallucinations. As noted above the chemical compounds in the toad toxins are remarkably similar in nature to the compounds found in the fireflies.

The mid-summer timing applies to the toad toxins as well as this is when their toxins are the highest levels of the year to ward off predators. To obtain the toxin simply catch the toad and pluck its nose a few times or blow smoke in its face. It will become agitated and produce a toxin from a region behind its eyes and ears. Just squeeze the bumps and the venom will come out. Gather the toxins and preserve them in oil.

The oil of a rat from the start of the rainy season (May 5th)

As most steroids and toxins dissolve easily in oil and fats, these ingredients can be infused into the oil to preserve them and use them whenever the need arises. Oils also increase the lipophilicity of steroids, with longer fatty acids resulting in greater lipophilicity. This greater solubility in oil allows the steroids or toxins to be dissolved in a smaller amount of oil, thereby allowing for larger doses in less oil.

The inclusion of May 5th in the passage refers to Tango no Sekku (端午の節句), it marks the beginning of summer or the rainy season in Japan, and as most people who live in tropical regions are aware, rat infestations usually coincide with the rainy season and they start to look for places indoors to escape the rain. This is the easiest time to catch them.

But as to why the oil of a rat??? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe just to be spiteful? LOL

The liver of a bat

Hsileh Chi Tan is an ancient Chinese medicine made from the liver, blood, and bile of bats. When taken the patient will not become sleepy and it enables one to see objects in the dark better. (**).

In the case of this recipe, I would venture to guess that the intent for including this ingredient was to keep the victim awake while the increased night vision combined with the above hallucinogenic would lend to greater visual illusions and apparitions in the dark of the night.

According to Chinese mythology, the origins of traditional Chinese medicine are traced back to the three legendary sovereigns Fuxi, Shennong and the Yellow Emperor. Shennong is believed to have tasted hundreds of herbs to ascertain their medicinal value and effects on the human body and help relieve people of their sufferings. The oldest written Chinese manuscript focusing solely on the medicinal use of plants was Shennong’s Ben Cao Jing which was compiled around the end of the first century BCE and is said to have classified 365 species of herbs or medicinal plants.

In conclusion, these Chinese medical practices were brought to Japan during the 6th century CE. In 608 CE, Empress Suiko sent E-Nichi, Fuku-In and a few other Japanese physicians to China. Records state that they studied medicine there for 15 years before returning. From 608 CE to 838 CE, Japan sent a total of 19 known missions to Tang China. During these missions, the officials studied the Chinese government system, and the Japanese physicians along with Buddhist monks became learned in Chinese medicine. From this point forward medicine was further developed and studied by the Shugenja in Japan with plant species that were native to the Japanese islands. En no Gyoja, the legendary founder of Shugendo, was renowned as a herbal physician. Over time the Shugenja and their knowledge of Chinese medicine influenced the early shinobi in many ways.

Now more than 1,000 years later we can see that the shinobi of the 1700’s and 1800’s were still deeply knowledgeable in traditional Chinese medicine and were able to make use of it for their own purposes.

Purposes other than healing, such as taking control of an enemy using drugs, or even to kill the victim. As with most things related to ninjutsu and ninjutsu history, it is easy for us to get carried away with our imaginations. But now, can you imagine how you might get your enemy to swallow this nasty stuff???

Ninpo Ichizoku!!!

Sean Askew – 導冬 – Dōtō

Bujinkan Kokusai Renkoumyo

December 18, 2020


*Silent Sparks: The Wondrous World of Fireflies, Sara Lewis, Princeton University Press, 2016, P. 104

** Riccucci, Marco. (2013). Bats as materia medica: an ethnomedical review and implications for conservation. Vespertilio. 16. 249-270.

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