The Bansenshukai is a period fantasy document. In this article, Part 3 of a series on "ninja documents", I'll explain in detail why this "ninja-bible" is nothing of the kind. You'll learn about the lies, misinformation, and mythology, but more so learn the true secret of this text - that it is a failed piece of political propaganda.
There are so many problems with the Bansenshukai that I am nearly at a loss for where to begin. Again, to reiterate a point I made in the earlier article on the Shoninki - the Bansenshukai is not viewed as a historically accurate or reliable document by any legitimate academic or historian regarding “ninja”.
Which is why it was pretty much ignored (even in it’s own time) up until Ninja-fan boys came across it in the twentieth century and reinterpreted it as a “ninja-bible”. Which it absolutely isn’t.
The first issue is that of provenance. It is purportedly written by “Fujibayashi Masatake”, of the Fujibayashi ninjutsu tradition in or around 1676. There are several issues with this.
1. There is no actual confirmatory evidence or supportive evidence to suggest that he's actually the author. But let’s roll with it for a second, as this connects it to Kishu Ryū, and the Shoninki, given that it was the same family that produced these works, and in light of that, I remind you, academic consensus states, “Wanatani and Yamada (1978:215) and various other historians consider this document (the Shoninki) and others related to Kishu ryū to be unreliable". (1)
2. The author is writing about a period of history and the alleged techniques used well after the fact. It is not a contemporary account, but compiled and written over 70 years after the fact at best. And this will be very clearly demonstrated a little later as the document is woefully inaccurate regarding historical events for which we have actual accounts that have multiple independent cross checks available.
3. We don’t actually have an original document to work from. The original handwritten text of the Bansenshukai has been lost to time. The versions used now are, in fact, copies made by individuals during the Edo period. As such we have no clue as to the authenticity or accuracy of these copies. They could be exact, they could direct copies, they could be inexact direct copies and they could be copies of copies of copies...all of which become progressively more corrupt as time goes on. I’ve personally seen 5 different versions of the text, some have totally new sections added in, others are missing chunks and still others explain the same things, but totally differently. (For those interested, the version I primarily refer to most often is the Yoshio Imamura edition published in 1966. Nihon budō zenshū Volume 4, Tokyo, Jinbutsu Ōraisha).
Now, there is one other big issue here. The original (or original copies I should say) aren’t written in Japanese, at least not today’s Japanese. Instead they are written in kanbun which is a classical Japanese version of Chinese. And this presents a further issue with the current “translations” available.
The version of the Bansenshukai offered by noted fraud Antony Cummins is woefully inaccurate. In the Cummins case, he cannot read modern Japanese let alone classical Japanese. His translator, Yoshie cannot read classical Japanese either. So what happens is that she parses a modernised Japanese version into basic English. Then Cummins rewrites that into what he thinks it should be (2). This is as far away from genuine historical or academic work as you can get. It results in multiple errors, and the proliferation of debunked misconceptions throughout his version. Don Roley (actually trained in Japanese translation and works in the field) and Roy Ron (PhD, History and Japanese) have produced far more accurate works which I recommend for those interested.
And then there is the context. The work openly admits to being a compilation and rewrite of previous works (it's even heavily implied in the name; Bansenshukai, meaning "Sea of Myriad Rivers Merging"), primarily the Gunpo Jiyoshū (not a credible document either) and Sun Tzu’s Art of War. And here is the kicker, it is not a genuine account of shinobi activity or history. At all. It is a work of fiction, like the Shoninki, a propaganda piece designed to encourage political favour and get work.
And this isn’t a secret. It’s written in the introduction of the Bansenshukai.
The Bansenshukai itself is a long, and frankly boring text. It starts by claiming a fictional history.
For those that are unaware, Emperor Fushigi, or Fuxi (伏羲), also known as Paoxi, is a mythological character. He created humanity in Chinese mythology. Basically this is like saying God created ninjutsu after Adam and Eve ate the apple of knowledge and kicked them out of the Garden of Eden.
Oh, and then they mention that even though totally bad-ass ninja super spies were totally a thing at the dawn of humanity, the reason why it was never mentioned at all, in any of the writings, is because it was like, totally a secret.
And it gets more ridiculous.
The Bansenshukai claims connection to the ninjutsu of Kusunoki Masashige wherein he;
Except...he didn’t, that’s all lies. As we know from the discussion on the Shoninki, Kusunoki’s military tactics had nothing, literally zero, to do with “ninjutsu” or espionage.
This attempt in the Bansenshukai, like the Shoninki, to connect to a legendary warrior and claim he used ninja, is fanciful revisionist fiction, designed to flatter a prospective employer. As is pretty much all of this stuff. It’s fiction. And it continues in this vein.
For any academic in Japan reading this document and seeing the overwhelming amount of historical errors, mythology taken as fact, and fantasy gadgets and techniques that wouldn’t have made sense in the context of that period of Japanese history, it becomes apparent that all this is, is an example of bad period propaganda.
I have neither the time, nor inclination to go through the entirety of the text and point out the flaws in logic and history. The document is, honestly, worthless as a source of credible information as we’ve seen from the initial introduction. But I will give you two very clear examples of this propaganda and fictional fantasy beyond that which we have already looked at.
The first concerns the only historic example provided in the entire mind-numbing text of undercover “ninjutsu”. It is cited at occurring in 1559, and that a man named Dodo, working for a man named Jotie, rebelled and took over a castle. Jotei, hired ninja, who then killed Dodo.
So...here’s the problem with that. It’s all made up. Lock stock and barrel. Utter baloney. There are no less than 6 massive inaccuracies and lies in those short paragraphs, the ONLY historical account of undercover operations in the whole manual. The dates are wrong, the employers are wrong, the events are wrong...it’s just...all wrong.
In 1560 Dodo Oki-no-Kami Kuranosuke, again in the employ of the Azai, fought against the forces of Rokkaku Jōtei at the siege of Hida Castle and later at the Battle of Norada (9). But again, no ninja here. Finally there was a second raid of Sawayama Castle in 1561, which resulted in Dodo committing suicide. But, importantly, no ninja. Certainly not 48 of them. We have the complete military records in the Azai Sandai ki (10), the chronicle of the Azai.
The second absolute example of nonsense I want to discuss is the use of the “Kunoichi”. The Bansenshukai is the only work to discuss Kunoichi. A term often used to imply female ninja. Cummins parses it as a “female agent”. The problem here is - none of that is correct.
There are three ways of writing Kunoichi:
At no time does this read, “female ninja” or “female agent”. The association with kunoichi and female ninja is entirely modern. It is from a novel in the 1950's wherein the author, Yamada Futarō, used it in an incredibly unseemly and vulgar manner to imply female. I won't repeat that filth. But that's where it comes from. 1950's sexism, not the original documents.
Rather than making insulting derogatory remark about women, looking at the text in context reveals that it:
Neither Nawa Yumio, nor Fujita Seiko, both noted and prolific ninjutsu and ninja researchers and authors, list any variations of kunoichi in any of their vast publications and research on ninjutsu. Yet, since the 1950’s the idea of female ninja running around in seduction operations, for which there is no evidence, has persisted and retroactively been applied to readings of the Bansenshukai ever since. This is an excellent example of how the “ninja-craze” rewrites the accounts within a banal, vague text to make it more “ninja”.
The same rewriting of facts and history is found in the exhaustively reprinted “ninja tools”, that were nothing of the kind. This is a modern day wish fulfilment of wannabe super-spy one-man armies reading what they want into fantasy comic book drawings. The tools and stories are of the same sort as the gadgets used by Batman on his utility belt. Sure a portable grappling gun and repelling line sounds awesome. It’s completely believable in a comic book or with movie magic...but in reality, it just doesn’t work like that.
These aren’t blueprints to be followed, they were the imaginings of someone who never saw the battles of the Sengoku Period. That doesn’t mean you can’t follow them and try and see what or how they could be used, it’s fun, but do so in the understanding that they were not legitimately used as described. They are not historically accurate.
Let me give you a cultural example from our Western historical background to highlight the absurdity of the Bansenshukai as a legitimate document . By training I am a student of Classical History. I have a degree in Classical Civilisations from UCD, with a minor in archaeology. I am academically trained to look at primary source documents and analyse and interpret them.
If I am presented with the Iliad or the Odyssey or Aeneid, I study them with respect to the cultural impact of these stories. I look at the tradition of story-telling itself. I look at the language. If I am presented with a document that pertains to hold the military secrets of the Myrmidons (Achilles warriors) and the diagrams of their flying ships, or the plans to build a giant wooden horse...well I’d be very very dubious.
I do not read the Iliad and think that Odysseus was a Greek “ninja” commander because he designed a stealth attack to enter the walls of Troy inside a wooden horse. (Very “ninja”). I don’t then go and look to construct a wooden horse and practice sneaking inside a building and claim that I am practising a legitimate military tactic or that I am Greek Antiquity Special Forces, as certain authors do about the Bansenshukai (13), because that is absurdly ridiculous.
No, I would look at the culture of fictionalising events in the light of that culture and in combination with the physical evidence suggest that the wooden horse was a metaphor for an earthquake.
In the same way I do not look at the description of the armour made for Achilles by Hephaestion, the blacksmith of the gods, or the shield that he made for him - which is described in wonderful detail, as blueprints for genuine military armour or tools of war in the classical period. They are storytelling devices.
In the same way I acknowledge the Shield of Achilles as the first example of cosmological mapping in the history of Greece, I don’t then interpret that information as military strategy or planning.
I appreciate the Iliad for what it is, a cracking good story and a vital part of literary history, and cultural mythology. I do not read it as a military manual. I certainly do not judge it as an accurate historical account of a military engagement.
The Bansenshukai is equally fictional. Citing mythological beings and weapons and tactics that were rarely, if never used or even real. The key difference is the Iliad is a wonderful story and worthy of study. The Bansenshukai is not, which is why credible academics do not bother with it in the slightest and why it was ignored until unscrupulous men decided to use it to legitimise their made up arts.
(1) Hall, Dr,David; "Encyclopedia of Japanese Arts", Kodansha 2012, pg 459.
(2) “The original documents are in ‘old Japanese’ thus Dr Nakashima Sensei will translate this into modern Japanese. Yoshie Minami will then take that translations and render them into a basic English format. Finally Antony Cummins will create the full English version...we are working from we are working from the Tokyo National Diet Library version, we used modern Japanese for anyone to read as Kanbun can be difficult” https://www.martialartsplanet.com/threads/antony-cummins-latest-news.96472/page-5
(3) Turnbull, Dr. S. Ninja: Unmasking the Ninja. Frontline, 2017
(4) Ron Roy Translation. http://www.ninpo.org/historicalrecords/bansenshukai/bansenshukai_vol_1.html
(5) Cummins, A. Miami, Y. Book of the Ninja, Watkins Publishing LTD (10 Oct. 2013)
(6) Hall, Dr. David A. Encyclopedia of Japanese Martial Arts. Kodansha 2012
(7) Cummins, A. Miami, Y. Book of the Ninja, Watkins Publishing LTD (10 Oct. 2013), pg.42.
(8) Owada, Tetsuo (1973). Ōmi Azai Shi (Tokyo, Shin Jinbutsu Ōraisha), p. 81
(9) Owada, Tetsuo (1973). Ōmi Azai Shi (Tokyo, Shin Jinbutsu Ōraisha), pp. 82-84.
(10) Azai Sandai ki Volume 11 http://yoshiok26.p1.bindsite.jp/bunken/cn14/asai12.html (Hikone City Board of Education (no date). ‘Watashi no machi no Sengoku’: Dodo uji to Dodo yakata (information sheet) (Hikone City).
(11) Turnbull, Dr. S.Ninja: Unmasking the Ninja, Frontline, 2017
(12) Hall, Dr. David A. Encyclopedia of Japanese Martial Arts. Kodansha 2012
(13) You may think I am exaggerating, but this is the deluded beliefs put forward about the ninja. For example, noted fraud Antony Cummins asserts in all seriousness that reading the Bansenshukai, a period fantasy document, "allows a single human to train diligently to become a clandestine operative with knowledge that rivals modern Special Forces”. (Cummins, A. Minami, Y. Book of the Ninja, Watkins, 2013). As a former instructor to Special Forces members, military and police, with many friends who served, and those who are still on active service, I find this comment both ignorant and distasteful. It is the macho posturing of someone who has no clue what those men and women go through and what is asked of them.