A ninja or shinobi was a covert agent or mercenary in feudal Japan.
A mercenary is an individual who is hired to take part in an armed conflict but is not part of a regular army or other governmental military force.
The first human habitation in the Japanese archipelago has been traced to prehistoric times.
The term covert agent can have many meanings, depending on context.
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The functions of the ninja included espionage, sabotage, infiltration, assassination and guerrilla warfare.
Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare in which a small group of combatants such as paramilitary personnel, armed civilians, or irregulars use military tactics including ambushes, sabotage, raids, petty warfare, hit-and-run tactics, and mobility to fight a larger and less-mobile traditional military.
Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening a polity or corporation through subversion, obstruction, disruption or destruction.
Espionage is the obtaining of information considered secret or confidential without the permission of the holder of the information.
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Their covert methods of waging irregular warfare were deemed dishonorable and beneath the samurai, who observed strict rules about honor and combat.
Samurai were the military nobility and officer caste of medieval and early-modern Japan.
The shinobi proper, a specially trained group of spies and mercenaries, appeared in the 15th century during the Sengoku period, but antecedents may have existed as early as the 12th century.
The Sengoku period is a period in Japanese history marked by social upheaval, political intrigue and near-constant military conflict.
In the unrest of the Sengoku period, mercenaries and spies for hire became active in the Iga Province and the adjacent area around the village of Kōga, and it is from the area's clans that much of our knowledge of the ninja is drawn.
Iga Province was a province of Japan located in what is today part of western Mie Prefecture.
Following the unification of Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate, the ninja faded into obscurity.
The Tokugawa Shogunate, also known as the Tokugawa Bakufu and the Edo Bakufu, was the last feudal Japanese military government, which existed between 1600 and 1868.
A number of shinobi manuals, often based on Chinese military philosophy, were written in the 17th and 18th centuries, most notably the Bansenshukai.
Bansenshukai is a Japanese book containing a collection of knowledge from the clans in the Iga and Kōga regions that had been devoted to the training of ninja.
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.
By the time of the Meiji Restoration, the tradition of the shinobi had become a topic of popular imagination and mystery in Japan.
The Meiji Restoration, also known as the Meiji Ishin, Renovation, Revolution, Reform, or Renewal, was a chain of events that restored practical imperial rule to Japan in 1868 under Emperor Meiji.
Ninjas figured prominently in legend and folklore, where they were associated with legendary abilities such as invisibility, walking on water and control over the natural elements.
Invisibility is the state of an object that cannot be seen.
As a consequence, their perception in popular culture is often based more on such legend and folklore than on the historically accurate spies of the Sengoku period.