The traditional view of the ninja warrior clothing is of course that of a stealthy figure dressed all in black. This clothing however was actually taken from an illustration first drawn in the early 19th century. What is likely however that on stealth missions, the ninja would be dressed in all black or at least dark clothing. Some reports tell how rather than black the ninja would dress in dark red or brown, and should the ninja get injured or have someone else’s blood spill on them, it would be less visible to others.
It is common in researching the clothing of the ninjas that you will find modern references to the shinobi shozoku, which is the name given to what many believe was the traditional ninja clothing. This shozoku was in essence a type of keikogi which is basically a martial arts practise uniform. This shozoku is the one you will see in any contemporary representation of the ninja warrior, the dark and mysterious outfit for these stealthy warriors.
The shozoku is the costume that we plan to explore in more detail, breaking down the individual items that made up the ninja’s clothing.
The zukin and the fukumen was the covering for the ninja’s head. Essentially two pieces of cloth thought to be all black, with the zukin the hood covering the head, and the fukumen covering the ninja’s face. This covering of the face using the zukin and the fukumen the ninja to remain anonymous while wearing it, preserving the safety of them and their family.
the uwagi was the jacket worn by the ninja, this loose fitting jacket was similar to the martial arts jackets used by karatekas or judokas, and the jacket tails would be tucked into the trousers and then simply fastened with a belt at the waist. The sleeves of the these jackets were purposely short and loose to ensure they would not get caught on anything while the ninja performed their many movements.
The ninja gloves, the tekoh were essential to cover the ninjas hands, ensuring that the pale skin would be suitably covered for a night mission. The tekoh also served another purpose of keeping the hands warm. In winter the weather in Japan can get cold, meaning gloves were a useful addition for any ninja.
The ninja trousers or the hakama would again be similar to traditional martial arts pants, loose fitting which was incredibly important to allow a full range of movement. Traditional pants would also have been made out of a thick weave fabric, providing toughness and durability and also warmth for when they were worn at night. The trousers would be tied securely in at the bottom of the legs using leg wraps to ensure there was no possibility for loose material to get caught or snagged.
The ninja clothing was generally loose around joints, and tied securely at the end points of the ninjas limbs. The ninja belt was used to keep the uwagi, the ninja jacket secure while the ninja performed their many athletic and stealthy movements.
The kyahan the ninja leg wraps were used to fasten the bottom of the ninjas trousers, the hakama. The kyahan were individual pieces with pieces of string attached to each wrap allowing them to be securely fastened around the trousers.
The Tabi were the ninja socks or boots, often worn the Japanese for many tasks and adopted by the Samurai and the Ninja. Tabi in Japanese means that contact the ground’ which is the perfect description for these footwear which allowed the wearer a tactile contact between their feet and the ground. The prominent design feature of the tabi was the split in the big toe and the rest of the toes, and the tabi also featured an opening at the back that would be tied up by the wearer for a close fitted feel.
The Waraji were the straw or hemp sandals that were sometimes worn by the ninja. These sandals were lightweight, yet strong with a base and ties. Depending on the wearer the ties may be applied slightly different but in the case of the ninja the ties would be tight to allow for fast and accurate movement.
There are many historic example of ninja body armour that still exist to this day. It’s likely that on certain missions armour was a necessity, and while it more than likely hampered their manoeuvrability the trade off was more protected from attacks.
The ninja warriors clothing was assembled from many common japanese clothing items at the time. Often however these items were tailed to meet the ninja’s specific requirements. The Tabi for example were commonly white in Japanese culture, but the ninja of course wore black tabi to help them remain unseen in the dark of night. In this way the Ninja uniform and clothing were mixed and matched to ensure the ninja had full range of movement yet remained anonymous and as hidden as possible.