As you’ve no doubt gathered from my blogs, I have a special connection to Japan. I’ve been there many, many times, I speak a bit of the language. I even lived there for a few years back in the 80s. If I had to sum up my feelings about the country, I’d say I go Japan for the food, the temples, the gardens, the nature and the gracious people. But I stay for the NINJAS!

I mean, what’s more Japanese than ninjas?!! Okay, maybe Godzilla. But other than that, ninjas hold a quintessential place in our idea of Japan. Black-clad assassins gliding silently across rooftops, veils over their faces, throwing stars a-ready in their pockets. It’s the perfect Halloween costume! But did ninjas really exist? And if so, where did they live?

The answer is yes, there really were ninjas, and they lived in places like Iga, Japan, fondly referred to as “Ninja Town.” Just an hour outside of Osaka in nearby Mie Prefecture, the Iga Ninju Museum is an actual ninja residence, complete with revolving walls, traps doors and hidden compartments. You enter through a nice museum of ninja tools, gadgets, costumes and weapons, tour the house with a Japanese guide, and then exit to the backyard, where you can toss throwing stars at a target (for a price), or sit and enjoy the high-octane “ninja show”.

As it turns out, the day my nephew, Amir, and I arrive in Iga, it’s some kind of dress-up day. Families are arriving in droves and renting ninja outfits at the information center. In other words, there are little ninjas everywhere you look, and that doesn’t even count all the adult cosplayers (who outnumber the kids). We tour the museum attentively, picking up about half of what the guide is saying, and then settle in for the backyard show, which is an absolute riot! Oh, this isn’t just a demonstration of ninja skills. This is a full-blown Jackie Chan movie, with comedic battles, tumbling runs, and piped-in sound effects straight out of the old Batman TV show of the 60s. Every fake punch, every false blow is punctuated with a loud “Pow!” “Blam!” “Kablooey!” I cannot remember laughing harder, or wondering how remarkable it is that my path has led me to here, a small town in rural Japan, where I’m watching ninjas at play.

Have you ever had that feeling, that sense of wonderment that you’re far, far from home, experiencing something singular and rare? What if you could treat ever day like that, noticing the preciousness of each moment?