Tag Archive: Carmen Sterba

Ukiyo-e by Hiroshige  Library of Congress, U.S.A.

Ukiyo-e by Hiroshige
Library of Congress, U.S.A.

by Carmen Sterba

American Commodore Matthew Perry’s black ships reached Yokohama during 1853, when Japan was isolated for 250 years from any kind of interaction with the West, including trading. Soon after Perry negotiated trade treaties with the Tokugawa government, ships came from Britain, Russia, Holland, France and elsewhere to sign treaties for trade and to allow Westerners to live in Japan. Fifteen years later, the Tokugawa shogun retired under pressure, the new Emperor Meiji moved into the Shogun’s castle in newly named Tokyo and the Meiji Era began. Modernization hurled ahead at astounding speed. One of the biggest changes was the adaptation of new technology from the West. Among many other changes was the establishment of schools for girls and young women.

First Japanese Girl’s School Founded in Japan

Famous Translator in Meiji Era Japan   wikimedia.org

Famous Translator in in Meiji Era Japan

The first girl’s school was founded by Mary E. Kidder, an American missionary in Yokohama in 1870. The first graduate of Ferris Girl’s School was translator and writer Wakamatsu Shizuko (1872-1895). Her life is the saga of an orphan from a proud samurai family. She was educated at a Christian school, learned English, became a teacher at Ferris, and found that translating Western literature was her forte.

Wakamatsu was her hometown, so Shizuko later chose this name for her pen name as a translator. The truth is that her name had been changed several times once she became an orphan. Her father had fought with the Aizu Clan against the imperial forces during the Meiji Restoration, was defeated, imprisoned and believed to have died. When her mother died two years later, Shizuko was adopted by a family in Yokohama.

Missionary Mary Kidder’s Favorite Student

At that time Miss Kidder taught English lessons in the home of the missionary James C. Hepburn who published the first Japanese-English dictionary and translated the Bible into classic Japanese. Later, when Shizuko’s father surprisingly returned alive, she began to board at Miss Kidder’s school. According to author and Japanese literature professor Rebecca L. Copeland, “[Mary] took special care of Shizuko, inviting her into her home and giving her a taste of the maternal love the child had craved. Moreover, Christianity gave Shizuko a sense of familiar fellowship and self-worth.” After graduating, Shizuko first taught at Ferris.

Modernist Meiji Literary Circles

Copeland reiterates, “Shizuko’s life resembled a random interweaving of various cultures. beliefs, classes and circumstances.” With her bi-lingual education, knowledge of both Japanese and Euro-American literature, the life as a writer and translator suited her. Soon Wakamatsu Shizuka became known in the Meiji Literary Circles among Koda Rohan, Higuchi Ichiyo, Mori Ogai, Miyake Kaho, and others. S

Wakamatsu the Translator and Children’s Literature

Wakamatsu had definite goals in her article writing and translations. As a writer, she was influenced by the morals of Chinese Confucianism and American Puritanism. She chose themes and books for translation which would inspire Japanese girls and women. Her most famous translation was Little Lord Fauntleroy. And, though she also translated portions of Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher-Stowe, Longfellow and other luminaries, she preferred children’s literature. Since Wakamatsu had lost her childhood during a time of unrest, it must have been a solace that she could use her talent for poetical English and classical Japanese in her translations. Her greatest legacy is how she inspired the new genre of children’s literature in Japan.

Christians in the Meiji Era 1868-1912

In addition, she began a column for foreign missionaries in Japan to nurture their understanding of Japanese culture. Wakamatsu’s life and work was one of sensitivity and moderation between Anglo-American and Japanese cultures. Although she was educated in a progressive style for women of her time and held strong Christian beliefs, she was always proud of her Japanese language, classics and traditions. She became a role model on how to balance the lure of Western culture and not lose the best of Japanese culture in the midst of modernization. As a historian, Anna Hartshorne wrote during the Meiji era, “the country [Japan] can make such radical changes and yet retain its own intense individuality.”

In 1889, Shizuko married Iwamoto Yoshiharu. It was a modern ‘love marriage’ and they had much in common since they were both writers and Christians. E.S. Booth, a principal at Ferris observed that Shizuko “was a new woman in the highest and best sense.”

Ferris University in a New Era

Even now, the Christian schools that began with the wave of Japanese modernism are still standing over one-hundred years later. Ferris grew to be one of the most respected female educational institutions. The legacy of Mary E. Kidder is now both Ferris Girl’s School and Ferris University. During the four years I taught at Ferris University in Yokohama, I admired the president of the university, Mr. Toru Yuge whose speeches at graduation inspired the women graduates to have high standards and exceed their expectations; Kidder and Wakamatsu would have approved. The motto of Ferris University is “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4.


Copeland, Rebecca L. “Behind the Veil: Wakamatsu Shizuko and the Freedom of Translation,” Lost Leaves: Women Writers of Meiji Japan, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000.

Hartshorne, Anna. Japan and Her People, eds. Brent Massy and Christopher West, Jetlag Press, 2007.



Workshop at Sakura Con, Seattle, WA – April 20, 2014

Carmen Sterba, former secretary and vice president of the Haiku Society of America and an editor for haijinx, an Online journal.

Writing a successful English-language haiku has a lot to do with resonance because the reader’s enjoyment of the haiku depends on subtle or common associations and uncommon expressions. The poet hopes to compose a haiku that will not be forgotten.

First of all, there is flexibility in the form of English-language haiku. Though Japanese haiku are written in 5-7-5 short Japanese sounds, English syllables are often longer and may bog down the brevity and lightness of haiku. Poets often say a haiku should be read in one breath with one pause between the two parts. What all haiku poets can agree on is that it is preferable to compose haiku of less than 17 syllables.

Consequently, after 100 years of haiku being written in English and other languages, haiku has fanned out into three styles: contemporary, traditional and innovative. Within contemporary, the three-liner has evolved into one to four lines with approximately an average of five to twelve words. The Traditional style continues the three-line structure only and keeps the strict form of 5-7-5 syllables of the Japanese haiku, though it might be 2-3 syllables short. This style has clarity, which is relatively easy to understand. The innovative style is more radical than contemporary, just about anything goes and it does not look like traditional haiku. In fact, in extreme cases, it might be considered merely haiku-like.

The late British poet Martin Lucas suggested to create a poetic spell with “words that chime, words that beat, and words that flow.” He gave high praise for the following contemporary one-liner by Stuart Quine:

Sharpening this night of stars distant dogs

Who or what is sharpening that night? The stars? The dogs? Most likely the stars and howl of the dogs are colliding in the reader’s senses by juxtaposition, the contrast of two images. Our sharpened focus on the stars pierces through us as we hear the dogs howl and at the same time there is a heightening of the connectivity of the vastness of the star-studded night.

Former Modern Haiku editor, Robert Spiess, wrote a series of ‘Speculations’ on haiku, which includes the following: “Juxtaposition of entities in haiku cannot be simply the throwing together of just anything, the poet must have the intuition that certain things . . . have a resonance with each other that will evoke a revelation when they are juxtaposed in accordance with the time-tested canons and aesthetics of haiku.”

a speedboat slices
our lake in half

Carmen Sterba The Heron’s Nest, 2009

A common sound heard in the summertime in the Seattle area is speedboats. The engine evokes a hint of bravado and recklessness as the waves powerfully rock other boats. In this contemporary haiku, the movement and sound of the boat transfers in our memory to the sight and sound of lapping waves, which continue to reverberate. And the word ‘slices’ may cause the reader to feel danger lurking there.

heat lightning –

all the way into Mexico

the mountains rise

Michael McClintock, The Heron’s Nest, II:5

At night, flashes of light transform a landscape temporarily. When each flash of lightning strikes, the silhouette of the mountains is reveled in an instant. This repeats again and again. Without the word Mexico the mountains would still rise in the flash, yet the addition of a direction in which to move increases the power of this haiku. It is 15 syllables; close enough to be a traditional haiku, which will never age.

pig and i spring rain

marlene mountain, Frogpond II:3-4

In this innovative haiku, there is a relationship between the pig and the poet because both depend on each other in some ways. After all, the pig is most likely a pet, or at least a prospective blue ribbon winner. The addition of the key word (kigo) ‘spring’ unfolds a variety of associations for the reader. The open-ended style allows room for the reader to complete the haiku.

As a former editor for the Online journal haijinx, I found out how important it was to read each haiku several times before selecting individual choices for publication. I needed to evaluate each haiku on various levels, but the bottom line always remains whether the elements of the haiku collide in a fresh but appealing way and hold the possibility of stirring up the reader’s memory. This may involve both juxtaposition, a careful choice of words, resonance and so many other possibilities that would entail many more workshops.

Haiku Hints

• seasonal word (optional)
• present tense for immediacy
• two parts (images)
• subtle emotion
• open-ended, room for the reader
• musicality, alliteration
• allusions
• one, two, three or four lines
• less than 17 syllables

Haiku Cautions

• not a sentence
• show, don’t tell
• not a chance for a bully pulpit


Lucas, Martin. Stepping Stones: a way into haiku, British Haiku Society, 2007.

Mountain, Marlene. “’The Japanese haiku’ and so on,” Haikumainia, 2004.

Spiess, Robert. A Year’s Speculations on Haiku, Madison, WI: Modern Haiku Press, 1995.

The Haiku Foundation.“HaikuNow! Contests.” 2014, retrieved from http://www.thehaikufoundation.org/


Why is haiku so alluring to each of us who enjoy reading and writing it? For haiku lovers, writing what one considers a successful haiku is likely to create a cathartic response. Once again, the poet hopes to compose a haiku that will not be forgotten.

We often hear that juxtaposition is a key to successful haiku. The contrast of two images in haiku is most often instrumental in creating resonance. Robert Spiess, the beloved editor of Modern Haiku, had this to say in A Year’s Speculations on Haiku, “Juxtaposition of entities in haiku cannot be simply the throwing together of just anything; the poet must have the intuition that certain things, albeit of ‘opposite’ characteristics, nonetheless have a resonance with each other that will evoke a revelation when they are juxtaposed in accordance with the time-tested canons and aesthetics of haiku.”1

As an editor for the online journal haijinx, I found out how important it is to read each haiku several times before making individual choices. I need to evaluate the haiku on various levels, but the bottom line is whether the elements of the haiku also allow the reader to relate to a new way of seeing. This may involve both juxtaposition and an open-ended style, besides a careful choice of words. Here’s some contemporary haiku that are subtle or surprising in their juxtaposition. The first is an example of how juxtaposition creates synesthesia by combining more than one of the senses. 

night of stars

all along the precipice

goat bells ring

– an’ya 2

On an especially clear night with bright stars overhead, mountain goats move along the mountain trail with their heavy burdens as their hooves come dangerously close to the precipice. Each goat bell rings and the stars seem to ring, also. This is an excellent example of synesthesia.

full moon mist 

from my whisper on her
silver earring

– William Cullen Jr. 3 

This haiku is visually provocative in a refined manner. As the wee circular puff disappears (in imitation of the full moon) the repetition of i and s in the words mist, whisper and silver adds to the sense of intimacy and creates a delicate synesthesia.

the piano hammers

barely moving …

night snow

– John Barlow 4

Instead of a focus on the music, the poet zeros in on the hammers of the piano. The tempo of the hammers, and thus the unmentioned tune, is gently transferred to the tempo of the falling snow. Barlow’s control of the technique of transference is exquisite. I have noticed this to be true in many of his haiku.

sunlit jar

the beekeeper’s gift 

on the doorstep

– Carmen Sterba 5

First, one imagines an empty jar filled by the sun, but the mention of a beekeeper suddenly fills this jar with fresh honey in this example of transference.
If Gallagher had chosen a different first line, how different this haiku would be. The act of love reverberates in the bite of the cherry tomato. It is all so succinct and evocative.

after love 

the sweet burst

of cherry tomato

– G. Claire Gallagher 6

If Gallagher had chosen a different first line, how different this haiku would be. The act of love reverberates in the bite of the cherry tomato. It is all so succinct and evocative.

heat lightning – 

all the way into Mexico

the mountains rise

– Michael McClintock 7

At night, flashes of light transform a landscape temporarily. When the lightning strikes, the mountain seems to move towards Mexico. Without the word Mexico the mountains would still rise, yet with the addition of a place name, the poet gives the mountains a direction in which to move, and that extends the movement. 


we wade into the current

of a great river

– Kirsty Karkow 8

Karkow’s coupling of honeymoon with a great river adds the exhilaration and the weight of a major commitment. This particular river changes into a river of life and lends substance to the haiku for each reader to reflect on in their own way. This is a successful transference link. All these haiku are examples of some of the techniques that the English-language poets have learned from the translations of Bashô’s different techniques for juxtaposition.

Basho said: “The hokku has changed repeatedly since the distant past, but there have been only three changes in the nature of the haikai link. In the distant past, poets valued word links (kotoba-zuke). In the more recent past, poets have stressed content links (kokoro-zuke). Today, it is best to link by transference (usuri), reverberation (hibiki), scent (nioi), or status (kurai).”9

In Bashô’s time, these kinds of links were used in haikai no renga (popular-style linked verse) which is now called renku. All the techniques mentioned above are used in renku today. However, transference, reverberation, and scent link techniques are the most useful and effective in haiku juxtaposition. 

I have focused on the techniques of transference and reverberation in this article. A status link requires using words that give a clue to the class of people or places. This is appropriate in renku, but not common in English-language haiku. Examples of scent link are those with a typically quiet, meditative and lonely mood (sabi). It is a popular style in contemporary haiku in all languages. 

Another method that Bashô used at the end of his life is the technique of lightness (karumi). This implied the “recovery of youthful playfulness, spontaneity, naturalness, and a fresh perspective . . .”9 This kind of lightness is definitely alive in English-language haiku.

Lastly, a word about haiku with one image: marlene mountain pointed out that though juxtaposition is a technique, “non-juxtaposition is not the opposite and needn’t be compared” for it is “a technique too. 10 And Bashô and his disciples would have agreed, though they called it a “single-object” poem.

Basho said: “A hokku that moves smoothly from the opening five syllables to the end is a superb verse”.
Kyorai said: If a poet composes by combining separate things, he can compose many verses and compose them quickly. Beginning poets should know this. But when one becomes an accomplished poet, it is no longer a question of combining or not combining.”9

In the hands of a highly skilful haiku poet, one-image haiku can be exquisitely successful. Nevertheless, experimenting with different types of juxtaposition may add the depth that creates a memorable haiku; one that does not fail to reverberate again and again.

1: Spiess, Robert. A Year’s Speculations on Haiku, (Modern Haiku Press) 1995.
2: The Heron’s Nest, II:2.
3: Frogpond, XXIX:1.
4: Robert Speiss Memorial 2006 Haiku Awards, Second Place.
5: The Heron’s Nest, III:6; sunlit jar, 2002-5.

6: How Fast the Ground Moves, 2001.
7: The Heron’s Nest, II:5.

8: The Heron’s Nest, IV:2; Water Poems: Haiku, Tanka, and Sijo, 2005.

9: Shirane, Haruo. Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and Poetry of Bashô, (Stanford University Press) 1998.

10: mountain, marlene. “the Japanese haiku and so on,” Haikumainia, June 16, 2004.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Simply Haiku Vol 5:3, Autumn 2007 and has been revised by the author in June 2011 for Haiku NewZ.

Carmen Sterba lived in Japan for 31 years before returning to the US in 2004. She is a founding editor for haijinx (relaunched in 2010), former haiku columnist for The Haiku Foundation’s Troutswill Blog and for the North American Post, a Japanese-American newspaper in Seattle. She has previously servied as both secretary and first vice-president of the Haiku Society of America. Carmen’s haiku appeared in A New Resonance 4, Emerging Voices in English-language Haiku in 2005 and her chapbook, sunlit jar was first published in 2002. Locally, she is active in Haiku Northwest and is a co-founder of Commencement Bay Haiku in 2012.

Novelist Ha Jin


Author Min Jin Lee in New York



Historian Marius Jansen put Fukuzawa on a pedestal in The Making of Modern Japan, “Beyond the voyage of 1860 and the time of his death in 1901 Fukuzawa earned recognition as nineteenth-century Japan’s foremost modernizer. Founder of Keio, destined to become Japan’s first private university, commentator on cultural and public matters in a never-ending series of essays and books, his influence permeated every aspect of Meiji life.”

Latest Historical Biographies Articles by Carmen Sterba

A Driving Force in the Moderization of Japan: Fukuzawa Yukichi – 29-Jun-12

Photo by Carmen Sterba on Jan 2007.

Abbess Kakusan founded Tokeiji as a convent used as a sanctuary for women in distress. Naahime (Tenshu) escaped death at Osaka Castle and was spirited away to the safety of this sanctuary in Kamakura.

One of the most popular temples in Kamakura, for both Japanese and overseas tourists, is Tokeiji, the first sanctuary for women in Japan. It was a 10 minute walk from my home to this temple. There I first learned how samurai women had found safety in its Pine Grove Forest. In 1285, Lady Horiuchi, of the Adachi clan, established Tokeiji convent after the death of her husband Hojo Tokimune, the 8th regent of the Kamakura Shogunate (1185-1333).

In the beginning, the women who arrived there were victims of clan wars. However, when peace came to the country at the beginning of the Tokugawa (or Edo) period in 1600s, the women who arrived at the gates were mostly townsfolk who desired shelter from abusive husbands and in-laws.

Women Hostages and Runaways

Horiuchi took vows as a nun right before Hojo Tokimune died; she became Abbess Kakusan Shido. Tokeij’s convent lasted almost 700 years before being changed into a monastery. One of the reasons she used the convent as a sanctuary was that during infighting between the Hojo clan and the Adachi clan, part of her family was killed. The person responsible was her own son, Regent Hojo Sadatoki. It was a grueling aspect of the medieval period to experience the sudden break up of clans with families killed and women taken hostage. Women were also taken as hostages for political marriages. It was within this environment that Kakusan decided to use her convent as a sanctuary for women.

Kakusan (with Sadatoki) petitioned the emperorfor those who were in distress. According to Sachiko Kaneko Morrell in Zen Sanctuary of the Purple Robes, the petition stated, “being treated unjustly, some commit suicide or take other extreme measures. I request that this humble temple code provide that if such women reside in this convent for three years, the marital relationship will be severed.” Later, it was later changed to two years. The sanctuary continued until the convent was changed to a monastery in 1902 after women’s shelters and legal courts for divorce were established.

The Granddaughters of Hideyoshi and Ieyasu

Before Taiko Toyotomi Hideyoshi died in 1598, he requested Tokugawa Ieyasu and other daimyo to guarantee the safety of his son, Hideyori. Ieyasu broke his promise. In 1614-5, there were two sieges by Tokugawa forces against Hideyori at Osaka Castle where his wife Senhime, Ieyasu’s granddaughter; his mother, Yodogimi; and his children lived. Among those who rallied around Hideyori, were samurai who had converted to Christianity in the late 1500s and early 1600s before the persecutions of Christians grew. There were also samurai who were loners (ronin). Ieyasu and his son, Shogun Hidetada, won the battle with their greater strength of forces.

As Osaka Castle began to burn, Hideyori and his mother prepared for suicide as Senhime and her stepdaughter, Naahime, were allowed to leave the castle before it burned. Knowing that Tokeiji was a sanctuary, Senhime made sure that arrangements were made for the seven-year-old and some of her maids to escape by palanquin from Osaka to Kamakura. Unfortunately, Naahime’s eight-year-old brother was beheaded by the Tokugawa.

The Trauma of a Young Girl

What could it have been like for the small girl to be torn away by the death of her family and the only place she knew? Her ride to Tokeiji and safety was necessary so she would not be taken hostage or killed. As the palanquin was carried along the seaside route to Kamakura, what images of the battle and fire raced through her mind? Nahime only knew that she would become a nun at a forest temple for the rest of her life.

Sources from Catholic Priests and English Tradesmen

Japan experienced the arrival of Portuguese and Spanish priests in the 15th-17th centuries, as well as traders from England and the Netherlands. Some of them wrote diaries. One shipwrecked Englishman, Will Adams was able to establish a relationship with Ieyasu. He learned Japanese, became a samurai and a landowner in the Yokosuka. There was a yearly excursion to Edo for the priests and traders from Nagasaki in the south. Richard Cocks, the head of the East India Company, reported in his diary that he and Will Adams (as interpreter) passed through Kamakura on their way to Edo in 1616. Their remarks about the small daughter of Hideyori living at the Tokeiji convent were copied as the following (which was originally in Old English):

“The little daughter of Lord Hideyori took the tonsure to be a nun in Tokeiji, only to save her life, for it is a sanctuary & no justice may take her out.”

Richard Cock’s Diary entry for October 18, 1616.

The Hori Incident in History and Anime

Naahime was named Tenshu Hotai and eventually became the 20th abbess of Tokeiji. An alarming incident happened which shows her strength and courage. A daimyo, Kato Akinari was a cruel and decadent man who was outraged by advice from his loyal retainer, Hori Mondo. Hori sent his wife and children to Tokeiji for safety and hid from Kato. When Kato’s assassin arrived at Tokeiji, Tenshu refused to let the women them go. The assassin left because no man could enter the gate of Tokeiji’s sanctuary. There is a manga on the Hori Incident. It is greatly sensationalized, but the part about Tenshu and her continued correspondence with Senhime is quite accurate.

Abbesses Kakusan and Tenshu are exceptionally courageous samurai women. There is little written about women in medieval history. Legends of samurai women have been passed down and repeated in The Tales of Heike and other literature, but Kakusan and Tenshu were real people who studied, prayed, wrote poetry and helped other women who had no place to run to. In fact, Tokeiji is called the “run to temple” (kakikomidera).

This article is copyrighted by Carmen Sterba and first appeared in Suite 101 Online Magazine and Writer’s Network on May 15,2011.


Morrell, Sachiko K and Robert E. Morrell. Zen Sanctuary of Purple Robes: Japan’s Tokeiji Convent Since 1285, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2006.

Rozmus, Lidia and Carmen Sterba, eds. The Moss at Tokeiji: A Sanctuary for Women in Kamakura (1285-1902), Santa Fe: Far North Press, 2010.

Tokeiji Official Website, Retrieved from http://www.tokeiji.com/

Historical ninja were mostly samurai who doubled as spies from the 15th to 17th centuries. Ninja as fantasy characters now appeal to all generations.

How historical are ninja? They are more apt to appear in old samurai movies, manga and anime, than in history books. There were ninja who came from Iga and Koga, but not all ninja were from those areas of Japan. There were also female ninja called kunoichi, but the historical ones were likely more scarce than kunoichi in anime. One of the most important facts about real ninja is that most were samurai, who doubled as spies. Non-samurai, who had been paid as informants, were not considered ninja.

Ninja Gather Enemy Intelligence

On the Ninja Museum website developed in Iga is the following explanation about ninja: “Most people imagine that ninjas flew through the sky and disappeared, like Superman, waving ninja swords around, sneaking into the enemy ranks and assassinating generals. This is a mistaken image of the ninja introduced by movies and comic books.” The job assignment of ninja was divided into “two main categories of performing espionage and strategy.” That is “similar to the job of modern spies, wherein one carefully gathers intelligence about the enemy and analyzes their military strength.” This sounds familiar, suspenseful and dangerous like the Obama administration’s successful mission by the CIA and Navy Seals to find Osama bin Laden.

Hattori is an Example of a Samurai Working Double as a Ninja

In actuality, real ninja were only prevalent during the late-15th to the early-17th century when the most powerful and ambitious samurai leaders were Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. These men needed ninja as spies to keep track of who might try to assassinate them or attack their castles. In fact, the most well known ninja was Ieyasu’s samurai retainer, Hattori Hanzo.

How Did Ninja Disguise Themselves?

What about the “ninja style”? Is that for real? Probably. They wore subdued kimono most of the time; there were no black pajama bottoms. When ninja had to escape, they often dressed as monks. Also, some ninja were actually known to dress as traveling entertainers with gaudy costumes. The average samurai or townspeople seldom mixed with performers. Therefore, it was a clever way for them to travel because they were allowed to pass through checkpoints without a pass.

Ninja Myths Disclosed

Although real ninja did not use the black pajama style, Japanese novelists and their illustrators began to use it to enhance the mystique of ninja during the late Tokugawa period (1600-1868). This garb may have been inspired by the theatrical styles of Japanese theater such as Bunraku puppet plays because puppeteers (hidarizukai) dressed in black and had hoods to make themselves “invisible” to their audience, along with the additional influence of Kabuki Plays.

Novelists did not use he word “ninja” until the late 1800s. Next, with the age of film, ninja characters were filmed in black and white, so the ninja pajama outfits with scarves around their faces must have made it easier for the audiences to identify the ninja. Finally, in the late 1950s, movies and TV went to color. In 1986, a cartoon called Ninja Hattori-kun, in blue “ninja style,” appeared on Japanese TV, and video games and anime followed later.

The Cultural Mindset of Anime

Now the colorful clothes of the protagonists and antagonists in Shonen Jump’s Naruto and other anime are fresh, quirky and alluring on film as well as manga. It looks like anime ninja and kunoichi dress more like historical ninja in disguise. According to Donald Richie in A Hundred Years of Japanese Film, Sato Kenji points out that manga and anime’s “inherent lack of realism is their unique ability to exploit the appeal and fascination of the unreal…. These are the only two media capable of portraying reality the way Japanese feel it should be.” Anime has most certainly changed the way modern Japanese and their culture are seen worldwide.

The fantastical ninja in the media arts, fantasy novels or old samurai films for movies and TV, are most likely to appeal to different ages of people. Thus, authors, screenwriters, cartoonists, manga and anime artists all write for certain audiences. International ninja enthusiasts, who are interested in an Internet site for online debates and resources on accurate samurai history, including ninja, can use the Samurai Archives Citadel.

Today, I talked to Brandon, an American college student, about his fashion of wearing a wool scarf over part of his face. “Were you inspired by ninja?” I asked. Immediately, he animatedly explained how there is not much known about ninja in history except that they started in Iga and Koga. As he said those locations, I smiled, nodded my head, and we promised to talk more about these legendary spies that continue to appeal to new generations worldwide.

This article is copyright by Carmen Sterba and first appeared in Suite 101 Online Magazine and Writers Network, May 7, 2011.


Richie, Donald. “Documentary and Anime,” A Hundred Years of Japanese Film: A Concise History with a Selective Guide to Videos and DVDs, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2001, pp. 43-53.

The Samurai Archives Citadel Japanese History Forum (1999)Retrieved from http://forums.samurai-archives.com/viewforum.php?f=2&sid=f5a86319973f8ec488a06491c165b164

Iga-ryu Ninja Museum, 2011

Naruto Anime Ninja

Joseph Hardy Niijima

Niijima Jo, Founder of Doshisha College and Husband of Yamamoto Yae

Niijima Jo, a young samurai risked his life to travel to America before the Government of Japan allowed it and came back as a respected leader.




In Chang-rae Lee‘s novel, The Surrendered, his main characters, Joy, Hector and Sylvie have connections to both America and Korea. Lee has a way of juxtaposing the main threads of each of his novels into two parts: the unknown suffering of war and the known tasks of daily life. In this novel, Joy and Hector travel to Solferino, Italy where a historical battle took place. Surprisingly, this change of battlegrounds presents a chance for them to make peace with their past.


Latest American Fiction Articles by Carmen Sterba