Picturing the Unseen: Traditional Representations of Ninja and the Allure of Invisibility in Early Modern Japan, 1750–1900
EA 433: Topics in East Asian Visual Cultures
From the obscure depths of medieval Japan's military history to the popular culture icon of today, how can we account for the enduring allure of the ninja image? To answer this question, this digital essay turns back the clock by two hundred years and explores the earliest surviving images of ninja. By bringing these artifacts to life within the rich visual culture from which they emerged, I argue that the iconography of the black-clad ninja developed out of artistic strategies for portraying invisibility in the kabuki theatre, and the subsequent popularity of this figure reveals an unspoken link between invisibility and political and cultural power.