Myōryū-ji, better known as Ninja-dera (ninja temple), is a buddhist temple located in the Teramachi temple district in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture. Ninja-dera is known for it’s large amount of embedded traps, secret doors and rooms, fake ceilings, optical illusions and it’s 23 rooms being interconnected almost like a maze making it near impossible to navigate inside. Ninja-dera is a real life experience only matched by computer games and movies.
While Myōryū-ji was never inhabited by ninjas as such, the traps, secret passage ways, escape routes and hidden rooms are genuine and date back to the Edo period. The deceptive constructions weren’t made to amuse tourists, but rather built as a defensive construction for the Maeda clan who ruled the Kaga domain in the Edo period (1603-1868).
History of Ninja-dera
During the Edo period (1603-1868) Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate. The shogun had several Daimyo (feudal lords) below him who ruled smaller domains around the country. The Kaga domain, where Kanazawa was located, was ruled by the Maeda clan who had their base at Kanazawa Castle.
The Shogun laid down strict construction rules for buildings, with the intend that the Daimyo below him shouldn’t become too strong. The idea was, that they couldn’t construct military structures to an extend that would enable them to revolt. Myōryū-ji was one of the ways that the Maeda clan attempted to circumvent these strict building regulations to protect themselves. At the time, the temple was located outside the castle city in a small temple area. This allowed the building to be used as a secret lookout post, for alarming the castle of incoming attackers.
The Shogun forbid buildings taller than 3 stories. To circumvent this height regulation, Myōryū-ji is constructed so it appears to have just 2 levels when seen from the outside. However, on the inside the building actually has 4 levels, with a 7-layer structure. The confusing layout, and the maze of stairs, half-level floors, secret doors and traps where used to delay or confuse intruders.
In the middle of the temple is a deep well, which is supposed to connect to a top secret tunnel leading to the castle grounds.
Planning your visit
|Hours||Reserved tours only|
Weekdays 9:00 – 16:00 (tours start every 60min)
Weekends 9:00 – 16:30 (tours start every 30min)
|Entrance fee||Advance reservations required. See official website.|
Adults: ¥1000, children ¥700
|Accommodation||Kinjohro, UAN kanazawa, The Share Hotel Kumu and more hotels|
Loop bus: the loop bus which runs around Kanazawa stops near Ninja-dera. Both the Right Loop and Left Loop can be taken. The stops are respectively RL11 (Hirokoji) and LL5 (Hirokoji). One-way fare: ¥200. A day pass costs ¥500.
Official Bus website: hokutetsu.co.jp
JR Bus: if you have a JR Pass, then you can take advantage of the JR Bus which runs through Kanazawa. It is free for holders of the Japan Rail Pass. The Korinbo Line, which departs from Kanazawa Station, stops somewhat near Ninja-dera. Get off at stop #4 (Korinbo) when departing from Kanazawa Station or stop #5 (Korinbo) when going towards Kanazawa Station.
Nishinihon JR Bus website: nishinihonjrbus.co.jp
Cover photo by Oren Rozen. CC BY-SA 4.0.