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A ninja (, Japanese pronunciation: [ida]) or shinobi (, [inobi]) was a covert agent or mercenary in feudal Japan. The functions of a ninja included espionage, deception, and surprise attacks. Their covert methods of waging irregular warfare were deemed dishonorable and beneath the honor of the samurai. Though shinobi proper, as specially trained spies and mercenaries, appeared in the 15th century during the Sengoku period, antecedents may have existed as early as the 12th century. In the unrest of the Sengoku period, mercenaries and spies for hire became active in Iga Province and the adjacent area around the village of Kga, and it is from these areas that much of the knowledge regarding the ninja is drawn. Following the unification of Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate in the 17th century, the ninja faded into obscurity. A number of shinobi manuals, often based on Chinese military philosophy, were written in the 17th and 18th centuries, most notably the Bansenshukai (1676). By the time of the Meiji Restoration (1868), shinobi had become a topic of popular imagination and mystery in Japan. Ninja figured prominently in legend and folklore, where they were associated with legendary abilities such as invisibility, walking on water and control over natural elements. As a consequence, their perception in popular culture is based more on such legends and folklore than on the covert actors of the Sengoku period. Etymology Ninja is the on'yomi (Early Middle Chineseinfluenced) reading of the two kanji ''. In the native kun'yomi reading, it is pronounced shinobi, a shortened form of shinobi-no-mono (). The word shinobi appears in the written record as far back as the late 8th century in poems in the Man'ysh.
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