Over 70 Japanese-language students and foreign residents braved the fierce August heat to transform into ninjas and join the attack on Fukuoka Castle. The event is designed to teach foreigners about the history of one of the city’s top tourist attractions, with all the clues and information given in English. After registering and being sorted into groups, we were led into our briefing rooms. Here we were shown a video, in which Kanbei Kuroda, the Master of Castles, challenged us to try and infiltrate his famous fortress.
He was followed shortly by the head ninja, cropping up to tell us that we only had 100 minutes to fight our way into the castle, solving puzzles and mastering physical challenges. He informed us that we first had to find clues in the room around us, clues which would help us pick our tools for the struggle to come. The options ranged from goshiki mai (coloured grains of rice for leaving messages) to the classic shuriken stars.
After the laughter had died down from the brilliantly tongue-in-cheek video (with some great attention to historical costuming, including Kanbei Kuroda’s birthmark), we set about searching for the clues. Since we were being filmed, there was extra pressure to find all ten hidden words quickly! It turned out that the real hints were interspersed with a random selection of false clues, designed to throw off us the right track, but we, still blissfully ignorant, wrote down as many as we could.
Once outside we picked up our map and chose our tools (in reality, pictures printed on differently shaped cards, but in our ninja-mindset, dangerous and useful pieces of 16th century technology). My team went for the grappling hook (for scaling castle walls), the needle (useful for both killing and healing), and the shuriken stars (in case we encountered enemy forces).
Now we were ready for the first challenge: finding a mystery object in a bowl of rice. I was incredibly bad at this. Having taken a pitiful selection of debris to the judge to check if they were “the clue” (they weren’t), a passing ninja offered me assistance. Perhaps she took pity on me, since a TV camera was closely focused in on my half-frantic, half-maniacally giggling face.
Taking my clue (which turned out to be a piece of rice with a small red dot on it) to the judge got our team a card with a bright blue hiragana letter printed on it. It was only by collecting ten such cards that we would have the clues necessary to complete the 11th and final challenge.
We raced off after the others, and started on the second of the ten remaining challenges. Some of these challenges were easy, such as simply giving up our grappling hook card so we could scale the castle wall, but others took more thought, such as an anagram puzzle; it took us a while, but once we’d solved it we felt really quite smug. At each challenge location there was also a board with a fact about the castle and its inhabitants.
One challenge that held everyone up, perhaps because it required all team members to have a certain amount of hand-eye co-ordination, was the Kendama Challenge. In this, each member of the team had to catch the ball with the cup in one of the three positions specified. Some teams spent ages experimenting with different methodologies, such as spinning the string, shortening the string, etc. The tongue-biting, brow-furrowing concentration of those attempting the most difficult position (balancing the ball on the bottom of the handle) made for some palpable tension.
The last challenge was to match the colours on our hiragana cards with the block-colour cards in the pile. On the back of these coloured cards was a word. Once you had all of these words, you were to arrange them into a full sentence. Saying this full sentence to the samurai at the end of the race would grant you entry to the castle. Unfortunately, although one team was so very, very close, the 100 minutes were up before anyone could win the mystery prize.
I’ve never been much of a puzzler, but the combination of different types of tasks mean that everyone in the team had the chance to show off their talents. Plus, the teams being arranged for us meant that we got to forge new friendships in the struggle. All in all, it was a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon; a beautiful location, lots of engaging challenges, and new BFFs.
The company hopes to put out a second call for ninjas in October, so you’ll have another chance to attack the castle!