Medieval and Modern Psychological Operations

The espionage aspects of shinobi-no-jutsu have roots in a careful study of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, a text that continues to be of service to modern military tacticians. Speaking further on the relevance of the text, Chikamatsu Shigenori, a notable 17th century retainer of shinobi traditions, relates to his readers that Iga and Koka traditions of shinobi-no-jutsu placed a strong emphasis on thoroughly studying Sun Tzu’s work, in particular his exposition on spying and spies.1

This specific section of The Art of War is rather short, consisting of merely a few pages. Admittedly though, this compactness can be deceptive, allowing for its inner secrets to be ever elusive to the one who does not read between the lines and recognize the potential applications of principles rather than specific techniques.

Respecting the use of spies, what is of special interest for any individual investigating the connection between shinobi operatives and modern day psychological operations is Sun Tzu’s instruction to utilize “expendable” spies to effect the dissemination of false information among the enemy.2 The principle of spreading disinformation or misinformation against an enemy is contemporaneously classified as “propaganda”, and is a principle that has been accoutered with the equipment and precision of modern day armies for psychological operations.

Harkening to Sun Tzu’s directive for manipulation of the enemy through information, FM 3-05.301 titled Psychological Operations Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures declares that the purpose of a psychological operation (PYSOP) is to “convey selected information and indicators to foreign target audiences…to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.”3 Adding even more contemporary semblance to Sun Tzu’s principle of utilizing expendable spies for propaganda dissemination, it has been remarked that media of modern day psychological operations, depending on the situation, “may have to be disseminated by covert means, such as agents who risk their lives to transport and distribute the materials.”4

In contrast to “psychological operations” of the time period wherein shinobi operatives were likely participant, contemporary PSYOPs are amplified in effectiveness and technical span by the emergence of unprecedented advancements in “mass communication” of the electronic and print type.5 Rather than relying on Yabumi 6 letter drops or the oration of a chosen spy or group of spies to disseminate propaganda, one could imagine that modernized principles of shinobi-no-jutsu would now be colored with particular techniques that incorporate leaflet drops from airplanes, radio/cable/ internet broadcasts, and various other mediums of message dissemination.

Respecting single agents engaged in a massive PSYOP, a modern technique for spreading information conducive to military objectives calls for the utilization of mannerisms, apparel, linguistic colloquialisms, and comportment that reflects the image of a “common man” which superficially seems to identify with the particular audience that is being targeted.7 The principle of this ‘chameleon effect’, for gaining rapport with a target population for eventual manipulation through understanding it, can be derived from ancient ninjutsu manuals. For example, Fujibayashi discloses in the Bansenshukai the importance of learning, for intelligence purposes, the ways of the people of a given region including their habits of language and dress.8

The Shinobi Hiden advises the same9 and Chikamatsu Shigenori expatiates on a Koka ninja tradition that duly advises a shinobi to understand the “character” of a people for infiltration purposes10, and one might add, the effective dissemination of propaganda along with casual intelligence gathering activities.


  1. Sawyer, R. (1993). The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China. p136-137
  2. Ibid. p186
  3. FM 3-05.301. (2003). Psychological Operations: Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures. p1-1
  4. Golstein, F. & Findley, B. (1996). Psychological Operations: Principles and Case Studies. p6
  5. Ibid. p7
  6. Cummins, A. & Minami, Y. (2014). Iga and Koka Ninja Skills. p76
  7. FM 3-05.301. (2003). Psychological Operations: Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures. p5-11 psyOP
  8. (2013). The Book of Ninja: the First Complete Translation of the Bansenshukai. p103
  9. Cummins, A. & Minami, Y. (2012). The Secret Traditions of the Shinobi. p41
  10. Cummins, A. & Minami, Y. (2014). Iga and Koka Ninja Skills. p51

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