Frequently Asked Questions

What is this blog about?
It’s about a ninja in feudal Japan, sneaking around in cities and forests, spying on enemies and assassinating his targets.

It’s also about a modern web developer, writing software and keeping web sites running.

Really, they’re the same tale. One of them is just a translation of the other, a way of dressing reality up to make it more interesting. Though the ninja tale may be a mask, it’s not a fiction: Every time the ninja coder kills an enemy, it means the actual modern coder has fixed a bug or solved a problem. Each weapon he uses signifies a real computer language; each obstacle he faces represents some actual problem the real coder’s facing in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I am Ichirō of Iga, the ninja coder. This blog is my story.

What’s up with the little dotted underlines?
They’re ways of adding extra information without getting in the way of the flow of the story. There are two types of underlines: definitions and comments. The definitions are the grey underlines on various Japanese words, like yamabushiThe yamabushi were (and still are) a group of mystical ascetics who live high in the mountains, practicing a nature-based spiritual path called Shugendō. In the world of the ninja coder, they’re invaluable to any clan that aims to conquer more than a tiny territory, because their knowledge of the trails and mountain passes is critical for moving troops and supplies from place to place. The word "yamabushi" is both singular and plural; it can mean the group or a single mountain man.Mystical mountain warriors who know the trails and passes in the mountains, and can help clans move troops and supplies around. The word "yamabushi" is both singular and plural; it can mean the group or a single mountain man., kusarigamaA common ninja weapon: a one-handed scythe/sickle with a length of chain attached to the handle. The chain has either a hook or weight on the end of it.A common ninja weapon: a one-handed scythe/sickle with a length of chain attached to the handle. The chain has either a grappling hook or a weight attached to the end.

The scythe/sickle part alone is a kama, and is a common farming tool. With the chain attached, it’s pretty obviously a weapon, and would be treated as such by any authorities one might encounter.
, or onryōA restless, unquiet, and/or vengeful ghost. Generally female. Prone to causing much pain and destruction in their quest for vengeance or retribution.A restless, unquiet, or vengeful ghost. Often female. Generally the spirit of someone who was wronged in life, or who led an unhappy life. They appear to seek vengeance, but may also cause large amounts of collateral damage and harm to uninvolved innocents.

The image shows a famous onryō from a story that dates to 1825. Western audiences would probably be most familiar with the example of Samara Morgan in The Ring — the character she was based on, Ringu‘s Sadako Yamamura, is easily recognizable as an onryō to Japanese viewers.. They allow me to use Japanese words without having to define them every single time. If you think you already know what the word means, you can ignore the underline because you’re probably right — but if you’re not sure, just float your mouse over the word and you’ll get a tooltip that explains it to you.

The red underlines are for comments that would “break the mood” of the feudal-era ninja narration — I might need to clarify somethingSometimes, I’ll use these comments to illustrate points that just don’t fit into the feudal-era translation.Sometimes, I’ll use these comments to illustrate points that just don’t fit into the feudal-era translation. in the real, modern world, or fill in some geeky or technical detailsFor example, I could mention that these tooltips are displayed using the jQuery JavaScript library.For example, I could mention that these tooltips are displayed using the jQuery JavaScript library. that other people probably wouldn’t care about. If you want to read this like a full-on ninja story, without any reference to the modern world, you can skip the red underlines. You can also skip them if you’re just in a hurry.

What do I have to know to understand this blog?
I assume you have the basic American understanding of ninjas and Japanese culture: You don’t need words like “sushi” or “seppuku” explained to you, you know what shuriken are, and so on. You also probably recognize nunchaku (even the Wii has the “nunchuck” controller) and “katana” (after all, there’s a popular motorcycle called the Katana), but things like wakizashiThe shorter of the two gracefully curved swords that a samurai carries. Much like the longer katana in shape and style, except short enough to be a one-handed, secondary blade. The wakizashi is effectively the katana’s "baby brother".

Note that the ninja-tō, the sword most often carried by ninjas, is not a wakizashi. It’s about the same length, but straight rather than curved — and generally of inferior workmanship, as ninjas couldn’t afford the materials or smiths that samurai had access to.The shorter sword of the two that a samurai carries; the "baby brother" of the longer katana. or manrikigusariA chain weapon with weights at both ends, which can be used for striking or entangling.A ninja weapon consisting of a length of chain with stuff at one or both ends. Generally has weights at both ends, but occasionally one weight will be replaced by a hook. The weapon can be used for entangling (by wrapping a weight around an enemy’s limb) or for a direct strike with one of the weights. It can also be used to entangle an enemy’s weapon with one end, then strike with the weight on the other end. They hate that.

When the chain has one end attached to a kama, it’s known as a kusari-gama. (Kusari means “chain”; when it’s the second item in a compound word, it becomes -gusari. Similarly, kama becomes -gama in compounds.)
are likely to be pretty obscure to most people, so they’ll be explained with grey-underlined tooltips.

You don’t have to know a single thing about computers or programming to understand the main story. Occasionally, one of the red underlines will talk about technical stuff in the hidden tooltip, but you don’t have to read it.

In order to understand the ongoing plot and some standard references, you should absolutely read the Guide for New Readers. Once you’ve finished that, you should be ready to dive in.

How long have you been writing this?
It’s hard to put a firm starting date on it. Back in early August of 2006, I posted something to my Livejournal that said, in black text on a black background, “I am l33t ninja c0d3r. j00 can’t see me.pronounced "I am leet ninja coder. You can’t see me."pronounced "I am leet ninja coder. You can’t see me."” The next day, I posted an explanation of why I’d done that: I’d just done some fairly cool coding, proving myself to be “a ninja-grade web developer”. And I’d done it while wearing a t-shirt that (very subtly) declared me to be a ninja — which I’d been wearing specifically to try to spur myself to ninja-grade feats of prowess.

But that wasn’t quite the birth of Ichirō, the ninja coder. It was near the end of the month when I posted something actually in the first-person voice of a ninja: “The daimyō’s guards fall like scythed wheat before my wakizashi and kusari-gama. With the occasional smoke bomb, I sow confusion and havoc among them. I move through the night and they cannot stop me.”

But that was just a one-off. In October, I started posting linked entries that began to tell an ongoing story. At first, I was just making it up as I went along… practically at random, but entries from that stage are recognizably parts of what we now think of as “the Tales of the Ninja Coder”.

From there on, I spent some time playing around with the idea, honing the metaphor, studying Japanese history and developing the world, but that was just refinement. The core of the idea was in place.

Are those Livejournal posts visible someplace where I can read them?
That Livejournal account was intended as a personal account, and is mostly set to “friends-only” visibility. I don’t want the Ninja Coder to be associated with my actual identity.

However, when Dreamwidth opened in May of 2009, I moved all the posts tagged “ninja coder” from my LJ account to a new ninja_coder account on Dreamwidth and continued the Tales there. The old posts are set to private mode by default, but I’ve been working my way backwards through time, checking each post to remove references to my LJ account and then setting it to public view. So far, the visible posts on Dreamwidth reach back as far as April of 2008, and progress continues.

Will those Dreamwidth posts ever move over here?
Probably not, unless or until someone writes an easy way to import items from an LJ (or DW) account into a WordPress blog. For now, the Dreamwidth entries can be considered a historical archive, and this blog is the primary, canonical site for the Tales of the Ninja Coder.

New posts here will continue to be automatically crossposted to ninja-coder.dreamwidth.org, so people who are accustomed to reading them on Dreamwidth can continue to do so.

What’s up with those lines on the tops of certain letters? Are those important?
Only if you speak Japanese, or are trying to learn. They indicate long vowels — where “long” refers to the length of time that you hold the syllable for, not to the English type of long/short distinction as in “cap” versus “cape”. If you’re studying Japanese, you may find the long-vowel markers useful. If you’re not, you can just ignore them.

I normally try to use a straight bar (called a “macron” by language nerds), producing things like “the rōninA masterless samurai, effectively an independent sword-for-hire. A samurai could become a rōnin if his lord died, or if his lord became displeased with him and effectively fired him. During the Sengoku Jidai, things were very loose, and some samurai voluntarily left their lords and went in search of other opportunities, becoming rōnin temporarily until they could find new lords. Some peasants even declared themselves to be samurai, and then went in search of lords to take them in — for them, being a rōnin was a step in their personal advancement plans.

The word rōnin literally means “wave-man”: the image is of a man who wanders endlessly, without direction, like a wave on the ocean. At the end of Pulp Fiction, when Jules Winnfield says his plan is to “walk the earth… like Caine from Kung Fu”, he’s effectively saying he’s going to become a modern rōnin after leaving Marsellus Wallace’s service.A masterless samurai; a wandering warrior whose sword was for hire. drank shōchūA strong, clear, distilled liquor that’s often described as "Japanese vodka". May be made from rice, wheat, barley, sweet potatoes, or any combination of them. Also known in Korea as "soju".A strong, clear, distilled liquor that Westerners often describe as "Japanese vodka". Also known in Korea as "soju". in Ōmi”. Sometimes I’m using a system that can’t produce macrons — for example, when I’m posting to my Twitter feed using my phone. In those cases, I fall back to circumflexes, like so: “the rônin drank shôchû in Ômi”. They’re interchangeable, so you don’t have to worry about the difference between them — it just means I’m posting from some system other than my normal computer.

Do you speak Japanese?
I’ve been teaching myself Japanese for a while now. It’s slow going, because I don’t have the time for a formal class; I’m just sandwiching self-directed study into my schedule (which is a pretty packed thing to begin with). Luckily, I’m pretty good with languages, so I’m making decent progress rather than just screwing myself up completely.
Are you really a ninja?
No. I’ve studied some martial arts, beginning with a year of Tae Kwon Do at age 5, and including some Southern style kung fu with a very eclectic and practical bent. Like many males, I went through a “damn, ninjas are the coolest!” phase in my early-to-mid teens, so I learned a fair amount about ninjas. However, I’ve never studied ninjutsu, and I couldn’t even call myself a student of martial arts at this point (it’s been a long time since I was in a dōjōA training hall where people go to learn and practice martial arts. Literally means “place of the Way”.A training hall where people go to learn and practice martial arts.).
Are you really a coder?
Yes. I’ve been doing web development professionally since 2000, and speak Perl, PHP, JavaScript, and Ruby as well as HTML and CSS. I’ve had some exposure to Java, and can recognize C, C++, C#, Python and LISP when I see them.

When I talk about Japanese culture or martial arts, I go to some effort to make sure I’m getting things right. (Or, at the very least, if I get something wrong, I want it to be a deliberate choice, on the basis that it makes a better tale if I change things around a little.) But when I talk about computers, coding, and web development… that is coming straight out of my daily life.

Are you a serious animé fan?
Not really. I don’t care about the medium or the visual style (or the country of origin) of a movie nearly as much as I care about its plot, characters, message, and overall execution. I’ve never seen any of Robotech, Macross, or Neon Genesis Evangelion, but I grew up getting exposure to Star Blazers along with everything else from Star Trek to The Avengers. The ending of Cowboy Bebop made a hell of an impression on me… but I could say the same for Babylon 5. And as directors go, I’ll admit I’m a fan of Miyazaki… but it’s more because of his themes than his medium.
Have you ever been to Japan?
Sadly, no. I’ve never been off the North American continent. In fact, I’ve only even been to Canada a few times, and never for very long. Japan is just one on along list of places I’d like to visit; others include the British Isles, India, Egypt, Tanzania, Kenya, and most of Western Europe.