Think about Japan. I’m willing to bet a lot of money that one of the first thing that came to your mind was either a Samurai warrior, a geisha girl (or a boy, as there were male geisha) or a Ninja.
Ninja – The Public
One of the most famous (non-historical) ninja is Hattori Kun. Seriously, this guy is one of the most famous Japanese anime characters (in Japan, that is. Outside of Japan it’d probably be Adult Goku)
One of the most famous Ninja (notice that the plural of Ninja is Ninja) was Hattori Hanzo. He was the most prolific Ninja during the Sengoku Jidai. His biggest claim to fame is that he protected Tokugawa Ieyasu as he passed through the Koga region of Japan, shortly after the death of Oda Nobunaga. Hattori was an Iga clan member (The Iga and Koga were bitter rivals), so this was an extremely difficult task for him to accomplish.
(You can find out more about him, on The Wiki).
Now then, the word.
The word ‘Ninja’ has been described to me, by my Japanese friends, as meaning “Something secret”. Actually, this was their definition of the word ‘Shinobi’ which is another way to read the kanji.
忍 – にん [Nin] “Endurance”
者 – じゃ [Ja] “Person (of)”
The first character (忍) is composed of two separate characters. 心 (こころ [Kokoro] meaning “Heart”) which is placed under the character 刀 (かたな [Katana] meaning “Blade”). thus, one reading of this character can be Heart Under blade.
As there are multiple readings of almost every kanji, I should mention one of the other readings for 忍. The second readings can be either:
忍び (しのび [Shinobi] basically the same meaning as Ninja)
忍ぶ (しのぶ [Shinobu] which is the plural of 忍び)
Hopefully, this has been another interesting (yet short) jaunt into the etymology and study of Japanese words.