The catch of this week is an adventure for teenagers and grownups alike! Jet Black and the Ninja Wind is a playful, vivid and adventurous book that promises you a trip to a world of fantasy and legends. Jet Black, the heroine of the book, is a ninja but doesn’t know it. All she knows is that, after her mother’s death, she has to go to her ancestral land, Japan, to protect a well-hidden family treasure. Bounty hunters are sent after her. Her life is in danger and to top all that, she desperately falls in love with the man who’s been sent to kill her. Will she be strong enough to protect the treasure and preserve an ancient culture? Chinese Tools managed to get hold of Leza Lowitz and Shogo Oketani, the authors of Jet Black and the Ninja Wind, and ask them more about this compulsively readable story. Here is what they have to say.
Congratulations on this captivating read! What made you address a younger audience?
Having a kid of our own! It makes you think like a kid (not to mention act like one occasionally, too). Plus, we had to figure out a way to duck all those ninja shuriken stars being thrown at us!
Does the book introduce various aspects of Japan and the ninja culture?
Yes–and it is not what you think! Jet Black is based on ancient Japanese history. Before the Imperial family appeared, there was a kingdom of indigenous people, the Emishi.
The Nihon Shoki, Japan’s official written history (seventh century), gives evidence of an invasion–it says that the Emperor Jinmu attacked Nara in the fourth or third century. According to folklorist Kenichi Tanigawa, the original name of Japan “Hinomoto” (origin of the sun) was given to the land by the indigenous people. An eighth-century Chinese history book mentions that the Japanese government changed the nation’s name from “Hinomoto” to “Wa.”
Fighting between the Emishi and the Imperial Army continued through the seventh century, with the last battle at the end of the eighth century. The discovery of gold mines in northern Japan was the reason for this major offensive.
In Jet Black and the Ninja Wind, we imagined that the ninja came from the indigenous people of northern Japan. The foundation for this imaginative narrative is based on these actual historical battles. The Emishi were vastly outnumbered in manpower and weaponry, the Emperor’s side won, and many Emishi were brought to the West Japan as slaves. Ancient documents say that the Emishi were good at hunting, horseback riding, and were skilled fighters. It is not too far-fetched to imagine that the Emperor’s samurai bought the Emishi as soldiers. Those soldiers could have been ninja. This is the historical background to “Jet Black and the Ninja Wind.”
In our novel, the action is set in the present in the American Southwest and the Japanese north country, with urban scenes in Tokyo and San Francisco, too. The main characters are Jet–a half-Japanese ninja, her hunter/ninja grandfather, a Navajo Code Talker, a Buddhist priest, and Hiro, Jet’s twelve-year old whiz kid cousin. Then we have shamans, archeologists, mercenaries, the legend of King Solomon, a ninja dog and a panther. How are these diverse elements linked across time and history? The reader uncovers the buried connections as Jet’s adventure unfolds.
Was blending historical and cultural elements with fiction hard work?
Writing the book was quite an adventure for Shogo and me. We travelled a lot in New Mexico, and visited Osore-zan (Mt. Fear) in Aomori, Japan. We had our fortune read by shamans and survived clandestine meetings with ninja, but we can’t tell you about those, because they’re, well, secret. In addition, Shogo read over 50 books in Japanese and English for research.
Why did you choose a female ninja as your main character?
We wanted to bust the steroetype of ninja as one-dimensional, B-grade assassins, and we wanted to portray a strong, powerful Asian girl as the main character. As a teenager, I was always looking for independent girls in fiction that I could relate to. I got tired of seeing Asian girls in kimonos and wanted to create a modern Japanese female character who was strong both inside and outside.
You are a couple in life. How is it to work with each other? Has the process taught you anything new about your relationship?
Never argue with a ninja. You will always lose, and you won’t even realize what’s happening!
What aspects of yourselves can you trace in the book’s main characters?
Shogo says: Like Hiro, I’m seeking a way to ensure that the true, “inconvenient” history of my country and what happened to the indigenous people is not buried, whitewashed, or forgotten. Like Takumi and Jet, I’m trying to be at home in the world wherever I am. Each of the characters struggles for independence, while learning how interconnected we really are. They all want a homeland, and they each have to find the balance between fighting for justice and making personal sacrifices for a greater good.
Leza says: Like Jet, I’m on a spiritual journey. I’m forever on a quest to discover what makes us who we are. How do we stay connected to the past (our ancestors, history, culture) while becoming free to write our own stories and live our own lives? Like Hiro, I’m concerned with the environment. What do we leave for future generations? What is our responsibility to our planet?
What else do you have in store for us? Any concrete plans?
Books II and III continue the Eco-Warrior themes set out in Book I.
Book II of the Jet Black Trilogy will be out in 2015. In Book II, the Kuroi Clan’s enemies have been subdued, and the family treasure is safe. Jet finally feels at home in her ancestral village of Kanabe. Jet, Hiro and their uncle Soji rebuild the town’s temple and school; little by little, the ghost-village comes back to life. But then a massive earthquake and tsunami strike the Tohoku region. The Kuroi family mobilizes to help its coastal neighbors. Jet and Hiro return to the American Southwest, where the ninja dog Aska finds a girl wandering in the desert. Thirteen-year-old Azar doesn’t know much about the facility she escaped from, but there are many children like her there and she doesn’t want to go back. Could the desert facility have links to experiments conducted by Japan’s notorious Unit 731? Once again, Jet and Hiro are thrown into an international game of survival. Hiro’s father–long assumed dead–joins in the battle.
In Book III, to be published in 2016/2017, Jet and Takumi are living in Kanabe. Jet’s finished her college degree, and Hiro’s graduated from high school. The temple has been restored, hosting local bands and events for young people. One day, the punk rock singer Akira–who Hiro met in Shinjuku in Book 1–shows up with his friends, who’re hiding out from the police. The Kuroi family village becomes a center for troubled teenagers.
In the spring, the yakuza return, pressuring the Kuroi clan into letting them use the mountain for a garbage dump. Akira and his friends fight the yakuza off, but the police are alerted. When the police arrive, Akira disappears. So does Takumi.
Jet and Hiro go back to Mt. Osore to speak with the blind shaman, who tells Jet that Takumi has returned to his homeland and that her father is still alive. Jet and Hiro travel to Bolivia to find them, getting caught up in the fight against a big corporation taking over tribal land for natural gas.
The tribes try to take back their land and the gas wars escalate. After a fierce battle, Jet is kidnapped. The only one who can save Jet is her father, who resurfaces to help the young ninja escape. But what about Takumi? Will he stay in Bolivia, or return to Kanabe with Jet?
Books II and III have lots of great ninja fighting, political intrigue, international adventure and romance. Animal lovers will not be disappointed!
In other future plans, Jet Black has also been optioned for feature film production, so we hope to see Jet spin-kicking on the big screen some day!
Thank you so much for talking to us and sending our readers in China a big spin-kicking ninja “arigatou”!