As the 21st head of the Ban clan, a line of ninjas that can trace its history back some 500 years, Kawakami is considered by some to be the last living guardian of Japan’s secret spies.
“I think I’m called (the last ninja) as there is probably no other person who learned all the skills that were directly” handed down from ninja masters over the last five centuries, he said.
“Ninjas proper no longer exist,” he said as he demonstrated the tools and techniques used in espionage and sabotage by men fighting for their samurai lords in the feudal Japan of yesteryear.
Nowadays they are confined to fiction or used to promote Iga, some 350km southwest of Tokyo, a mountain-shrouded city near the ancient imperial capital of Kyoto that was once home to many ninjas.
Mr Kawakami, a former engineer who began teaching ninjutsu – the art of the ninja – ten years ago, said the true history of ninjas was a mystery.
There will be no 22nd head of the Ban clan because Mr Kawakami has decided not to take on any more apprentices.
“Ninjas just don’t fit in the modern day,” he said.