Fuma Kotaro

Fuma Kotaro, also known as Kazama
(c. 1550 – c. 1610)

Born in the Sagami Province, there is almost nothing known of Fuma Kotaro in his early and late life. All the details surround his activities as a ninja, or, as he is sometimes called, a suppa (meaning thief or brigand). He was the fifth generation jonin (leader) of the Fuma Ryu ninjas at Odawara, where they worked as guerilla fighters for the Hojo clan.

Sometime in the early 1570s, Kotaro was sent on a mission to assassinate Takeda Shingen, a rival daimyo to the Hojo clan. He managed a few sniper shots at the warlord and struck him at least one good blow. In 1573, Takeda would die of that wound while pressing an attack against his enemies.

In March of 1581, the Hojo stronghold was attacked by the forces of Takeda Katsuyori. Takeda set up his base with a large mountain as its defense, and on the opposite side of the mountain from the Hojo forces. Kotaro and his Fuma ninjas were sent in to do the dirty work they did so well. Their first tactic was to produce straw men in full battle garb, and send them in on horses. The idea was to lure Takeda’s men into taking the “warriors” less seriously each time they approached, so that when the real men came in they would face less resistance. The idea worked and after a few charges of straw men the ninjas were able to ride in and ambush the guards, then dissolve away into shadows leaving death and worry behind. Takeda’s troops were thrown into an off-balanced terror. The ninjas performed a serious of night raids that first night, keeping the troops in a panic. They captured a few of Takeda’s men, stole their horses, burned and detonated parts of the camp, and entered the camp disguised as Takeda’s men. They continued this harrassment until the very night before the battle. Takeda’s forces suffered greatly with distrust and paranoia. When the two armies finally clashed, the Hojo clan rode to victory over Takeda’s men and the losing army was desperately weakened.

Over the next couple of decades, the Fuma ninjas became more a gang of thugs and pirates than ninjas. They harassed the efforts of Tokugawa Ieyasu by raiding his installations on the Inland Sea. In 1596, Tokugawa assigned the head of the Iga ninjas, Hattori Hanzo, the task of ending the Fuma menace. Hattori immediately called for the construction of a fleet of large vessels armed with heavy cannon. He knew that the Fumas traveled in few boats with little or no arms, and that they were fond of riding in funakainin (semi-submersible paddle boats, precursors of ryu-o-sen or dragon boats). When the fleet was completed, Hattori found the Fuma vessels off the Sou coast. They laid down a heavy cannon fire and destroyed all but one of the Fuma boats, which was disabled and on fire. Hattori was wary of a trap, so he ordered his boats in slowly to finish the lonely ship. As they were maneuvering, the tide changed and all of Hattori’s vessels were drawn into a small channel where the tide kept them pinned. As his vessels drew closer and closer to each other, the peril of collision with the flaming Fuma ships became imminent, and with it came explosion. Hattori ordered his crew to take evasive actions, but the helmsmen all yelled back that they had no rudders. He ordered all vessels to dump their gunpowder overboard, but there wasn’t time. Instead, all the men abandoned ship and dove into the water themselves. The Fumas had saturated the water with oil though, and when the ships collided the water’s surface became an inferno, killing Hattori and his men. Fuma Kotaro had defeated the greatest ninja known.

The secret of the Fuma’s victory was their funakainins. They were able to load these vessels with ballast and submerge their ships, enabling them to maneuver near Hattori’s vessels. Once near, the Fuma ninjas would slip out of the funakainin while underwater, making use of a snorkel, and disable the rudders of Hattori’s fleet. Even though there was limited air in a funakainin, there was enough for a speedy mission of death.

Fuma Kotaro then passed away into the mists of obscure history and no more is recorded of his deeds.

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