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Hattori Hanzo

“For those regarded as warriors, when engaged in combat the vanquishing of thine enemy can be the warrior's only concern. Suppress all human emotion and compassion. Kill whoever stands in thy way, even if that be Lord God, or Buddha himself. This truth lies at the heart of the art of combat.” – Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill: Volume 1

Hattori Hanzo


Hattori Hanzo, also known as Hattori Masanari or Hattori Masashige
(c. 1541 - December 4, 1596)

Hanzo is perhaps the most famous of all ninjas. He was the jonin, or leader, of the Iga-gumi ninjas.

The Iga province of Japan is famous for being the ancestral home of the Hattori ninja family, known as Iga ninjas. In 1541, Hattori Yasunaga was living in Mikawa as a samurai vassal to the lord of that region Matsudaira Kikiyasu. In that year, Yasunaga would become father to a boy named Masanari, who was by birth also a samurai vassal to the Matsudaira family.

Hattori Masanari was born and raised in Mikawa. However, since he had familial roots in Iga, he traveled there often as a boy. He spent his time in Iga training in ninjutsu. The region was replete with masters of all the skills and Masanari learned well. He began his training on Mt. Kurama north of Kyoto at the age of eight and was a full-fledged ninja by age twelve. He was said to have mastered swordplay, spearplay, tactics, and all the ninja techniques by the time he was eighteen.

In 1557, when he was only sixteen years old, he fought in his first battle. It was a night raid with future shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, then only fourteen years old himself, against Uzichijo of Migawa. Masanari distinguished himself on the battlefield and received the nickname “Hanzo the ghost” and he was recognized by Ieyasu for his exceptional skills. He is also known to have fought in the battle of Anagawa in 1570 and in the battle of Mikata Ga Hara in 1572. For the ferocity he displayed in these later battles he was given the nickname of “Hanzo the devil” or Oni no Hanzo. It is thought that there may have been as many as four ninjas who took the name Hattori Hanzo. Masanari was the one to make the name famous.

Even though Masanari was a distinguished warrior, he is most known for a specific act of removing Tokugawa Ieyasu from peril. In 1582, Oda Nobunaga, Akechi Mitsuhide, and Tokugawa Ieyasu were all vying for control of Japan. Akechi defeated Nobunaga through an act of treachery. Akechi’s troops then threatened Tokugawa, who was far from his region and vulnerable. Hattori proposed sneaking Tokugawa through the Iga province to the safety of Mikawa. Not only did Hattori have allies there, but so too did Tokugawa, who had sheltered survivors from Nobunaga’s 1580 raid of the province. Hattori crept ahead of Tokugawa’s band, leading him through back roads and gathering an escort of ninjas as they went. Hattori met with Taro Shiro, a prominent Koga ninja, and arranged safe passage of the warlord through the Koga province. As Tokugawa’s band approached the Otogi pass on the border of the two provinces, Hattori sent a rocket into the sky as a signal for the ninjas to gather there. By the time the travelers themselves arrived at the pass, a small army of approximately three hundred ninjas awaited to help them through Koga. This army not only provided enough safety for Tokugawa to ride in a koga, or sedan chair, but they provided reports about the betrayal of Nobunaga, its repercussions, and the movements of other daimyo. Tokugawa arrived safely in Mikawa whereas, for contrast, his general Anayama Beisestu perished along a different path. Two hundred of the ninja who had served as guards were permanently retained by Tokugawa, being called the Band of Iga and led by Hattori.

In 1590, Tokugawa had entered into a deal with the prevalent warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The deal was such that Tokugawa and Toyotomi would trade the provinces they controlled. Bowing to Toyotomi’s power, Tokugawa accepted the deal. He moved out of his ancestral home and into the castle town of Edo in the Kanto region. When Tokugawa entered Edo for the first time he had the Band of Iga with him. He created a ninja quarter at the west gate of the castle, because that was the likeliest place for a surprise attack from enemies and ninjas were the best to win a scenario like that. In times of peace the ninjas guarded the castle and in times of war they spied on the enemy. The ninja quarter was named Hanzo-cho and the west gate at the back of the castle was named Hanzo Mon gate.

Hattori Hanzo had received many awards for merit and one of those awards was command over the Hassenshi samurai. In 1596, he was in Kanagawa harassing the Fuma Kotaro and his Fuma ninjas, traditional enemies of the Iga ninjas, with his samurai. The Fuma ninjas took to the sea, where Hattori and his samurai followed by boat. The Fumas disabled the boats’ rudders and secretly deployed oil into the water. As Hattori and his men tried to swim for shore, the Fumas lit the oil on fire and Hattori perished at sea.

To this day, artifacts of Hanzo’s legacy remain. The Imperial Palace (formerly the shogun’s palace) still has a gate called Hanzo’s Gate, and the Hanzo-mon subway line, which runs from central Tokyo to the southwestern suburbs, is named after the gate. Hanzo’s remains now rest in the Sainen-ji temple cemetery in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The temple also holds his favorite spears.




The Legend of Hattori Hanzo
The following is reprinted from Stephen K. Hayes website, SKHQuest.com:
“In legend, Hanzo Hattori is known as a superhuman ninja warrior. It was said that he could sit behind a hand-held fan, bow, and then suddenly disappear, only to reappear in the next room. He was also master of the art of using a rope to capture an enemy who sneaked up behind him as he sat in seiza posture. He was renowned as an ‘other-worldly’ warrior, capable of psychokinesis and psychomancy. He could discern clairvoyantly the plans and strength of an enemy army.

“A well-known story is told about Hanzo and Ieyasu Tokugawa, then the future shogun of Japan. The general was fond of the martial arts, and was a sharpshooter, a master swordsman, and an excellent swimmer himself. One day in his twenty-fifth or twenty-sixth year, when he was living in Mikawa, he grabbed Hanzo Hattori by the scruff of the neck, dragged him to a river, and pulled him underwater. While Hanzo continued to calmly hold his breath, Ieyasu had to break the surface, gasping for air. He crawled ashore, pale and exhausted. ‘How long can a ninja stay underwater?’ he asked. ‘One or two days, Lord. However long you request,’ replied Hanzo, who then dived beneath the water. Several hours passed and there was still no sign of him. leyasu became worried. He and his retainers began calling Hanzo’s name. Then Hanzo rose to the surface with bursting air bubbles. He was not out of breath, but smiling. He handed leyasu something, and the general let out a cry of surprise. It was the short sword he had put on after dressing on shore.

“‘I was not beneath the water all the time,’ Hanzo proudly told his astounded listeners. ‘After diving beneath the water, I swam ashore, hid behind a rock, and napped. When I was called, I dove underwater and surfaced. I apologize for taking your short sword, Lord, but this is ninjutsu.’ leyasu was deeply impressed.”

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