Ishikawa Goemon

Ishikawa Goemon
(c. 1558 - August 23, 1594)

Disreputable and unclaimed, Goemon was a ninja who used his ninja powers for stealing. Although he is said to have shared his looted wealth with the peasants who needed it, none of the ninja families would call him one of their own. He comes from unknown origins, but it is widely thought that he was a genin agent (one of the lowest ranks of ninja) of the Iga Ryu ninjutsu. Goemon’s name doesn’t appear in the written records of the Iga Ryu ninjutsu.

By some accounts, Goemon was born as Sanada Kuranoshin. He was a shiftless youth and during his first robbery he killed a man. Unable to turn back to a life of lawfulness, he instead changed his name to Ishikawa Goemon and became a highwayman. Eventually he found himself raiding the row houses in Kyoto and robbing people for their gold and silver.

There is a tale of Goemon that says he was assigned to train as a ninja in his early life. After some training he found himself in the presence of the ninja manual. Unable to control his selfish desires, he stole the book and taught himself all the forbidden ninja ways. He then took to a life of masterful crime.

His most legendary tale was his attempted assassination of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the ruler of Japan. After hiding for hours near the main gate of the Nanzen-ji Temple in Kyoto, Goemon was able to infiltrate Hideyoshi’s stronghold, Fushimi castle, by killing a few guards and slipping silently around others. As Goemon approached the sleeping warlord, he accidentally knocked a bell off a table, sending the nearby samurai to interfere with his plans. When captured, Goemon confronted Hideyoshi by exclaiming “It is you who are the robber who stole the whole country!”

Goemon was captured that night and he and his infant son were sentenced to be boiled in oil until dead. Hideyoshi’s men placed a massive iron cauldron in a riverside location called “Sanjogawara”. Just before being forced into the boiling oil, Goemon orated a poem of his own composition: “Ishikawa may perish on the sands along the banks of this river, yet the seeds of thievery for this world shall never pass!”

The criminal ninja didn’t want his son to perish too, so, as legend has it, he held his son up out of the boiling oil for as long as he could. As Goemon was cooking, other ninjas were fighting their way in to complete his mission of assassination. When they found Goemon, he was dead, but his arms were still aloft, thus saving his son.

Goemon saving his son from boiling

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