Hattori Hanzo, The Greatest Ninja (1542 ~ 1596)

A portrait of Hattori Masanari aka Hattori Hanzo from the 17th century.
  • Although he lived like a samurai , Hattori Hanzo was born in Iga, a place known for the ninja clan but no established samurai clan.
  • He started training in the northern part of Kyoto when he was only 8. He was a great spikeman using a spear longer than 4 meters.
  • His fame started spreading when when he was 20 years old after saving the daughters of Tokugawa Ieyasu from the Kaminogo castle with a small group of ninja and also capturing many high ranking members of Imagawa clan.
  • He defended the town of Iga with only a few hundred men and won a victory against the son of Oda Nobunaga in 1979.
  • He is most famous for saving Tokugawa Ieyasu’s life when Akechi Mitsuhide was chasing him after the death of Oda Nobunaga in 1582.
  • Hattori Hanzo also strategically contributed to the siege of Odawara castle in 1590 and was one of the most well paid fighters of his time. His stipend was over 8 million USD in today’s value.
  • Tokugawa chose him and his men to guard the doors of the shogunate in Edo (Tokyo). The “Hanzomon” line in Tokyo ends by the doors Hanzo guarded.
  • He was known as “Demon Shinobi Hanzo” because of his strategic thinking. At the same time, he was very soft-hearted. When one day Ieyasu asked his son Nobuyasu to commit seppuku and Hattori Hanzo was designated as kannushi, he simply refused and started shedding tears thinking about killing his master’s son. Tokugawa Ieyasu was very impressed and said “even demons can shed tears.”
  • There are many Hattori Hanzo because in the past it was common to use similar names for the same family members. Hattori Hanzo’s father and nephew have also been known as Hattori Hanzo. The real Hattori Hanzo is the one who protected Ieyasu’s life in 1582 and who died in 1596. He is also known as Hattori Masanori and Hattori Masashige.
  • Toward the end of his life he built a buddhist temple and became a monk. He changed his name to “sainen.” The Sainen-Ji temple still operates today and is not far from Akasaka and Shinjuku. His grave is in the same temple.
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