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Hattori Hanzo: Ninja Master

Updated on May 16, 2012
Hattori Hanzo
Hattori Hanzo

The Master Ninja


When you think of a ninja you probably think of sword wielding guys jumping around in ninja suits. You may even think about a fictional character from a movie or video game. Who you should think about when you think of ninja is Hattori Hanzo. Hattori Hanzo was one of the greatest and most well known ninjas that ever exsisted. In fact it's probably fair to say that much of today's concept of ninjas comes from the exploits of this man.


Hattori Hanzo was ninja serving Tokugawa Ieyasu in the 'Sengoku' or 'Warring States' period of Japan. Because he was a ninja much of his life is shrouded in mystery, but the parts we do know are amazing nonetheless. So deadly and sly was this shadow warrior that many believed him to have super powers including telepathy. His nickname was 'Devil Hanzo' and 'Hanzo the Ghost.'

It is said that at the age of 8 he was sent to train as a ninja on Mt. Kurama. By the age 12 he was considered a full ninja, and by 16 fought his first battle in a night attack on Udo castle. By age 18 he was considered a master ninja.

Tokugawa Ieyasu
Tokugawa Ieyasu

The Loyal Ninja


Hanzo was known for being extremely loyal to his lord Tokugawa Ieyasu and fought for him in countless battles and who knows how many secret cloak and dagger missions. Throughout his life he remained close to Ieyasu. There is a story that at one time Tokugawa Ieyasu grabbed Hattori Hanzo and pulled him in to a river with him. He pulled Hattori under water with him. After a short time Ieyasu had to come up for air and Hanzo calmly followed. Ieyasu got out of the water, dressed, and strapped his sword on while jokingly asking how long ninjas could hold their breath. Hanzo made a comment about one or two days and dived back in to the water. After several minutes Ieyasu and company started to worry and shouted for Hanzo. He then reappeared out of the water holding the very sword that Ieyasu had been dressed with. The crowd was shocked and thought he was truly magically. Hanzo laughed and told them that he had simply swam out of sight, climbed out of the water, and went to sleep behind a rock. When he heard them calling he returned. He apologized for taking the sword but reminded Ieyasu that he was a ninja.

The Battle of Mikatagahara
The Battle of Mikatagahara

The Battle of Mikatagahara


One known instance of his prowess was after the Battle of Mikatagahara. This battle had the Tokugawa clans attempting to drive the Takeda army out of their lands to keep them from getting to Oda Nobunaga's land. The Takeda army not only out numbered the Tokugawa army, but the Takeda army was led by the famous genius strategist Takeda Shingen and boasted the most feared cavalry in Japan. The Takeda army crushed the Tokugawa. During the retreat the army was spread out and Tokugawa Ieyasu barely escaped with his life. When Ieyasu returned to his castle he sent Hattori Hanzo and a small band of ninjas a special task. He sent them to attack the Takeda camp at night. Hanzo completed this mission with such efficiency and caused so much panic in the enemy camp that Takeda Shingen thought Oda Nobunaga or his rival Uesugi Kenshin had arrived with reinforcements. The Takeda pulled up camp and headed home instead of destroying the Tokugawa the next day.

The Incident at Hinno-Ji
The Incident at Hinno-Ji

The Incident at Hinno-Ji


Another shining moment in Hattori Hanzo's career was after the Incident at Hinno-Ji when Oda Nobunaga died. One of Oda Nobunaga's most trusted generals Akechi Mitsuhide betrayed Nobunaga. Akechi Mitsuhide sent men to capture Tokugawa Ieyasu and after learning of Nobunaga's death he barely escaped. Ieyasu was a long way from the safety of his own land and knew that all normal routes home would be guarded by Mitsuhide's men. However, they were close to the Iga ninja land where Hattori had allies. He left his master and went to request aid from the ninja clans. When the ninja agreed he sent a rocket in the air to signal the meeting place for the ninjas. Over 300 ninjas came to the aid of Ieyasu but Hattori Hanzo's request. They traveled for several days in secret the ninja way until he delivered Tokugawa Ieyasu safely home. Ieyasu was so impressed that he hired around two hundred of the ninjas to stay with him under the leadership of Hattori Hanzo. They would become known as the Ninjas of Iga. These ninjas were given the job of protecting the west gate of Ieyasu's castle which was the most susceptible of attack. The Imperial Palace in Japan today still has a Hanzo Gate.

The Legacy of Hattori Hanzo


After Tokugawa Ieyasu became the Shogun and ruler of Japan, Hattori Hanzo and his Ninjas of Iga remained at Ieyasu's side as palace guards. After Hattori Hanzo died in battle, his continued to lead the clan as palace guards. After Tokugawa completely isolated power and had no true enemies, many of the ninjas went separate ways, but the Hanzo clan continued to serve as guards for generations to come.

Hattori Hanzo's legacy still has it's place in popular culture through his character being in many video games and cinema. In the popular movies Kill Bill the legendary sword smith is named Hanzo Hattori because the actor that plays the sword smith also played Hattori Hanzo in another film. They said he was reprising the role. Although you might not be familiar with the name Hattori Hanzo, his life played a major impact on how we view ninjas today.

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    • profile image

      Cristina 

      3 years ago

      Oh, so Machiavelli and Malcolm X were secret Ninjas, since they lived by the mtnaras of The end justifies the means. and by any means necessary ? Of course, Malcolm X borrowed his famous slogan from the French intellectual Jean Paul Sartre from his play Dirty Hands. So maybe Malcolm X was wanna be ninja. Not that I'm knocking him. He was a very misunderstood man.

    • profile image

      shahrul 

      6 years ago

      I want to be a ninja anyone can teach me please ..

      Name:muhammad shahrul hakimi bin yuszaimie.

      livin in; malaysia

    • Phillbert profile imageAUTHOR

      Phillip Drayer Duncan 

      6 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thanks haloback!

    • profile image

      haloback 

      6 years ago

      cool

    • Phillbert profile imageAUTHOR

      Phillip Drayer Duncan 

      6 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thanks travel man! Sounds like a fun story! Hahaha!

    • travel_man1971 profile image

      Ireno Alcala 

      6 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      I'm a fan of Ninja Stories. In fact, way back in high school, we made shurekin at our Metal Class shop that almost endanger the life of one of my classmates.

      Understanding the life of a ninja is equals to invoking discipline to one's existence, like what happened to the life of Hattori Hanzo.

      A very good read! Thanks for sharing!!!

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