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7 Famous Ninjas

By Kallie Szczepanski
Japan History
Masaaki Hatsumi
In feudal Japan, two types of warriors emerged: the samurai, nobles who ruled the country
in the name of the emperor, and ninjas, often from the lower classes, who carried out
espionage and assassination missions. The largest ninja clans were based in the Iga and
Koga domains.
Because the ninja (or shinobi) was supposed to be a secretive, stealthy agent who fought
only when absolutely necessary, their names and deeds have made much less of a mark on
the historic record than those of the samurai. Yet even in the shadowy world of the ninja, a
few people stand out as exemplars of the ninja craft. Here are seven of the most famous
Fujibayashi Nagato
Fujibayashi Nagato was a leader of the Iga ninjas during the 16th century. His ninjas often
served the daimyo of Oomi domain (now Shiga) in his battles against Oda Nobunaga. This
ninja support for his opponents would later prompt Nobunaga to invade Iga and Koga, and
try to stamp out the ninja clans for good.
Fujibayashi's family took steps to ensure that ninja lore and techniques would not die
out. His descendant, Fujibayashi Yastake, compiled the Bansenshukai, or Ninja
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Momochi Sandayu
Momochi Sandayu was the leader of the Iga ninjas in the second half of the sixteenth
century. He probably died during Oda Nobunaga's invasion of Iga, although legend holds
that he escaped and lived out his days as a farmer in Kii Province.
Momochi is famous for teaching that ninjutsu should only be used as a last resort. It was
legitimately used to save a ninja's life, to aid his or her domain, or to serve the ninja's
lord. He warned that , "If one deliberately uses it for the sake of personal desires, the
techniques will indeed fail totally."
Hattori Hanzo
Hattori Hanzo's family was of the samurai class from Iga Domain, but he lived in Mikawa
Domain, and also served as a ninja during Japan's Sengoku period. Like Fujibayashi and
Momchi, he commanded the Iga ninjas.
His most famous act was smuggling Tokugawa Ieyasu, the future founder of the Tokugawa
Shogunate, to safety after Oda Nobunaga's death in 1582. Hattori led Tokugawa across Iga
and Koga, assisted by the survivors of the local ninja clans. (Nobunaga had attempted to
destroy both of the ninja strongholds during his lifetime.) Hattori also may have helped to
recover Ieyasu's family, which had been captured by a rival clan.
Hattori died in 1596 at the age of about 55, but his legend lives on. He features in
numerous manga and movies, and often has magical powers such as the ability to disappear
and reappear at will, predict the future, and move objects with his mind.
Mochizuki Chiyome
Mochizuki Chiyome was the wife of samurai Mochizuki Nobumasa of Shinano domain,
who died in the Battle of Nagashino in 1575. Chiyome herself was from the Koga clan,
however, so she had ninja roots.
After her husband's death, Chiyome stayed with his uncle, the Shinano daimyo Takeda
Shingen. Takeda asked Chiyome to create a band of kunoichi, or female ninja operatives,
who could act as spies, messengers, and even assassins. Chiyome recruited girls who were
orphans, refugees, or had been sold into prostitution, and trained them in the secrets of the
ninja trade.
The kunoichi would disguise themselves as wandering Shinto shamans to move from town
to town. They might dress up as actresses, prostitutes, or geisha to infiltrate a castle or
temple and find their targets. At its peak, Chiyome's ninja band included between 200 and
300 women, and gave the Takeda clan a decisive advantage in dealing with neighboring
Fuma Kotaro
Fuma Kotaro was an army leader and ninja jonin of the Hojo clan based in Sagami
Province. Although he was not from Iga or Koga, he practiced many ninja-style tactics in
his battles. His special forces troops used guerrilla warfare and espionage, and fought
against the Takeda clan.
The Hojo clan fell to Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590, after the siege of Odawara
Castle. Kotaro and his ninjas turned to banditry. Legend holds that Kotaro caused the
death of Hattori Hanzo, who served Tokugawa Ieyasu. Kotaro supposedly lured Hattori
into a narrow seaway, waited for the tide to come in, and then poured oil on the water and
burned Hattori's boats and troops. Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu sentenced Kotaro to execution
by beheading in 1603.
Ishikawa Goemon

via Wikipedia
In folk tales, Ishikawa Goemon is a Japanese Robin Hood, but he likely was a real
historical figure and a thief. He was from a samurai family that served the Miyoshi clan of
Iga; Goemon supposedly trained as a ninja under Momochi Sandayu.
Goemon likely fled Iga after Nobunaga's invasion, although a spicier version of the story
states that he was having an affair with Momochi's mistress, and had to flee from the
master's wrath. In that telling, Goemon stole Momochi's favorite sword before he went.
The runaway ninja then spent about fifteen years robbing daimyo, wealthy merchants, and
rich temples. He may or may not have really shared the spoils with impoverished peasants,
Robin Hood-style.
In 1594, Goemon tried to assassinate Toyotomi Hideyoshi, allegedly to avenge his
wife. He was executed by being boiled alive in a cauldron at the gate of the Nanzenji
Temple in Kyoto. In some versions of the story, his five year old son was also thrown in
the cauldron, but Goemon managed to hold the child above his head until Hideyoshi took
pity and had the boy rescued.
Jinichi Kawakami
Jinichi Kawakami of Iga is called the last ninja, although he readily admits that "Ninjas
proper no longer exist." He began to study ninjutsu at the age of six, and learned not only
combat and espionage techniques but also chemical and medical knowledge handed down
from the Sengoku period.
Kawakami has decided not to teach any apprentices the ancient ninja skills, however. He
notes wistfully that even if modern people learn ninjutsu, they cannot practice much of that
knowledge: "We can't try out murder or poisons." Thus, he has chosen not to pass the
information on to a new generation.

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