A section from
‘A Jedi shall not know hatred, nor fear… nor love.’ from Star Wars Episode II
‘His exploits have become legendary, and all who study the arts of ninjitsu and kicking ass look to Hanzo as the shining example of what it means to be totally awesome.’ - BADASS - Ben Thompson
Stealth, Disambiguation, Secrecy and Deception are the cornerstone of Ninjutsu philosophy. So it isn't exactly good for a Ninja to be famous, considering anonymity was a prized status. Needless to say, it doesn't necessarily speak to highly of Hattari Hanzo - one of the most famous ninja, that his exploits are so well known. Or are they? After reading through bios of the man a few underlying characteristics become apparent:
- There is more legend than fact
- One of the most famous exploits was the future Shogun’s escape spearheaded by Hanzo
It seems that the aura of mystery cultivated by Hanzo coupled with a few high-profile exploits and super-competence is the dark-arts of Ninjutsu has thrown him into the realm of cult-hero. Three deductions can be made. There is more fiction than fact, cultivated by legions of followers and admirers. There is very little doubt of his abilities, at the very least considering that the Shogun who established the ‘great peace’ was in awe of Hanzo’s skills. There is very little we actually know about the man.
Ninjutsu developed in the Japanese towns of Iga and Koga, which remained the main centres of the art. Despite chronic warfare and constant political turmoil that characterized Japan of the 15th and 16th centuries, these two towns remained unconquered, and also un-imperialistic. The terrain around these two centres makes it difficult to access, but its proximity to larger cities like Osaka and Kyoto allowed for porous cultural borders. Other than the main centres, there were many other villages where schools of Ninjutsu flourished, and many families that practiced their own evolved versions or with a particular specialisation.
Ninjas were the special forces of the time. Mercenaries for hire, they were proficient in a plethora of arts like sabotage, espionage, intelligence, assassination, political warfare and so on. Rival schools encouraged competition and took the art to new highs by innovations and new techniques. Specialisation was the order of the day.
Hattori Hanzo was born Masanari, in the town of Mikawa. His training began at a young age since he was from a family of Iga-ninja )his family served the Matsudiara clan - ascendants of the future shogun Tokugawa).
Hanzo was a common name for a ninja at the time, and to distinguish him from the others Hattori was nicknamed Oni-Hanzo (or Devil-Hanzo for his daredevilry). It is with deception and psychological warfare that Hanzo created an aura of superhuman abilities for himself. A shining example of this is illustrated in Stephen K. Hayes biography of Hanzo (see references).
The Hanzo-Mon Gate of Edo Castle
Hanzo’s clan were retained by the family of Ieyasu Tokugawa - future Shogun of Japan. During the Warring States period the warlord - Oda Nobunaga was on his way to successfully binding the severely fragmented country. His untimely death threw two of his ablest generals into the race - Tokugawa and Hideyoshi. But before either could throw down the gauntlet, their personal safety had to be ensured. As soon as the news of Oda’s assassination became known Ieyasu with Hanzo by his side began to move towards Mikawa (Tokugawa’s base). They traveled through ninja country and under escort of the Iga ninjas who were retained by Hanzo for the express purpose of safe passage.
While clansmen, chiefs and petty warlords slaughtered each other in the turmoil that followed the assassination, Hanzo stayed by Tokugawa’s side, negotiated through treacherous terrain and double-crossing locals, and kept abreast of political happenings. Hanzo finally delivered Tokugawa into home-territory, and the Iga ninja had made such an impression on the future shogun that all 200 of the escort were permanently retained by him as the Band of Iga under the stewardship of Hanzo.
As one of the two ablest generals, Tokugawa (whose political acumen has been since proven unsurpassed in feudal Japan) threw his support behind Hideyoshi bringing more stability to Japan.
In 1590 when Tokugawa entered the capitol Edo, the Band of Iga went with him. They were put up at barracks near the west gate which has since been renamed Hanzo-mon gate.
Later that year Hattori Hanzo died, and the Band of Iga disintegrated under less able leadership. His remains rest at a temple-cemetery in Tokyo, surrounded by his favourite spears. A gate to the Imperial Palace and a subway line have been named Hanzo after the man.
For a wider view of how Tokugawa came to establish the longest running shogunate in Japanese history read the FactBehindFiction.com feature - The Third Shogunate.
Also check out Shogun - James Clavell’s fictional epic on the crucial years leading upto the Tokugawa Shogunate illustrating the Shogun’s relation with the first western Samurai.
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