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Hattori Hanzō
服部 半蔵
Hattori Hanzō
Born ~1542
Died December 23, 1596(1596-12-23)
Place of birth Mikawa Province
Place of death Edo

Hattori Hanzō (服部 半蔵?, ~1542[1] – December 23, 1596), also known as Hattori Masanari (服部 正成?), was a famous samurai and ninja master of the Sengoku era, credited with saving the life of Tokugawa Ieyasu and then helping him to become the ruler of united Japan.[2][3] Today, he is often a subject of varied portrayal in modern popular culture.


Born as the son of Hattori Yasunaga, a minor samurai in the service of the Matsudaira (later Tokugawa) clan.[4][5] He would later earn the nickname Oni no Hanzō (鬼の半蔵 Devil Hanzō?)[5] because of the fearless tactics he displayed in his operations; this is to distinguish him from Watanabe Hanzo (Watanabe Moritsuna), who is nicknamed Yari no Hanzō (槍の半蔵 Spear Hanzō?).[6]

Though Hanzō was born and raised in Mikawa Province, he often returned to Iga Province, home of the Hattori family. He fought his first battle at the age of 16 (a night-time attack on Udo castle[4])[5] and went on to lay siege to Kakegawa Castle in 1569. He served with distinction at the battles of Anegawa (1570) and Mikatagahara (1572).[4] His most valuable contribution came in 1582 following Oda Nobunaga's death, when he led the future shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu to safety in Mikawa Province across Iga territory with the help of remnants of the local Iga ninja clans[5][7][8] as well as their one-time rivals in Koga.[9][10] According to some sources, Hanzō also helped in rescuing the captured family of Ieyasu.[11]

Hanzō was known as an expert tactician and a master of spear fighting. Historical sources say he lived the last several years of his life as a monk under the name "Sainen" and built the temple, Sainenji, which was named after him and mainly built to commemorate Tokugawa Ieyasu's elder son, Nobuyasu, who was accused of treason and conspiracy by Oda Nobunaga and who was then ordered to commit seppuku by his father, Ieyasu. When Nobuyasu was ordered to end his own life, Hanzo was called in to act as the official second to end Nobuyasu's suffering, but he refused to take the sword on the blood of his own lord. Ieyasu valued his loyalty after hearing of Hanzo's ordeal and said, "Even a demon can shed tears."[12][13]

Tales of his exploits often attributed various supernatural abilities, such as disappearing and appearing elsewhere, psychokinesis, and precognition,[5] and these attributions contribute to his continued prominence in popular culture. He died at the age of 55.[4]


Edo Castle's Hanzōmon gate during the Meiji period (1868-1912)

Imperial Palace's Hanzōmon gate in 2007

After his death in the fourth of November 1596, Hattori Hanzō was succeeded by his son, whose name was also Masanari, though written with different kanji. He was given the title of Iwami no Kami[14] and his Iga men would act as guards of Edo Castle, the headquarters of the government of united Japan. There have been also as many as three other Hattori Hanzō leading his clan at one point or another (including one before him).[5]

To this day, artifacts of Hanzō's legacy remain. Tokyo Imperial Palace (formerly the shogun's palace) still has a gate called Hanzō's Gate (Hanzōmon), and the Hanzōmon subway line which runs from Hanzōmon Station in central Tokyo to the southwestern suburbs is named after the gate, where his house was once located.[15][16][17] The neighborhood outside Hanzo’s Gate is known as Wakaba, but prior to 1943 was named Iga-cho ("Iga Town").[18] Hanzō’s remains now rest in the Sainen-ji temple cemetery in Yotsuya, Tokyo. The temple also holds his favorite spear and his ceremonial battle helmet. The spear, originally 14-feet long donated to the temple by Hanzō as a votive offering, had been given to him by Ieyasu and suffered damage during the bombing of Tokyo in 1945.[19][20]

In popular culture

As a famous historical figure in one of Japan's greatest periods of samurai culture, Hattori Hanzō has significant cultural resonance among admirers of that culture, both within Japan and abroad. In the modern popular culture he is most often portrayed as involved with the Iga ninja clansmen. Many films, specials and series on the life and times of Tokugawa Ieyasu depict the events mentioned above. The actor Sonny Chiba played his role in the series Hattori Hanzô: Kage no Gundan (Shadow Warriors), where he and his descendants are the main characters. His life and his service to Tokugawa Ieyasu is fictionalised in the manga series Path of the Assassin and the young Hanzō is the main character in the manga Tenka Musō. The novel The Kouga Ninja Scrolls and its adaptations (the manga and anime series Basilisk and the live-action film Shinobi: Heart Under Blade) feature the four Hattori Hanzos serving as ninja leaders under the rule of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Hanzō also appears in the novel Fukurō no Shiro (Owl's Castle), later made into two feature films (including Owls' Castle), in the manga and anime series Gin Tama (a parody character named Hattori Zenzo), in the manga Naruto the character named Hanzō was the leader of Amegakure a secret ninja village, Samurai Deeper Kyo and Tail of the Moon, and in the live-action film Goemon, and was featured in an episode "Spartan vs. Ninja" of the TV show Deadliest Warrior. In the case of Samurai Deeper Kyo, an unusual plot turn reveals that Hattori Hanzō is actually the real Ieyasu Tokugawa in disguise, and the one history is familiar with was his fake figurehead. Hattori Hanzō appears as a recurring character in the Samurai Shodown video game series, appearing in every game in the series, in the anime film and in some guest appearances in the KOF series.[21] In World Heroes, another SNK video game series, Hanzō is one of the main characters along with his rival Fūma Kotarō. In video game series Samurai Warriors, he is portrayed as a highly skilled ninja, highly loyal to Tokugawa Ieyasu and attributed to the death of many of Ieyasu's rivals and having an extremely fierce rivalry with Fūma Kotarō. Hanzō is also featured in several other video games such as Taikou Risshiden V (as one of the main characters), Kessen III, Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword (being one of the Great Spies), Shall We Date?: Ninja Love,[22] Pokémon Conquest, Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes and the Suikoden series; in the limited edition of Total War: Shogun 2, he is daimyo of the Hattori Clan, one of the factions fighting for supremacy over Japan.

The light novel and anime series Hyakka Ryōran Samurai Girls and the anime series Sengoku Otome: Momoiro Paradox both feature Hattori Hanzō as a female ninja character. There are also many characters named after him, such as Kanzo Hattori, the main character in the franchise Ninja Hattori-kun. Sonny Chiba returned to play a character of Hattori Hanzō in the film Kill Bill, a master swordsmith who is called upon to create a special katana sword for the film's protagonist (in the Thundercats episode "The Duelist and the Drifter", the Sword of Hittanzo is a tribute to him). Hanzō clan's descendants in various fiction include villains in the film The Machine Girl, Hanpei "Hanpen" Hattori in the TV series Android Kikaider, and Okatsu in the video games Kessen and Kessen III.

See also


  1. According to various sources, he was born in 1541, 1542 or 1543.
  2. Masaaki Hatsumi, Essence of Ninjutsu: The Nine Traditions (1988), p. 178
  3. Jason Glaser, Don Roley, Ninja (2006), p. 26
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Stephen Turnbull, Ninja AD 1460-1650 (2003), p. 12
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Joel Levy, Ninja: The Shadow Warrior (2008), p. 157-158
  6. Stephen K. Hayes, The Mystic Arts of the Ninja (1985)
  7. Andrew Adams, Ninja: The Invisible Assassins (1970), p. 43
  8. Stephen Turnbull, Warriors of Medieval Japan (2007), p. 151
  9. Stephen K. Hayes, The Ninja and Their Secret Fighting Art (1990), p. 30
  10. Haha Lung, Ninja Shadowhand, The Art of Invisibility (2004), p. 50
  11. Hiromitsu Kuroi, More Secrets of the Ninja: Their Training, Tools and Techniques (2009), p. 94
  12. Thomas Louis, Tommy Ito, Samurai: The Code of the Warrior (2008), p. 112
  13. Arthur Lindsay Sadler, The Maker of Modern Japan: The Life of Tokugawa Ieyasu, C. E. Tuttle Co., 1978
  14. "Sengoku Era Ranks and Titles". Retrieved 2013-07-07. 
  15. Lisa Leventer, Fodor's Japan: The Complete Guide With the Best of Tokyo, Kyoto and Old Japan, Fodor's Travel Publications, 1996
  16. Fodor's Travel Publications, Fodor's Japan: Expert Advice and Smart Choices: Where to Stay, Eat, and Explore On and Off the Beaten Path (2000), p. 61
  17. Mikhail Vladimirovich Uspenskiĭ, Tatyana Mordkova, Natalia Smaznova, One Hundred Views of Edo: Woodblock Prints by Ando Hiroshige, Parkstone Press, 1997
  18. Matt Alt, Tokyo's really, really real ninja hideouts,, 23 November 2011
  19. Stephen Turnbull, The Samurai Swordsman: Master of War (2008), p. 53
  20. Thomas Louis, Tommy Ito, Samurai: The Code of the Warrior (2008), p. 124
  21. "Hattori Hanzo". The Fighters Generation. 2011-12-10. Retrieved 2013-07-07. 
  22. "Shall We Date?: Ninja Love". 

External links

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