If you are a fan of ninja history, anime, video games, or movies then the name Hattori Hanzo just might sound familiar to you.
Ninjas were incredibly secretive operatives that relied on stealth and cunning as their weapon. The majority of ninjas in the past were so successful in maintaining their level of stealth that we may never know of their deeds.
There are some ninjas that had such an impact on history operations word out that their names could not help but be passed down over time.
Hattori Hanzo was one such Ninja!
One little known fact was that the name Hattori Hanzo was actually passed down to the Head of the Hanzo Clan. According to history there were five different ninjas that held the title of Hattori Hanzo.
Let us focus on the first Hattori Hanzo:
Whispered tales of Hattori Hanzo quickly spread throughout the households of Japan. Proclaimed a master of psychokinesis and teleportation, his enemies and allies alike moved with caution when ‘the daemon’ stepped into a room. Hanzo rose to prominence by working under the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Raised in the Iga prefecture, he used his ninja training to prove his worth in the several battles. His notable deeds gained Ieyasu’s personal favor and an invitation to join his high command. After being admitted to the Ieyasu’s inner council along with his own escort of Iga warriors, he served the shogunate faithfully until his death.
Hanzo’s lifespan coincided with the tumultuous Warring States period of Japan, when Oda Nobunaga began unifying the self-governing feudal lords. He first tasted battle at the age of 16 during a night raid on Udo Castle. Having trained since the age of eight, he found out that he possessed a demon-like skill in spear fighting. Armed with the knowledge of his own strength, he would next throw himself into the vicious fighting at Kekegawa, Anegawa, and Mikatahara. His martial prowess and gift for strategy convinced Tokugawa Ieyasu to reward him with command of a personal unit of Iga warriors.
After the treacherous assassination of Nobunaga, the influential Tokugawa Ieyasu found himself similarly threatened. Only by escaping from Osaka and traveling to his stronghold in Mikawa, could Ieyasu avoid the clutches of the conspirators. Fortunately for Ieyasu, a demon fought under his command. Through guile, political acumen, and personal knowledge, Hanzo not only guided Ieyasu to Mikawa unharmed, but convinced the fractious Koka and Iga ninja clansmen to help usher him to safety. Deeply impressed by Hanzo’ abilities, Ieyasu favored Hanzo and his Iga escort by awarding them the illustrious position of palace guards at Edo castle.
Once in a position of influence, Hanzo founded the Oniwabanshu, or the shogunate’s covert agency. He used his network of informants, turncoats, and spies to insure any opposition to Ieyasu’s shogunate was short lived. Personally familiar with the ninja’s covert skillsets, he exploited their potential on a country-wide scale. Ieyasu, already known for his political instincts, would use the web of information provided by Hanzo to strengthen his hold on Japan and ensure decades of peace. After Hanzo’s death at the age of 55, his successor adopted the name ‘Hattori Hanzo’ for himself, perpetuating a tradition that created an illusion of immortality.
Both in history book and popular culture, the name Hattori Hanzo continues to resurface. From Kill Bill to Pokémon Conquest to Naruto, modern day enthusiasts pay homage to the great ninja by weaving his name into their storylines. Likewise, The Hanzomon gate of the Imperial Palace, previously the Shogun’s Palace, and the Hanzomon subway line were named after him. The enduring memory, through popular culture and physical monuments, of Hattori ‘the Demon’ Hanzo has ensured the name of the greatest ninja will forever be remembered.