Hattori Hanzō

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Hattori Hanzō
服部 半蔵
Leader of Iga Ninja
In office
Preceded byHattori Yasunaga
Succeeded byHattori Masanari
Personal details
Hattori Masanari
服部 正成

c. 1542
Mikawa Province (now Iga-chō, Okazaki, Aichi)
Died(1597-01-02)January 2, 1597 (aged 54-55)
Edo, Musashi province
RelationsHattori Yasunaga, 1st-Hanzō (father)
Hattori Masanari, 3rd-Hanzō (son)
Nickname"Demon Hanzō"
Military service
Allegiance Matsudaira clan
Tokugawa clan
Battles/warsAttack on Udo Castle
Siege of Kaminogō Castle
Siege of Kakegawa
Battle of Anegawa
Battle of Mikatagahara
Battle of Komaki and Nagakute
Siege of Odawara

Hattori Hanzō (服部 半蔵, c. 1542[1] – January 2, 1597) or Second Hanzō, nicknamed Oni no Hanzō (鬼の半蔵, Demon Hanzō),[2] was a famous samurai of the Sengoku era, who served the Tokugawa clan as a general, credited with saving the life of Tokugawa Ieyasu and then helping him to become the ruler of united Japan. He is often a subject of varied portrayals in modern popular culture. Hanzō was known as an expert tactician and a master of sword fighting.

Early life[edit]

Born the son of Hattori Yasunaga (服部 保長), the First Hanzō, a minor samurai in the service of the Matsudaira (later Tokugawa) clan.[3][2] His real name is Hattori Masanari (服部 正成), and he became known as the Second Hanzō. He would later earn the nickname Oni no Hanzō (鬼の半蔵, Demon Hanzō)[2] because of the fearless tactics he displayed in his operations; this moniker also distinguished him from Watanabe Hanzo (Watanabe Moritsuna), who is nicknamed Yari no Hanzō (槍の半蔵, Spear Hanzō).[4]

Though Hanzō was born in Mikawa Province (now Iga-chō, Okazaki, Aichi), he often returned to Iga Province, home of the Hattori family. At the age of 15, his first battle was a night time attack during the siege of Udo Castle (1557).[3][2]

Service under Ieyasu[edit]

Hanzo had a great contribution to Tokugawa Ieyasu's rise to power, helping the future Shogun bring down the Imagawa clan. After Imagawa Ujizane had held Ieyasu's wife and son as hostages in 1561, Hanzo made a successful hostage rescue of Tokugawa's family at Kaminogo castle in 1562[5] and went on to lay siege to Kakegawa castle in 1569 against the Imagawa clan.

He served with distinction at the battles of Anegawa in 1570 and Mikatagahara in 1572.[3] According to the Kansei Chōshū Shokafu, a genealogy of major samurai completed in 1812 by the Tokugawa shogunate, Hattori Hanzō rendered meritorious service during the Battle of Mikatagahara and became commander of an Iga unit consisting of one hundred fifty men. He captured a Takeda spy named Chikuan, and when Takeda's troops invaded Totomi, Hanzō counterattacked with only thirty warriors at the Tenryū River.[citation needed]

His most valuable contribution came in 1582 following Oda Nobunaga's death, when he led the future shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu from the pursuit of Akechi Mitsuhide's troops to safety in Mikawa Province across Iga territory with the help of remnants of the local ji-samurai clans of the now-former Iga and Kōka confederacies.[2][6][7][8][9] Hanzo was principal in serving as Ieyasu's guide and commanded 300 guards to ensure his lord's safe passage to Mikawa.

In 1584, Hattori Hanzo continued to serve his lord at Battle of Komaki and Nagakute with 100 warriors under his command.

In 1590, Hattori Hanzo served during the Odawara campaign and was awarded 8,000 koku. By the time Ieyasu entered Kantō, he was awarded an additional 8,000 koku and had 30 yoriki and 200 public officials for his services.

Historical sources[which?][specify] say he lived the last several years of his life as a monk under the name "Sainen" and built the temple Sainenji,[citation needed] which was named after him and mainly built to commemorate Tokugawa Ieyasu's elder son, Tokugawa Nobuyasu.[citation needed]

After Nobuyasu was accused of treason and conspiracy by Oda Nobunaga and was then ordered to commit seppuku by his father, Ieyasu. 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."[10][11]


He died at the age of 54 or 55 in 1597.[3] There are three theories about his death. One asserts that he was assassinated by a rival Samurai, the pirate Fūma Kotarō. After Hanzo tracked him down to the Inland Sea, Kotarō lured him and his men into a small channel and used oil to set the channel on fire. The second theory is that Hanzo became a monk in Edo where he lived out the rest of his days until he died of illness. The third theory is that he died because of illness and it was a natural death.


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

Hanzo's reputation as a samurai leader who commanded a 200-men strong unit of Iga warriors has grown to legendary proportions. Tales of Hattori's exploits often attributed various supernatural abilities, such as teleportation, psychokinesis, and precognition.[2][3]

After his death on 4 November 1596, Hattori Hanzō was succeeded by his son, whose name was also Masanari (third Hanzō), though written with different kanji (正就 instead of 正成). He was given the title of Iwami no Kami[12] and his Iga men would act as guards of Edo Castle, the headquarters of the government of united Japan. Hanzō is actually a name passed down through the leaders of the Hattori family meaning his father was also called Hanzō and so was his successor. Indeed, there are five people known as Hattori Hanzō throughout history.[2]

The Tokyo Imperial Palace's Hanzōmon gate in 2007

To this day, artifacts of Hanzō's legacy remain. Tokyo Imperial Palace (formerly the shōgun'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.[13][14][15] The neighborhood outside Hanzō's Gate is known as Wakaba, but before 1943 was named Iga-chō ("Iga Town").[16] 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 (4.3 m) long and given to him by Ieyasu, was donated to the temple by Hanzō as a votive offering, but was damaged during the bombing of Tokyo in 1945.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ According to various sources,[which?] he was born in 1541, 1542 or 1543.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Joel Levy, Ninja: The Shadow Warrior (2008), pp. 157–158
  3. ^ a b c d e Stephen Turnbull, Ninja AD 1460–1650 (2003), p. 12
  4. ^ Stephen K. Hayes, The Mystic Arts of the Ninja (1985)
  5. ^ Tools and Techniques (2009), p. 94
  6. ^ Andrew Adams, Ninja: The Invisible Assassins (1970), p. 43
  7. ^ Stephen Turnbull, Warriors of Medieval Japan (2007), p. 151
  8. ^ Stephen K. Hayes, The Ninja and Their Secret Fighting Art (1990), p. 30
  9. ^ Haha Lung, Ninja Shadowhand, The Art of Invisibility (2004), p. 50
  10. ^ Thomas Louis, Tommy Ito, Samurai: The Code of the Warrior (2008), p. 112
  11. ^ Arthur Lindsay Sadler, The Maker of Modern Japan: The Life of Tokugawa Ieyasu, C. E. Tuttle Co., 1978
  12. ^ "Sengoku Era Ranks and Titles". Samurai-archives.com. Archived from the original on 2013-08-28. Retrieved 2013-07-07.
  13. ^ Lisa Leventer, Fodor's Japan: The Complete Guide With the Best of Tokyo, Kyoto and Old Japan, Fodor's Travel Publications, 1996
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ Mikhail Vladimirovich Uspenskiĭ, Tatyana Mordkova, Natalia Smaznova, One Hundred Views of Edo: Woodblock Prints by Ando Hiroshige, Parkstone Press, 1997
  16. ^ Matt Alt, Tokyo's really, really real ninja hideouts Archived 2012-11-02 at the Wayback Machine, CNNGo.com, 23 November 2011
  17. ^ Stephen Turnbull, The Samurai Swordsman: Master of War (2008)

External links[edit]