Tokugawa Unifies Japan

The last survivors had retreated further into the forests and mountains or fled to other clans throughout Japan. When Oda was assassinated in Honnoji in 1582, the Ninja under Hattori Hanzo helped Nobunaga’s ally Tokugawa Ieyasu get safely from Sakai, near Osaka, to his castle, Okazaki, near Nagoya.

Because they had to avoid the dangerous Honnoji area, the only way was through the mountains of Iga and Kōga. Along with Ninja from Kōga, they aided Tokugawa, who became shogun in 1603 and whose clan controlled Japan for the next 250 years. Some families helped Tokugawa out of joy at Nobunaga’s death, others because they saw a peaceful future in Tokugawa. Ironically, it wasn’t a battle that marked the end of the Ninja, but peace. The Ninja aided Tokugawa in destroying the last of the Daimyō who opposed the ruling Tokugawa.

Ninja as Gardener and State Police

With peace and order restored in Japan, the services of the Ninja were no longer in demand. Many genin and chūnin continued to work on their own, but without the philosophical guidance of the jōnin. Many of the Ninja were incorporated into the bakufu’s secret police, helping to oversee the imperial court and control the Daimyō. They were subordinate to the ometsuke, bakufu officers of the state police. Others joined the military, many became criminals. At that time you could often hire former Ninja, but they were only thieves or murderers in Ninja clothes. They were often employed by rulers as gardeners or servants.

These once deadly lone wolves degenerated into security guards, with miserable pay, and their duties soon became limited to opening doors or standing targets for young girls tossing snowballs.

The few families who remained in the mountains outside of Kyōto hid from the Tokugawa.

The Last Missions of Ninja Warriors

Only two more times Ninja services were needed. Once during the Shimabara Rebellion (1637-38) where Christians rebelled against religious and economic oppression.

The last activity of the Tokugawa Ninja was in 1853 when the Ninja Yasusuke Sawamura was ordered to sneak onto Fleet Admiral Perry’s ships in search of information that would reveal the true motives of the alien barbarians.

In the archives of the Sawamura family in Iga Ueno, there are still two letters containing a Dutch song about the quality of French women in bed and British women in the kitchen.

Text: Stefan Imhoff