Famous Ninja

The Hattori Family

One of the most famous families in Iga was without a doubt the Hattori family. They descended both from Otomo Hososto, a high member of one of the most important families in Japan, and from China. The Otomo family were employed in the service of the imperial family primarily for their knowledge of warfare. The sons of the Hattori were later allowed to create their own branches of the family.

According to some sources, it was Iga Heinazae Mon no Jo Ienaga who gave the eldest son Hattori Hei Taro Koreyuki the right to use the family name Kamihattori. Middle son Hattori Heijiro Yasuyori founded the Nakahattori surname and youngest son Hattori Heijiro Yasunori founded the Shimohattori surname.

Each family had its own mon (family crest), the Kamihattori had yahazu-nihon (two arrowheads) on their mon, the Nakahattori ichitomoe (a bow) and the Shimohattori yaguruma (eight arrowheads in a ring).

That each family had its own mon indicates that they were of the same rank as a Samurai. According to modern history books, Hattori Hanzo is said to have been a Samurai from Iga. When Oda Nobunaga conquered Iga, only 80 individuals from the three Hattori families survived. They fled to different parts of Japan.

The Kamihattori fled to the village of Nagaoka in Echigo. The Shimohattori received protection from the Tokugawa family in Mikawa or from the Ochi family in Takatori Village in Yamato Province. The Nakahattori fled up into the Takano Mountains.

Hattori Hanzo

The most famous Ninja in history was without a doubt Hattori Hanzo Masahige (1541-1596). He was the son of Hattori Nazo Yasunaga, who had become a vassal of the Tokugawa family through marriage. The Tokugawa were known as Matsudaira during this period. They belonged to the Kamihattori branch of the family, but whether they descended from the Heitaro or the Chigachi is unknown.

A portrait of Hattori Masanari aka Hattori Hanzo from the 17th century.

A portrait of Hattori Masanari aka Hattori Hanzo from the 17th century.

Hattori Hanzo grew up with martial arts and it became his main occupation in his life. In 1557, when Hattori Hanzo was sixteen years old, he fought in battle for the first time in his life. It was the night that Tokugawa Ieyasu attacked Uzuchijo in Migawa (the castle in Udo). Here he received his first reward for his outstanding performance on the battlefield. He was nicknamed Hanzo the Ghost, and even the Tokugawa recognized his abilities. After that he was involved in the Battle of Anagawa in 1570 and the Battle of Mikata Ga Hara in 1572. Due to his abilities, another nickname was also Hanzo the Devil.

The Hattori family were not watari Ninja (Ninja who sold their services for the highest bidder), they were staunch followers of the Tokugawa. When Oda Nobunaga was assassinated by Akechi Mitsuhide, Tokugawa was in a village near Osaka and was attacked by Akechi’s troops. Tokugawa was assisted by Hattori Hanzo and Taro Shiro, a Kōga Ninja. Along with 300 Ninja, they helped Tokugawa escape to Okazakijo, using goton jutsu and other special techniques to reach their destination undisturbed.

Hattori Hanzo’s many merits gave him great prestige and he was appointed leader over the Hassenshi Samurai. On December 4, 1596, Hattori Hanzo died while leading a force to attack Fuma Ryū Ninja from Kanagawa. Hanzo and his troops had followed the Fuma Ryū Ninja out to sea in boats, but the Fuma Ryū Ninja used underwater techniques to destroy their oar. As Hanzo and his men jumped into the water to swim to shore, the Fuma Ryū Ninja set fire to the oil they had poured into the water. All perished in the flames. Hattori Iwami no Kami Masanari later achieved success where Hattori Hanzo had died.

The people of Japan still sing songs in the Kawauchi area. He is known there as the great lancer, a very strong warrior. Not many know of his connections to Ninjutsu, rather he is known as bushi (warrior) from Iga.

The Two Identities of Momochi Sandayu

Besides the Hattori family, the Momochi and Fujibayashi were the most famous Ninja families of the Iga province. Some sources claim they are descended from Otomo Hososto and the Otomo family. It is reported that the Momochi controlled southern Iga, the Hattori controlled central Iga, and the Fujibayashi controlled northern Iga. Momochi Sandayu was the most famous Ninja leader along with Hattori Hanzo.

Momochi Sandayu was the grand master of Momochi-Ryū and Gyokko-Ryū under Tembunera (1542-1555). He was also known to be a skilled Ninja.

To hide his identity he had three different houses, one was in Ryugu Sanbonmatsu in Yamato Province and was built by the Daimyō Kitabatake Tomonori. The others in Hojiro Yamato and Takiguchijo. He also had three different families that he switched between. The place where he mainly resided in the 1570s seems to have been Ryugu Sanbonmatsu after he was considered to be made a leading man in the village.

Many sources report that Momochi Sandayu and Fujibayashi Nagato were one and the same person. There is a reason why he is not mentioned in any source when Oda Nobunaga conquered Iga in 1581, but heroic deeds are narrated by Momochi.

One of Momochi Sandayu’s houses in Takiguchijo, near Iga Ueno, was burned down by Oda Nobunaga after the invasion of Iga, but Momochi managed to escape with his men and he stayed in Sanbonmatsu until news of Oda Nobunaga’s murder broke on June 10, 1582 experienced. Probably Sandayu Momochi died not long after the invasion, his grave was found in 1960 in the old family cemetery near the village of Nabari on Mount Okaone, about 24 kilometers from Iga Ueno. It was found on a hill near one of his houses.

Momochi Sandayu II inherited both the Gyokko-Ryū and Koto-Ryū in the Tensho period (1570-1592) from Momochi Sandayu. Who became the next soke (head of a Ryū) of the Momochi-Ryū is unknown. The Gyokko-Ryū and Koto-Ryū were passed on to Momochi Tanba Yasumitsu in the Bunroku period (1596-1615). He was also known as Tanba no Kaimi and Lord of Ryugu Castle. Momochi Taro Daemon, who was the lord of Shokudai Castle in Ueno, took over the seat of the clans in the Genna period (1615-1624). After that, the two Ryū left the Momochi family and went other ways in the Iga province.

Other Famous Ninja

Other prominent members of the Momochi family were Momochi Jindayu Yasumatsu, Momochi Sannojo, and Momochi Chuzuburo Yasumatsu, among many others. That the methods were very effective was proven by a kunoichi named Tanaka Sadako who was never exposed when she went into hiding.

Descendants of Momochi Sandayu still live in one of his houses, however they no longer have any connection to the Momochi Sandayu Ninja tradition. All remaining Ninja tools were sold to museums and collectors two or three generations ago.

Not much is known about the Fujibayashi family. What is known is the fact that Fujibayashi Nagato and Momochi were actually one and the same person.

If the Fujibayashi family did not exist as a Ninja family, it is still possible that the author of the Bansenshūkai, Fujibayashi Yasutake, belonged to the Ninja family or, through being related to them, was able to gain enough knowledge to write the books.

It is also said that the Fujibayashi controlled their clan from the castles in Yubano and Ayama.


Text: Peter CarlssonTranslation: Stefan Imhoff