1541 - 1596

Quentin Tarrantino made him a 21st century (or whenever it is) swordsmaker in his worldwide sensation movie Kill Bill; but this is a movie where a supposedly Japanese assassin is played by a decidedly Chinese actress (Lucy Liu) who fights using the very Japanese sword ('katana') with unmistakably kung-fu techniques; as a matter of fact it's all the same to me whether these creatures go to bed together or kill each other or both.

The real-life Hattori Hanzo was a vassal of the Matsudaira clan. His own clan of Koga consisted of mainly ninjas, and this specialized department of martial arts got the clan jobs for the Tokugawa shogunate for no end. Hattori's skill in ninjutsu was enough to get the entire clan a healthy living for two centuries.

Click here for story and pictures of how Hattori hanzo saved Tokugawa Ieyasu's life when Oda Nobunaga died in Akechi Mitsuhide's attack in Kyoto.


The tools of Hattori's trade are family heirloom in 2005


Hattori according to a computer game in 2005


The absolute lack of portraits of Hattori Hanzo is understandable. He was a ninja, for God's sake. So everyone in later centuries made up their own Hattori Hanzo, basing the images on his nickname, 'Devil Hanzo' -- that was given by his contemporaries to distinguish him from another Hanzo, from the Watanabe clan, who was also a famous colleague of theirs in the same biz.


Hattori as played by legendary actor Chiba Sonny


Hattori's family estate is visitable today. Tourists flocked there from around the world. The fame lasts via animation movies, comic books and computer games, plus countless feature films since before World War II.


The Hattori museum, 2002


Click here for IGA ninja clan What real ninjas did in Hattori's times How real ninjas differed from samurai in codes & beliefs A movie in which Hattori Hanzo is killed by Sanada clan's ninja




1585 - 1612


Statues of Sasaki Kojiro in 1990's, a doll of him in 2005, and a classical drawing of him in 19th century, were all that we have today to recall this fine samurai with.

Remembered chiefly for his last fight against Miyamoto Musashi (if you want story and pictures of Musashi, that name is clickable), the life of Sasaki Kojiro is all but memorized.

He was a vassal of the Hosokawa clan, and thence for Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu (this, too, is clickable -- for story and pictures). A career-minded warrior -- just the opposite of Miyamoto, and that's why you never knew him -- he was about to become the Shogunal tutor of swordsmanship when he died in the overhyped duel against Miyamoto. The fight itself lasted for no more than five minutes.

Notice how he dressed in the pictures -- that shows rank in the samurai universe; Miyamoto was just a lucky ronin.




1548 - 1618

Honda Tadakatsu
Honda family crest

General Honda Heihachi

Honda Heihachi (a.k.a Honda Tadakatsu)


Honda Tadakatsu
Classic portrait of Honda Heihachi, and his way in Sekigahara battle

One of the pictures above shows Honda at the battlefield of Sekigahara (click here for story and pictures). He was such a great soldier that once, when he attacked Oda Nobunaga's troops of tens of thousands just with a little band of a few dozens, Oda told his men to hold fire. "I envy Tokugawa Ieyasu," he said, "that he has a man like Honda there. It's an unspeakable loss if he is to die today."

If Oda was like that about Honda, others even more so. "One thing is above Tokugawa Ieyasu," a popular folk song of 1580's said, "His helmet, and Honda Tadakatsu." Luckily Honda's boss didn't think it was against him -- such a snub, though not Honda's fault at all, wouldn't have gone unnoticed if Tokugawa chose to act like always did -- he's very vindictive.

Honda helped Ieyasu cemented the foundations of the shogunate's 254 years of reign, although in his old age he got increasingly alienated because the regime turned 'civilian'. Honda couldn't stand it.

Click here for everything about Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu.




Yagyu clan crest
Yagyu family crest

Yagyu Munenori, Lord of Tajima
Portrait painting of real-life Yagyu Munenori (1571-1646),
Lord of Tajima,
a 'law-and-order' master of swordsmanship,
the Tokugawas' official tutor in martial arts.

All the men in this clan have been famous through the ages. Yagyu Sekhishusai, the patriarch, might have worked for Oda Nobunaga and his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi; Yagyu Munenori, his son, worked for the Tokugawa shogunate. It is ironic that the man whose clan founded a school of the art, and whose style is still used in 2005, was one of the men for the restrictions of swordsplaying in his days. The Tokugawas feared rebellions and reenactment of the 'Warring States' period in Japanese history (click here for story and pictures), so they cut some fangs off the samurai way.

The youngest son of Munenori's, ninja master Yagyu Jubei, is most famous in 21st century because of the myriad comic books, animation movies and feature films. Like every other legend, Yagyu Jubei still lives today precisely because he left no abundant record. Even in 1646, the year when he died according to other people, the fact wasn't verified by anything. All that is certain is that he was never seen again.

Just as a postscript: today's Japanese actor and crooner Yagyu Hiroshi and Yagyu Shingo are descendants of this illustrious clan.

Click here for profile and pictures of Yagyu Muneyoshi (Yagyu Jubei's grandpa)

Click here for detailed and complete maps of Japan, all the provinces and warlords' domains, including Yagyu clan's territory.


the real Yagyu Jubei
The real-life Yagyu Jubei (1607-1650),
a very unobtrusive swordsman,
supporter of
Tokugawa Iemitsu


Yagyu Jubei
Yagyu Jubei in a series played by Chiba Sonny.
Today's Jubei is a super-prominent ninja.

Eyepatch, trademark of Jubei's, is a 100% invention of later generations of fans. Even Jubei himself in 21st century is largely a creation of these same fans. More and more Japanese warriors have been subjected to the same fate of overhype and historical distortion.


The Yagyu estate in 2003
is a tourist destination

The gate of the Yagyu School
is familiar in 21st century, because
of the movies.




Lord Matsudaira Nobutsuna

Matsudaira Nobutsuna
a worthy advisor of the third title-bearer of the main clan,
Tokugawa Iemitsu. His job was
mainly peacemaking.
The Matsudairas and the Tokugawas share the same ancestors.

Click here for story and pictures of the Matsudaira clan's last minutes in power.






T H E----T O K U G A W A----C L A N----H A S----S O M E T H I N G----T O----D O----W I T H---T H E S E

Honda Heihachi   Sanada Yukimura   Miyamoto Musashi   Oda Nobunaga   Sasaki Kojiro
Asano Naganori   Ishida Mitsunari   Toyotomi Hideyoshi   Oishi Kuranosuke   Yagyu Munenori
Tokugawa Ieyasu   Tokugawa Iemitsu   Tokugawa Hidetada   Tokugawa Tsunayoshi   Yagyu Jubei
Matsudaira Nobutsuna   Takeda Shingen   Tokugawa Yoshinobu   Toyotomi Hideyori   The 47 Ronins
Amakusa Tokisada   Uesugi Kagekatsu   Imagawa Yoshimoto   Kobayakawa Hideaki   Ukita Hideie
Mori Terumoto   Maeda Toshiie   Sekigahara Battle   The Minamoto Clan   The Shinsengumi
Sakai Tadatsugu   Tokugawa Ancestors   Osaka Battle   Shimabara Revolt   Nemesis




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