Information on ninjas is hard to come by, after-all ninjas operated in secrecy, usually from the shadows, infiltrating social groups and assassinating targets all under the cover of stealth. Naturally, this would make it difficult to gain an understanding of who they were at the time, let alone 600 years later. Perhaps the mystery around ninjas is what has us so fascinated about them; but there are few more fascinating than the one known as Fuma Kotaro. Now, Fuma Kotaro wasn’t actually his name, but a title given to the leader of the legendary Fuma clan, who was said to be a small group of ninjas that operated in the region of Kanagawa in Kanto under the orders of the Hojo clan, a clan who claimed a good region of Japan after the death of the great unifier, Oda Nobunaga.
What made the Fuma clan stand out was their tactics in guerrilla warfare. Unlike the ninjas who were said to assassinate their targets through deception and infiltration, the Fuma clan were a little more brazen, and were said to opt for a style of warfare that would see them taking on larger forces than their own by means of sabotage. They would be more sporadic than the average army, using hit and run tactics and lying in wait to ambush their foes. They were set to attack enemies whilst pretending to flee, sometimes even luring enemies into traps. They were also known to ride on horseback, rushing the enemy from their blindside and using the speed of horses to make swift assaults. The Fuma Kotaro we’ll be speaking about is said to be the fifth leader of the Fuma clan. Little is obviously known about him, but some sources indicate that his name was Kazama. There doesn’t seem to be much evidence to prove this is an absolute truth, however for the purpose of this article, we’ll be referring to him as Kazama, so as to not misrepresent the other Fuma Kotaro’s of the Fuma clan.
One legend has it that Kazama was born to a human mother, but a demon father, or an Oni as they say in Japanese, meaning a supernatural ogre-like creature. Some say that the genetics he received, courtesy of this creature, is what gave him his supposed ferocity and sheer size. Kazama is actually described as being close to seven-feet tall with hulking muscles, and a malicious grin. He was also said to have sinister slotted eyed and his voice was so deep that if he yelled, you could hear it from nearly five kilometers away. Kazama was responsible for leading a special forces unit of about 200 men for the Fuma clan. They were known as Rappa, which loosely translates to something along the lines of ‘battle interrupters’. The Rappa were organized into four groups, with a dedicated set of men in each who harnessed certain skills that were required for certain missions. First you had the brigands for general melees and fights, but then you also had the burglars for high-profile heists that required the utmost stealth. Then you had the third group of thieves, who ranged from the common pickpocket to lockpickers, as well as the naval team in the fourth group, who were more like pirates than anything else.
But what makes Kazama stand out in history? Well it’s said that in 1580, the Takeda clan under the leadership of Takeda Katsuyori, was battling the Hojo clan for control. The Fuma clan were deployed, but given the numbers that Katsuyori had, it looked like that not even the ninjas could do much to stop him. But that’s where you’d be wrong. Kazama waited until nightfall and quietly traversed the waters onto the coastline where Katsuyori’s camp was located. While most of Katsuyori’s men were sleeping, the Fuma clan attacked, spreading panic and fear throughout the startled camp. Crazily enough, the Fuma clan was said to have not done much fighting here at all. They used fire and smoke to confuse Katsuyori’s men, amplifying their panic and driving them into a state of madness. The men started hacking at each other in the commotion, killing their fellow comrades out of sheer terror, for they could not see their enemy. The Fuma clan was said to disappear back into the waters, leaving a devastated army that dealt significant blows to itself.
Another legend that comes out of Kazama’s life is his supposed rivalry with the other legendary ninja of the time, Hattori Hanzo. In many works, they are usually portrayed as being each other’s arch-nemesis, and there’s even an interesting legend about their final battle. Tokugawa Ieyasu would eventually come to power over the entirety of Japan, and in 1590, he declared an all-out war on the Fuma clan. Ieyasu even went as far as supposedly sending Hattori Hanzo, a ninja who had become a part of his service and one of his most trusted allies, to seek out Kazama and kill him.
The legends have it that Hattori Hanzo hunted Kazama for years before he eventually cornered him at an unnamed inlet in Japan. Using small boats, he and his ninja crew were said to quietly row up to the coast to surprise Kazama, but little did they know they were playing right into Kazama’s hands, for he had dumped oil all along the coast. As soon as Hanzo and his man landed and hopped off their boats, Kazama lit the trail of oil on fire. There were some accounts of Hanzo and Kazama doing battle in the flames, hacking at each other as the land burned around them, but none of this can actually be proven. In another legend, it’s said that Kazama defeated Hattori Hanzo, but was shortly captured by Tokugawa forces afterwards and immediately beheaded. However again, this is all just speculation, as a good ninja wouldn’t leave vital information lying around for us to find all these years later. Still, it’s fun to speculate as to who this legendary ninja actually was.
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