The Iborō people and the Fuma Ryu of Ninjutsu – 飯母呂衆と風間流忍術

The Iborō people and the Fuma Ryu of Ninjutsu

In my previous post I mentioned that the next time the Iborō people appear in history is at the battle of Tengyo no Ran in the early to mid-10th century. But if you are not aware of Taira no Masakado you will not be able to understand the actions and thinking of the Iborō people.

Masakado was born around the year 903 CE in what is today Chiba Prefecture. He was the son of a “Kunishi” (国司) or prefectural governor. He was born a warrior, but his family was descended from the Emperor Kanmu. You could say he was a “Royal Samurai”.  In his mid-teens his father dies, and his uncles manage step in and claim everything that was rightfully his. With no other choice but to desperately cultivate the southern part of Ibaraki prefecture, a wasteland that nobody wanted, he soon came to realize that the land may not be good for farming, but it was suitable for horse grazing. The land was also rich in iron. Therefore, he turned to producing war horses and of course iron has always been valuable. As the saying goes, he who controls iron, controls the world. His plan was a huge success. When he vitalized the villages with horses and steel his property and territory immediately began to increase and many people came to settle on his lands including peasants who fled from persecution, displaced slaves from the northern regions, nomadic and wandering people who were treated like criminals and Shugenja.

It is often said that Masakado was an evil and rebellious man, but this was only the opinion of the imperial court. In fact, those that knew him described him as a masculine yet a caring and kind person. He took care of those who could not take care of themselves. While mediating the troubles of the people with the officials he naturally rose to become one of the great powers in the Kanto region. Soon after that, the Masakado no Ran or the “Rebellion of Masakado” began in 935 CE.

Unbelievably, the trigger that started it all was over romantic troubles. One of the uncles who confiscated Masakado’s property tried to arrange a marriage with a particular woman for his son, but she ran off and went to Masakado’s side. Four years earlier one of the uncle’s daughters also ran away from home saying she was going to go and be Masakado’s wife. The uncles soon, acting out of jealousy, attacked Masakado but were easily defeated. Then another Uncle attacked Masakado and after that a cousin. He was constantly at war with family members. The prefectural governors tried to stop the feud but in the end they all turned against Masakado and made him look like the villain, not the Uncles.

So, what does Masakado do? He drives the governors out of the Kanto area, one after another. This made him extremely popular with the people and they began to cheer for Masakado to be the next emperor. The imperial court hearing these things felt that Masakado was now a threat to the nation and in 940 CE they ordered a massive attack on Masakado.

So, now on to the Iborō people…

In 935 CE when the initial rebellion took place, the Iborō people, led by Iborō Sekinen (飯母呂石念) rushed to support Masakado. The exact reason is lost to history but Masakado, like En no Gyoja, was a hero who helped the weak and had excellent leadership skills. I imagine that for them, a long-time oppressed group by the authorities, they just wanted to save their lord’s life. As a reward Masakado gave them Mt. Tsukuba as their lands of “relief”. The people in turn would act as spies for Masakado and collect/relay information to him.

But on February 14th, 940 CE, only two months after the fighting started, Masakado was defeated by the imperial forces led by Fujiwara Hidesato and Taira Sadamori, another Taira family member of Masakado’s own blood. One of the legends regarding the conflict tells how Masakado, fearing Hidesato’s supreme archery skills, always kept look alike bodyguards around to protect himself.

Sekinen died in battle with Masakado but just beforehand he passed on a message to his two sons. To his eldest, Ojiro, he said go to the capital. To his younger son, Kojiro, he said flee to Sagami, a region that is today central and western Kanagawa Prefecture. The reason for these messages to his sons is unknown but we can surmise that in the capital Masakado still had friends and he may have wanted to protect those friends. Masakado’s younger brother, Masayori, had fled to Sagami for fear of being hunted down by the imperial army. So, it may be that he sent his second son to Sagami to find and protect his Uncle.

Just as with En no Gyoja, the Iborō people who had just lost their Lord Masakado, were stripped of their territory and status. They soon became an ethnic minority. Many once again fled to the San’in region where they had originally come from but just as many also scattered throughout the country to become an outlawed wandering people again.

But Masakado’s two sons survived and split up. Soon Kojiro was involved with Iga and Koka and became a founder of a school of ninjutsu. The Iborō people, led by Kojiro, lived in a small mountainous village named Kazama (風間) at the foot of Hakone in western Kanagawa. Here Kojiro changed his name to Kazama and called his ninja Fuma, an alternate reading to the characters for Kazama. Kojiro became the founding leader of the Fuma ninja.

Sean Askew – 導冬 Dōtō

Bujinkan Kokusai Renkoumyo

February 7th, 2020

Share this post

Scroll to Top