Tōdō Takatora and the Shinobi of the Yasuda Ryu

TōdōTakatora was the head of the Tokugawa intelligence units for the first 3 generations of Tokugawa rule, so in a sense, one can certainly say he was the head of the shinobi forces of Iga. He was able to attain this lofty position because he had previously been the lord of Ise, next to Iga, and learned to use the shinobi and ninjutsu-tsukai well. Through historical documents we know Takatora received orders from Tokugawa Ieyasu to rebuild the two castles at Iga-Ueno and Tsu as key strategic locations in the Kinai region that protect the borders, and that he also led the Iga shinobi.

Koka-gun and Iga Province, where Takatora ruled, are close to the capitals of Nara and Kyoto, and were home to many sacred shugendō sites for mountain ascetic practices. The people who lived in these areas traveled around the country as yamabushi (mountain priests), selling ascetic herbal medicines and distributing sacred spiritual texts. For this reason, they were sensitive to the “state” of the world and naturally aware of the current political situation. Most importantly, through the nature of their ways, they became skilled in clandestine techniques of information gathering.

As we often see in the Yasuda Ryu ninjutsu densho, shinobi usually formed small units of a few brave warriors when deployed. These small Iga shinobi units were hired by various lords and became widely known as a very professional group of warriors due to their diligence in vigorous daily training, constantly improving their techniques of battle. The specialized in intrigue and intelligence.

The relationship between the shinobi and Tokugawa Ieyasu had begun long before the time of the Honnoji Incident when Ieyasu needed the protection of Hattori Hanzo and the shinobi to escape from Akechi Mitsuhide’s pursuit and return to his castle in Mikawa. This journey is said to have included the crossing of the Iga River. There is evidence that the shinobi of the Iga-Hattori had been serving the Matsudaira clan for at least two generations before Ieyasu took the name Tokugawa. But at the time of Honnoji, it was Hanzo, an Iga warrior known for his skill with the spear, who played an active and heroic role in Ieyasu’s escape, and thereafter became the head of the Tokugawa family’s Onmitsu or “secret agents”.

It has been argued by Japanese scholars that Takatora’s espionage activities led to the victory of the Osaka campaign and that he skillfully arranged for the second Tokugawa Shogun’s daughter, Kazuko, to be married into the imperial court.

While Takatora employed shinobi as foot soldiers, they were a kind of Gōshi 郷士 or “rural samurai” who farmed their own lands, but also worked as shinobi on business. This policy or way of life for the Iga shinobi carried on well after Takatora’s death in 1630 CE.

A decade later, in 1640 CE, Yasuda Unebe (保田采女), a nephew of Hattori Hanzo, was given the surname of Tōdō and became the Lord of Tsu’s Karō 家老 or “chief-elder” at Iga Ueno Castle. He became known as Tōdō Unebe Motonori.

According to the Kansei Chōshu Shokafu 寛政重修諸家譜, Tōdō Unebe Motonori was born in Yono village and was a blood nephew of Hattori Hanzo Masanari.

In 1640 CE, when he took his position at Iga castle, he established the Tōdō-Unebe family, which succeeded the role as Karō of the castle in Ueno for generations, until the end of the Edo period, and were given 7,000 koku of land.

It seems the reason he was allowed to use the Tōdō family name was because he was descended from the Hattori family, a prominent warrior family of Iga, in order to appease the Iga Jizamurai and shinobi.

According to the Iga Tsuke Sashidashi-cho 伊賀付差出帳Tōdō Motonori and Tōdō Motosumi registered and reorganized the samurai from all over Iga and formed new groups such as the Teppo-gumi 鉄砲組 (musketeers), the shinobi-shu 忍び衆, etc.

There is a monument in the hometown of Tōdō Unebe and it is located at the site of Chigachi Castle in Yono, along with another monument for Hattori Hanzo and a third monument for the memorial of Iga no Ran (Oda Nobunaga’s invasion of Iga).

So, with that bit of history leading to the introduction of Yasuda Unebe, later to become Tōdō Unebe, I would like to continue with my translation of the Yasuda Ryu ninjutsu densho. Please note that while the family name Yasuda is written as 保田their school of Yasuda-ryū ninjutsu is written as 矢寿駄流忍術. Most likely this change of written characters was just to be less obvious and direct about the identity of the school and the responsibility for their actions. But, in my opinion, it also may be to imply the importance of archery on horseback in the Warring States period.   or “arrow”, and 寿 or “longevity”, and  or “a horse-load”, when combined, these three tend to imply that in order to live long you should have a well packed horse with arrows.

Now that I know the relevance of this Yasuda Ryu Densho it becomes all the more interesting. It’s no wonder why it was one of Soke’s very first historical ninjutsu document acquisitions. I am starting to wonder if this document was passed from Ishitani Sensei to Takamatsu Sensei and then later on to Hatsumi Sensei as Ishitani Sensei claims that his family served the Hattori family in Edo for many many generations. Maybe he had training in the Yasuda Ryu himself…

Part 20 of the Yasuda Ryu Ninjutsu Densho

(From Soke’s book Ninpo Taizen)

For parts 1 through 19 please see my previous blog posts in the translations section.



During stealthy infiltration activities be sure to look out for torches, smoke, shiny objects and scouts.

本隊の出入りの時はその特徵をきめ、回数を制眼してかつ足跡 を残さぬ事。また動を敵に気付かれる物等は極力消滅さす事、忘るるなよ。また敵発見等の徵候あらぽ、速に他に移動するをよしとす。よいな。

Regarding entering and leaving the main forces, decide on the special circumstances (for when to do so) and limit the number of occasions, be sure to leave no trace. Do not forget to remove anything that might be noticed by the enemy. If you happen to have the good fortune to come across or find the enemy, move quickly to another location. Understood?  

忍が潜伏中にて本隊の連絡にはとくに注意し、敵より発見 (潜伏所)されるのを第一の用心とし、少しでもその兆候があれ、場所を移動の事。急々の時は本隊に急々の信号(きめられた通りにし、我が身第一と考え、動く事。よいな。死ぬなよ。捨て忍と思われたれど、ご奉公の事第一と考え、帰り居る口事。よいな。急々の用事外は本隊へは連絡はすまじき事。よいな。

When there are shinobi are in hiding, be very careful when contacting the main forces. Your first precaution should be to not be discovered by the enemy. If you see any signs of that, move to another place. In times of emergency, send the main forces a distress signal (as decided upon previously). Understand, that when making your move, the protection of your body comes first. Stay alive. Don’t die. Although you may be considered a deserter, it is important to return to your post, thinking that your service (to your lord and country) comes first. Do not contact the main forces unless you have an emergency. Understood?

忍潜伏間の動きは潜伏の目的より色々と変りあれど、一地に 長く忍潜伏するときは必要なる敵の動きを集め、持つている忍 道具を点検準備等する(敵に対して)食料の入手。病気に気を付け、必要なる事を計画し、そのように動く事。

The movements between the Shinobi sleeper cells are much more varied than simply hiding. A long-drawn-out hiding place will allow you to gather all the enemy movements you need. Check and prepare any stealth/infiltration equipment you have and know how they obtain their food (the enemy). Watch out for illnesses, plan for what is needed, and act accordingly.


The commander of the main troops and the scouts, in order to know the actions of the enemy, decide the shinobi’s movements based on the purpose of the shinobi’s mission and with careful planning, create countermeasures against the enemy’s movements. Understood? The shinobi no mono, according to his natural ability and the goods he is carrying, must focus on a single stealth objective and make their move. It shouldn’t be complicated.


If possible, use the enemy’s equipment that can be obtained locally. Remember to make sure that the enemy does not notice you when you obtain them. Do not forget that the tools of the shinobi must be able to be used at any time.

Sean Askew – 導冬 Dōtō

Bujinkan Kokusai Renkoumyo

September 17, 2020

Share this post

Scroll to Top