The Siege of Ōsaka Castle was the last stand of the Toyotomi against the new shogunate which Tokugawa Ieyasu established in 1603. It was the final chance for Toyotomi to take back the country, and they had a number of samurai willing to help. One of them was Sanada Yukimura. He sided with Western Army during the Sekigahara Campaign in 1600, and his support continued well into the Siege of Ōsaka Castle. His glorious death in the summer of 1615 became a tale that would be told for centuries to come. One of these stories includes a band of fictional ninja bodyguards that served Sanada Yukimura during this siege. They are known as the Sanada Ten Braves.
The Sanada Ten Braves first appeared in Japanese literature in the early Twentieth Century (1912/1913). They were characters in a series of juvenile books called the Tachikawa Pocket Books. This story was different from others about ninjas. Up until then, ninjas were seen as antiheroes in literature. The story of the Sanada Ten Braves broke that stereotype, for they became heroes, and they worked alongside one of Japan’s greatest heroes. The story was inspired by parts the famous Chinese tale Journey to the West. The ten ninja’s names are:
- Sarutobi Sasuke
- Kakei Jūzō
- Kirigakure Saizō
- Miyoshi Sekai (or Miyoshi Seikai)
- Miyoshi Isa
- Anayama Kosuke
- Unno Rokuro
- Nezu Jinpachi
- Mochizuki Rokuro
- Yuri Kamanosuke
Three of the most famous Sanada Braves are Kirigakure Saizō, Kakei Jūzō, and Sarutobi Sasuke.
Kirigakure Saizō is one of the famous ninja of the Sanada Braves, and supposedly the brother of the infamous outlaw ninja, Ishikawa Goemon. He trained beside his brother in Iga by the ninja master, Momochi Sandayu, and is the nihilistic one of the Sanada Braves. According to the story, he lived in the mountains near Himeji as a bandit until he was hired by Sasuke. His ninja powers are based off the meaning of his last name, which means “Cloaked in Mist”: he can control the fog, clouds, thunder, and lightning to mask himself from the enemy. The image above is from his appearance in the famous Japanese anime, Brave 10.
Kakei Jūzō is well-known in the story of the Sanada Braves as being the one who tricked the Tokugawa army that he was dead. Tokugawa Ieyasu sent a ninja to deal with Jūzō, but it turned out that they were old friends, and he had a job for him. Jūzō allowed himself to be captured and was brought forward to Ieyasu. Ieyasu granted him the honor of seppuku and Jūzō went through with it. His corpse was thrown into the castle moat, but he was not dead. Jūzō had a fox hidden under his garment, which he killed while pretending to kill himself. He went on to continue his harassment of the Tokugawa forces, which was especially more effective since he was believed to have died. The photo above is how Kakei Jūzō appears in the Japanese anime, Brave 10.
The most famous of the Sanada Braves is their leader, Sarutobi Sasuke. According to the story, he was raised by monkeys in mountains of Togakushi. At the age of ten, he set out to find a sword-master to train him, for he thought that his martial arts skills were too advanced to still be living with monkeys. He managed to meet the supreme sword-master, Hakūnsai Tozawa, who took him in and taught him fencing and ninjitsu. He would later encounter Sanada Yukimura, who was taken with his abilities and offered him to join him. Sasuke agreed and Yukimura gave him the codename “Sarutobi”, which translates into “leaping monkey”. This was given because of his ability to jump from tree to tree and could easily avoid swings from a sword by ducking low enough or jumping high enough to avoid it. Sasuke would later be named the leader of the Sanada Braves. Sarutobi Sasuke has risen in popularity, more so than the other nine. The photo above is how Sarutobi Sasuke appears in the highly popular video game and anime series produced by Capcom, Sengoku BASARA.
The story of the Sanada Ten Braves varies by source. Some of the stories end with all ten of them meeting their end on the battlefield fighting the Tokugawa army alongside their master, Sanada Yukimura. Others state that they all managed to survive, slipping away after the battle’s end in the summer of 1615. Nevertheless, the story of the Sanada Ten Braves is still being told today, whether it is in animes, video games, or mangas. A film called Sanada 10 Braves was released in Japan in 2016 (see top photo). When it comes to the Sanada Ten Braves, they shaped how ninja would be viewed for generations to come. Not all ninja are antiheroes, but some are heroes, and it was the Sanada Ten Braves that brought that to the spotlight.