Visit the Grave of the Famous Ninja Hattori Hanzo at Sainenji in Shinjuku

Sainenji temple 西念寺 was built by Hattori Hanzo 服部半蔵 in the year 1590 in memory of the first son of his lord, the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Hattori Hanzo donated his fighting spear or “Yari” to the temple and was buried on the temple grounds after his death in 1596 at the age of 55.

2019-07-29   Visit: Temples & Shrines, Arakicho, Tokyo,

Why is Hattori Hanzo famous?

Hattori Hanzo is a famous ninja name for most Japanese and is often used in TV shows and movies. The Hattori Hanzo of Sainenji temple was the second with that name, the first being his father (in the Hattori family the oldest son holds the title of Hanzo). Originally he was born Hattori Masanari.

Even though his father, Hattori Yasunaga, was a ninja and leader of the Iga ninja clan, history books and Japanese people in general view his son Masanari as a samurai or “bushi” since he fought alongside Tokugawa and was one of his 16 great generals. On the other hand, he continued to be the leader of the Iga ninjas and achieved several miraculous feats which earned him the nickname of “Demon” or “Oni”.

For this reason people interested in the arts of the ninja or “ninjutsu” see him as the greatest ninja that has ever lived. So was he a samurai warrior or a ninja assassin? Regardless of how he was categorized, he played an important role during a crucial period of Japan’s history. At the end of his life he became a buddhist priest and was called “Sainen”, thus the name of the temple.

Hattori Hanzo’s grave


What makes his spear so special?

The temple itself can be a little hard to find since it’s located off the main streets and the outside gate looks pretty normal. There wasn’t a soul except for a stray cat with mean eyes that quickly disappeared around one of the temple buildings. You’ll need to call ahead, same day is OK, in order to go inside and see the remains of the spear (there is a 100 yen fee). Without calling, you can enter as long as no ceremony is taking place.

After removing my shoes, I was led into a the big room where the spear is displayed in one corner. On closer inspection I noticed that the metal tip was broken off and was told that 30 cm was missing. In addition, nearly 2 meters of of the shaft was missing from the other side. Originally the spear was over 4 meters long and weighed 7.5 kg. One can only imagine what a fearsome weapon it was when wielded by Hanzo the Demon marching into battle alongside Tokugawa. Unfortunately the spear was damaged when the original temple burned down during World War 2 (it was rebuilt in the current location in 1962). It is remarkable that it survived at all and it’s mainly due to its iron core which I was able to see after the person in charge slightly rotated the relic. I asked whether I could touch it myself but permission was denied.

Hattori Hanzo’s spear

What happened to Tokugawa’s first son?

Anyone who has read a little about Japanese history has heard of the name Tokugawa Ieyasu. He was one of the 3 great unifiers of Japan and after becoming the Shogun in 1603, the country knew a long period of peace. If you walk down the small path to the right of the main building, you’ll come across the memorial monument dedicated to his first son, Matsudaira Nobuyasu 松平 信康 (Tokugawa’s orginal name was Matsudaira Takechiyo). It contains some of Nobuyasu’s hair and nails. Since the temple is on a small hill, one can see the skyscrapers of Shinjuku in the distance beyond.

The story of Nobuyasu is quite interesting and representative of the history of Japan 500 years ago. Nobuyasu was married to Oda Nobunaga’s daughter, Lady Tokuhime, when they were both just 5 years old. Oda was the most powerful person in Japan at the time. Despite being a political marriage, Nobuyasu and Tokuhime came to love each other. Unfortunately, the relationship between Tokuhime and her mother-in-law, Lady Tsukiyama wasn’t as good. Things came to a head when Tokuhime made the fateful decision to write to her father accusing her mother-in-law of conspiring with one of her father’s enemies.

This started a chain of events that led to Tokugawa ordering his wife to be imprisoned then killed, and ordering his own son to commit suicide or “seppuku”. Tokugawa asked Hattori Hanzo to assist his son with the suicide. While Nobuyasu slashed his innards with a dagger, the assisting person would stand behind and cut his throat, thus quickening death and shortening the suffering. However, Hattori Hanzo couldn’t bring himself to do this because of his close relationship with his lord and friend Tokugawa. Nobuyasu still ended up committing suicide and his grave is located inside Seiryuji temple 青龍寺 in Shizuoka prefecture.

When visiting the temple, don’t let the normality of the place fool you and keep in mind that this is the only known burial site of an actual ninja.They weren’t called a secret society for nothing!

Nobuyasu’s memorial stone

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Writer / Translator

I’ve been in Japan for over 10 years although it feels shorter because I am constantly discovering new things and new places. Sometimes it can be hard to get the full Japanese experience because of cultural differences and linguistic barriers. For that reason, I want to share what I have learned in order to enhance your experience in Japan. Having said that, figuring out stuff on your own can also be fun. In any case, I hope you can find here whatever you need in order to make your stay a success.


Address 2-9 Wakaba, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Hours For viewing the spear, there are no fixed hours but usually between 8am and 5pm
Price After viewing the spear, a 100 yen donation (per group) is asked at the end of the visit
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Access ・Ten-minute walk from Yotsuya Station on the JR Chūō Line (Rapid) or JR Chūō-Sōbu Line (local).
・Ten-minute walk from Yotsuya Station on the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line or Namboku Line.
・Ten-minute walk from Shinanomachi Station on the JR Chūō-Sōbu Line (local).
Phone 03-3351-0662
Language Japanese
(Japanese only)