Was There Really A Fuma Clan?
by Justin Sevakis,
New Era Mailer asks:
in some ninja theme anime shows there will always be different ninja clans mentioned. the Fuma clan is always mentioned in such anime shows either as the good guys or bad guys. what i would like to know is whether the Fuma clan really existed in Japan or is it just a random name which many manga writers decided to use for their creation?
Yes, New Era Mailer, there really was a Fuma Clan. In the warring states period, the Fuma Clan were a group of outlaw ninjas, especially skilled at night raids and other sorts of sneaky surprise attacks. They were extremely strong, extremely deadly, and had a reputation for pretty much having no morals whatsoever. They would slash enemies in the back, set entire villages on fire, and resort to all sorts of violent and non-violent trickery. They were also said to be experts at the use of fire and smoke -- including the smoke-shield practice known as Enton-no-jutsu (煙遁の術). They were also expert at marine battle, and even attacked by way of early submarines!
The Fuma Clan (風魔一党) dates back to the 10th century, and came from what is now modern day Kanagawa Prefecture. Many of the details of the clan and their hierarchy are not known -- many of the leaders adopted the name Fuma Kotaro when they attained their ranks, making them very difficult to tell apart in retrospect.
Fuma Kotaro, the fifth and final lord of the clan, was the best known due to his size (at a rumored 7' 2" he towered over pretty much all of Asia, and his huge, uneven muscles and wild beard added to rumors that he was half-demon), as well as his tactical achievements. Having risen up by leading a band of 200-some "battle disrupters" (pirates, burglars, thieves and brigands) he lead a major attack on the camp of the Takeda clan, sewing mass chaos and confusion into the camp that resulted in a large number of their victims killing each other. The Tokugawa Shogunate eventually put a stop to both the clan -- which was broken up into a few pockets of marauding thieves -- and to the 5th Fuma Kotaro himself, who was executed by beheading in 1603.
There are many folk legends about the Fuma and about the fifth lord Fuma Kotaro (originally thought to be named Kazama). Some cast him as the rival to Hattori Hanzo, leading to a legend where the Fuma lead his men to a sea attack -- only the sea was filled with oil, which they lit ablaze. (This legend is thought to be false, but it inspired a memorable scene in Heroic Legend of Arslan.)
While most modern historical fiction casts the Fuma Clan and Fuma Kotaro as villains, most historians don't consider them as such. They were simply a smaller band of ninja that preferred head-on guerrilla warfare to the trickery and tactics used by bigger and better-known ninja groups like the Iga and Koga clans. They would attack quickly and precisely at a key point, and then get the hell out while chaos erupted behind them. Given their overall fearsomeness, and reputation for sneaky tactics, it's no wonder that they're regularly cast as the villains.
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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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