All Ninjas of the olden days were attributed supernatural powers, sometimes greatly exaggerated. Many were associated with witchcraft or black magic even. The illustrious Kato Danzo was also well-known for his capabilities as an illusionist. Who else can boast of being able to swallow a whole bull in front of a crowd of over twenty persons? Who else can throw seeds onto the ground and have them sprout and flower in front of the very eyes of the onlookers? Kato Danzo mastered the techniques of illusion to such an extent that even the powerful lords of Japan were in awe of him.
Kato Danzo lived during the Sengoku period in Japan. The Sengoku period was a period of civil unrest (15th to 17th Century). This period marked the rise of the daimyo or regional lords and the erosion of centralized power. The daimyo held considerable powers and thus, like other Ninjas, Kato Danzo sought employment from one of these lords: the powerful and respected Uesugi Kenshin. Yet even Uesugi Kenshin was afraid of Kato Danzo.
Under the pretext of testing the abilities of the great Ninja, Uesugi Kenshin charged Kato Danzo of recovering a prized sword of one of his vassals that had been stolen by a rival and kept in a guarded castle. Yet, unbeknownst to Kato Danzo, the daimyo had alerted the rival of the arrival of the Ninja. There are many versions on how Kato Danzo escaped this trap.
One version is that he distracted the guards who had caught him with one of his magic tricks. Historical documents have it that he caused several little dancing dolls to spring out of a gourd. While the astonished soldiers watched, Kato Danzo leapt off the window and escaped.
The other version is that Kato Danzo had sensed the trap beforehand. He consequently sent in a dummy with his Ninjitsu outfit over the hedge of the castle instead of going in himself. The dummy was attached to a rope which he held from the other side. The soldiers, on orders from the daimyo, shot their arrows at the dummy. Kato simply pulled the rope causing the dummy to levitate in mid air. This caused much bewildered the soldiers and gave Kato enough time to escape.
In both situations, Kato Danzo became famous as tobi Kato (Flying Kato). He did eventually bring back the sword to Uesugi Kenshin but, because of the latter’s betrayal, did not continue to work as one of his vassals. Instead he went to Uesugi’s arch-enemy, Takeda Shingen. However, the latter also found Kato Danzo to be more dangerous than useful. Kato Danzo died by decapitation on the instructions of Takeda Shingen.
There is a saying among Ninjas that goes:
“A competent Ninja cannot be loved by his Master”
This is certainly true in the case of Kato Danzo.