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Origin[]

Kirigakure Saizō was a legendary ninja of the final phase of the Sengoku period of Japan. In the folklore he is one of the Sanada Ten Braves, and next to Sarutobi Sasuke, he is the most recognized of the Ten. As in the case of Sasuke, Saizō might be a fictional creation of the Meiji era popular literature, probably based on Kirigakure Shikaemon, although some argue for his factual existence. According to the historian Stephen Turnbull and non-fiction writer Joel Levy, there is a historical record of a failed assassination attempt by a ninja called Kirigakure Saizō, sent by the warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu to kill his rival Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Tokichiro Kinoshita). According to another version of this incident, presented by the martial artist and researcher Donn F. Draeger, the "careless ninja" Saizō was captured while only spying on Hideyoshi, which actually saved the life of the warlord because he was about to be killed by a double agent, Yusuke Takiguchi; Saizō's life was then spared on the condition of declaring loyalty to the Toyotomi clan. Saizō is said to be a master of Iga ninjutsu. Sarutobi Sasuke, a Kōga ninja, is thus often portrayed as Saizō's arch-rival, and after they both converted to Sanada's cause, best friends and partners. The name Kirigakure literally means "Hidden Mist", as such Saizō is often associated with fog and, by extension, illusion magic. In contrast to Sasuke, who is often rendered with an almost feral child appearance, Saizō usually appears as a calm, elegant, mature, handsome and sometimes feminine young man. The martial artist and author Stephen K. Hayes compared the portrayal of Saizō in the Japanese children books to this of another ninja "romantic figure" of the bandit hero Goemon Ishikawa.

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