Among all the countless group that during the years we have met in the world of Naruto, for sure one of the most interesting is the group of the “Sannin”: “Sannin” can be translated both as “three ninjas” or “the trio” and it is a group composed by Jiraya, Tsunade and Orochimaru.
They were all students of the 3rd Hokage Hiruzen Sarutobi and they were nicknamed Sannin by Hanzo Of The Salamander, since they had been the only 3 ninjas survived to a fight against him; as the time passed, they became known as Sennin also by the rest of people, who began to associate their nickname to the fact that they were supposed to be stronger than anyone else. In fact, at their time, they were the strongest ninjas alive, so much that they were used to be compared to the power of the Kage.
But where did Kishimoto take the idea of this group from?
Well, to begin with, we have to remember that each one of them is used to summon a specific animal: Jiraya usually summons toads, Tsunade usually summons slugs and Orochimaru usually summons snakes.
Once we have remembered this fact, we can go back into the japanese folklore, where we find a famous legend which has been Kishimoto’s inspiration for the Sannin: it is called “The Tale Of Gallant Jiraya”. The protagonist of this legend is called Jiraya and he is a ninja and a master of toads magic, so that he can shapeshift himself into a giant toad. Jiraya comes from a very rich clan and one day he falls in love with a beautiful lady who is a master of slugs magic, that can heal any kind of wound: her name is Tsunade. In addition, Jiraya also has an arch-enemy called Yashagoro, who will be named Orochimaru; he’s a master of snakes magic. The two men hate each other, so that they start fighting, bringing their whole clans to a bloody war which will end with Orochimaru’s defeat; because of this ending, he will leave his clan and his village in order to retire in loneliness and have time to plan the way he could take the control all over the whole Japan.
Another fact that I find very interesting is the following one: the childish game “rock, paper, scissors” is translated in its japanese version as “snake, toad, slug” and, in some people’s opinion, this could be one of the most ancient games ever, so much that it could have been an inspiration for the writer of “The Tale Of Gallant Jiraya”.
Furthermore, the word “Jiraya” written in kanji (自来也 or 児雷也) can be translated as “Young Thunder”, and we know that in the Naruto story, Jiraya has been the sensei of Minato, who will be nicknamed “The Yellow THUNDER” and who died very YOUNG; I guess you already know that, when talking about Kishimoto’s work, coincidences never exist.