Zatoichi at first appears to be a harmless blind anma (masseur) and bakuto (gambler) who wanders around the country, making his living by Chō-han (playing dice) as well as giving massages, performing acupuncture, singing and playing music; however, secretly, he is also highly-skilled in swordsmanship, specifically iaido and is equally skilled in the general sword skills of Japan, as well as Sumo wrestling. Little of his past is revealed; the reason for his blindness and how he developed his incredible swordsmanship are unknown.
He does not carry a traditional katana, instead using a well-made shikomi-zue (cane sword), as blades were outlawed for non-bushi in the Edo period. Shikomi-tzue were generally straight-edged, lower-quality blades which could not compare with regular katana, but as revealed in Zatoichi's Cane Sword, his weapon was forged by a master bladesmith and is of superior quality.
A number of standard scenarios are repeated through the series: Zatoichi's winning large amounts at gambling via his ability to hear whether the dice have fallen even or odd is a common theme, as is his catching loaded or substituted dice by the difference in their sound. This frequently culminates in another set piece, Zatoichi's cutting the candles lighting the room and reducing it to pitch blackness, commonly accompanied by his tag line Kurayami nara kocchi no mon da (暗闇ならこっちのもんだ, lit. Darkness is my advantage?).
Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (1970) features Toshirō Mifune who played Imperial Shogunate Secret Agent Sassa Daisaka. This is essentially a reprisal of the title character of Akira Kurosawa's hit films Yojimbo (lit. bodyguard ) and Sanjuro (lit. thirty-year-old ). As in Kurosawa's films, in this film the Yojimbo character is simply continued through a timeline, though his previously unknown identity is finally revealed in this Zatoichi film.