In the heart of Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, you will find two places of historical and cultural significance, both tied to the founder of the city and one of the most iconic figures of the Sengoku Jidai--the Period of Warring States. Date Masamune (pronounced "Da-tay") is best known for his eye-patch and fearsome crescent moon kabuto (helmet), and the Dokuganryū ("One-Eyed Dragon") has been a mainstay in Japanese pop culture. Would you believe that before Ken Watanabe made it to the silver screen in box office hits like Inception and Last Samurai, he first cut his teeth in the Taiga (period drama) telling the story of the Date Masamune. Date is also one of the main characters in the well known anime and videogame series, Sengoku Basara.
But why is he such a pop culture icon, and where are the two places most tied to him in Sendai?
More than just his impressive visage on the battlefield with the eye-patch and distinctive armor, Date was a skilled tactician and a strategic thinker, which were a couple of the reasons why he aligned with Tokugawa Ieyasu as the Period of Warring states reached its climax. Date knew that Tokugawa had the edge, and his natural proximity to the Tokugawa clan made him a logical ally. However, that strategic thinking also applied to Date's broader outlook, as he was one of the most progressive Daimyo (feudal lords) of his time. Date encouraged the influx of knowledge and technology from the west, and he was one of the few lords who accepted the practice of Christianity in his fiefdom. In fact, he commissioned a ship with Japanese sailors to transit around the world to deliver a letter to the Pope while also collecting as much knowledge about the outside world as possible, which may well have been the first-ever successful circumnavigation of the world for a Japanese vessel. Although his ally Tokugawa would later close off Japan to the outside world (save for the port of Nagasaki) and outlaw Christianity, Date attempted to keep his territory as free and open as possible under the otherwise strict laws of the Tokugawa shogunate.
Today, Date is remembered in Sendai in two key locations: the Aoba Castle ruins and the Zuihoden.
Aoba Castle Ruins
Not much remains of the old castle which once housed the Date clan. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by the Tokugawa Clan as a means to eliminate any castles or forts that could be used for uprisings against the Shogunate--this ally's castle was no exception. A few remnants of the castle still stand, but the two main reasons to visit Aoba Castle are the iconic statue of Date and the splendid view of the city of Sendai.
The Zuihoden is Date Masamune's mausoleum. The mausoleum houses the late Date, as well as his retainers. Although Date likely maintained some semblance of Christian beliefs until his death, he passed away in a period when Christianity was outlawed, so the Zuihoden is constructed in the traditional way. However, it is one of the most spectacular mausoleums in Japan (rivaling that of Tokugawa's mausoleum at the Toshogu in Nikko), both for its architecture and for the natural beauty of the surroundings.
Any visitor to Sendai should visit these two places, if nothing else than to pay homage to an important figure in Japanese history. I hope you'll find the time during your journey in Japan!