Statue of Date Masamune overlooking the city of Sendai from the ruins of Sendai Castle, which is located on a plateau.
On the grounds of the Sendai Castle ruins is an imposing statue of a samurai on horseback, wearing an eye patch and a crescent- moon-bearing helmet as he overlooks Sendai, the Tohoku region's largest, most vibrant city. This is not just any samurai, though: It is Date Masamune (1567-1636), the founder of Sendai and the most powerful daimyo (feudal lord) of the Tohoku region. From manga (comic books), TV dramas and games, he continues to be one of Japan's most popular historical figures. The legendary stories of Masamune’s battle, betrayal, revenge and survival continue to capture the imaginations of all, but what some may not know is the vital influence he had on Tohoku culture in general.
Born in a time when Japan was plagued by civil wars during the Sengoku period (mid 15th century - early 17th century), Masamune rose quickly to become a tactful, ruthless and ambitious warrior from a young age, earning the name "Dokuganryu" (One- Eyed Dragon, as he had lost an eye to smallpox at a young age). In 1604, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the daimyo who completed the unification of Japan under central rule, awarded Masamune lordship of the Sendai Domain for his loyalty, making him the most powerful daimyo.
Despite his fearsome reputation, Masamune was an educated man and a patron of the arts, Wanting Sendai to rival the Kyoto-Osaka region, he worked to expand trade and beautify the area. Tohoku, once a remote part of Japan, soon prospered as a popular destination for tourism, trade and prosperity. While Masamune embraced tradition, he also saw the need to embrace foreigners, especially their technology and knowledge. He encouraged foreigners to visit his region and even dispatched an embassy on board the San Juan Bautista, (a ship built with European techniques) to meet the Pope, while also visiting the Philippines, Spain and Mexico.
In addition, Masamune had a distinct philosophy about hospitality that reflected his deep appreciation for the arts. Having a passion for food, when entertaining guests he personally created the menu, tasted the food and presented it, showing visitors the utmost care and attention with cuisine reflecting his sense of aesthetics, inspired by the Japanese tea ceremony and Noh (classical musical dramas). Far more than a typical general, Masamune expressed himself as a highly sophisticated and uniquely cultured individual.
Masamune's cultural knowledge, as well as his governing policies, gave birth to the "DATE Culture" that spread throughout the castle town and eventually to the more distant Tohoku communities. But what exactly is "DATE Culture"? It is a glamourous culture that respects the richness of tradition while embracing new ideas; in addition, it appreciates the highest beauty and perfection while remaining modest. Visitors cannot help but notice these principles on display as they explore Tohoku's traditional artwork, cuisine and way of life in general.
The "DATE Culture" Fostered by Masamune http://datebunka.jp/en/
Sendai Castle Ruins
After becoming Sendai's first feudal lord in 1603, Date Masamune build Sendai Castle on Mt. Aoba, which overlooks the city. Currently, only the stone walls remain, but it continues to be a symbol of Sendai City.
Sendai City Museum
Hours: 9am – 4:45pm (Last entry 4:15pm)
Closed: Mondays, days following national holidays and Dec 28 – Jan 4. Also closed for renovations from Dec 28, 2017 – Mar 31, 2018. Admission: 460 yen
Masamune's Zuihoden Mausoleum
Hours: 9am – 4:30pm (Until 4pm from Dec to Jan) Admission: 550 yen
Sendai Tansu: A Treasured Craft
Tansu were originally used as mobile pieces of furniture in which merchants and samurai could keep their personal items. Made from zelkova Japanese elm and chestnut, each tansu is painstakingly crafted, finished with kijiro-urushi (uncoloured) lacquer and embellished with embossed metal fittings of dragons, Chinese lions or peonies. At age 80, Eikichi Yaegashi is one of Sendai's most respected tansu craftsman, specializing in the creation of the decorative metal fittings. As the fourth generation in his family to continue the craft's tradition, he creates striking pieces of art that truly capture the undeniable beauty of "DATE Culture."
A variety of metal fittings decorate the tansu.
Eikichi Yaegashi is a famous tansu craftsman who specializes in metal fittings.
The traditional Sendai Tansu were originally used for merchants and samurai to keep their personal items.
Shokeikaku: Food Culture Derived from Masamune's Aesthetics
Once the residence of the Date clan, who relocated here after having to relinquish their domain in 1867 due to the Meiji Restoration, this two-storey wooden bungalow is now a popular restaurant and venue for special occasions. Overlooking a splendid Japanese garden, it features local cuisine presented in adorable, miniature Sendai tansu. Other highlights are the artefacts and heirlooms on display, including Masamune’s iconic black suit of armour and helmet with the golden crescent moon.
Shokeikaku is the former residence of the Date clan.
Shokeikaku: 143-3, Hitokita-nishi, Taihaku-ku, Sendai Taihaku-ku, Miyagi