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Date Masamune

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Kanji: 伊達 政宗

Dates: September 5, 1567-June 27, 1636

Other Known Names: Bontenmaru (childhood name), Dokuganryu (“One-Eyed Dragon”)

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Date clan mon

Date Masamune was a powerful daimyo who ruled much of northern Japan. He was instantly recognizable for his crescent moon helmet and the eye patch over his right eye. This was due to the loss of his eye because of smallpox at a young age. Some say that he removed the eye himself while others claim that he had the help of his family’s retainer, Katakura Kojūrō. He was a renowned warrior, tactician, diplomat, and a patron of the arts.

He was the eldest son to Date Terumune and born in Yonezawa Castle. He campaigned with his father against the Soma clan at the age of fourteen in 1581. He became the head of the Date clan at the age of eighteen after his father’s death. When he took over, Masamune decided to disregard the alliances that were already put into place and began attacking and conquering neighboring lands. In 1585, he defeated Hatakeyama Yoshitsugu at the Battle of Hitotoribashi and, in 1589, took the land of Aizu from the Ashina clan.

Trouble arose for Date Masamune in 1590. Toyotomi Hideyoshi had conquered the Hōjō clan at Odawara. Now, his attention had turned north toward Masamune’s domains. Masamune initially refused, which could have resulted with death. Interestingly, Hideyoshi spared him and gave him Iwatesawa Castle. This became a major political and economic center and the name was later changed to Sendai. The statue pictured above stands at the city Masamune transformed.

In 1592, Date Masamune was sent to lead an army during the First Korean Campaign, gaining quite the reputation there. After Hideyoshi’s death in September 1598, he sided with Tokugawa Ieyasu and the Eastern Army. In 1600, Date Masamune teamed up with his uncle, Mogami Yoshiaki, to take on Uesugi Kagekatsu and Naoe Kanetsugu at the Sieges of Shiroishi, Hataya, and Hasedo. For his victories, he received Uesugi lands and expanded his domain. He had become one of the most powerful daimyo in Japan.

Years later, Date Masamune would partake in the Siege of Ōsaka Castle in 1614-1615. Once peace finally came to the land, he ordered the construction of many palaces and other projects to improve the region he controlled. Masamune encouraged foreigners to come to his lands, especially Christian missionaries and traders. This stopped after the Tokugawa Shogunate banned Christianity. Before the country was cut off from the rest of the world, Masamune sent an embassy around the world, led by Hasekura Tsunenaga, making stops in the Philippines, Mexico, Spain, and even established relations with Pope Paul V in Rome in 1613 on the ship called the Date Maru. This was the first Japanese voyage around the world, and it was sponsored by the northern daimyo. Date Masamune passed away on June 27, 1636.