Masamune - A Brief Introduction
With That Guy Wearing a Banana On His Head?
Masamune (1567-1637) or - as many in Miyagi AJET like to call him –
“Banana Man” is Miyagi’s most famous historical figure. Not only
is his family responsible for the foundation of Iwadeyama’s Yubikan
which (thanks to Allied bombings in World War II) is now Japan’s
oldest existing samurai school still in original condition, but he
himself is credited with changing Sendai from a small (and politically
insignificant) fishing town into the major city it is today.1 Not
bad for a guy who wasn't even born in the prefecture, eh?2
who was he?
were the significant events in his life?
why, oh why, did he wear a banana on his head?
article will endeavour to answer these questions, and more, in an
attempt to - to paraphrase an old cliché -
find the man behind the banana.
examining Masamune3 himself I think that it best first to
give a brief outline of the family into which he was born, so that one
can gain a greater understanding of Masamune.
Date family was founded in the early Kamakura period (1185-1333) by Isa
Tomomune who originally came from the Isa district of Hitachi Province
(now Ibaraki Prefecture). The family took its name from the Date
district (now Fukushima Prefecture) of Mutsu Province4 which
had been awarded to Isa Tomomune by Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-1199) the
first Kamakura shogun, for his assistance in the Minamoto-Taira War
(1180-85)5 and in Minamoto no Yoritomo’s struggle for power
with his brother, Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189)6.
the early 1500’s the family had risen to become sengoku daimyo (powerful
local lords) and controlled a number of castles in the Tohoku region.
Date Masamune, as a vassal of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) and then
the first Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), added greatly to
the lands held by the Date family (including the huge and rich Sendai
domain). Other branches of the family controlled the Yoshida and Uwajima
domains in Iyo Province (now Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku).
power of the chief line of the Date family was greatly weakened in
1660's by an internal succession struggle which saw the assassination of
one member of the family and the arrest and imprisonment (by the shogun
Tokugawa Ietsuna ) of two of the family’s heads (including the
reigning daimyo Date Tsunamune).7 After the Meiji
restoration (1868) the Date family, as with the majority of dainyo appointed
by the Tokugawa, were forced to return many of their estates (including
the Sendai domain) to the new centralised imperial government thus
losing much, if not all of the last of their power.8 The last
major act of this family was the foundation of the city of Date and a
number of other towns and villages in Hokkaido in 1870.9
MASAMUNE – A BRIEF SKETCH
Masamune - who in later life was not only to become skilled in the arts
of war but also Noh drama, calligraphy and the art of incense -
was born in 1567. The eldest son of Date Terumune (1544-85), the lord of
Yonezawa Castle (in the modern Yamagata Prefecture), Masamune contracted
smallpox as a child and almost died. Although he recovered and suffered
no long term physically debilitating effects from the disease, the
disease did cause him to lose the sight in his right eye (that’s why
he seems to be winking in many of his depictions). This, combined with
his ferocious nature on the field of battle and expansionistic
tendencies, gained Masamune the nickname dokuganryu ("One-eyed
the death of his father in early 1585 Masamune, at age 17, became the
head of the Date family and immediately set about increasing his
family's domain by invading the lands of the daimyo families
which surrounded his own.10 By 1589 he had succeed in
increasing the area controlled by the Date family to 30 gun
(counties) in the Mutsu and Dewa Provinces.11 In the same
year he defeated the Ashina family and gained control of the rich, and
strategically important, Aizu domain which he made his base of
the Aizu domain was not to stay in Date Masamune's hands for long. In
1590 he was forced to hand over control of the domain to Toyotomi
Hideyoshi, kampaku (imperial regent) of Japan, who had begun to
see Masamune as a threat to his power.13 In return, and as a
reward for his role in suppressing a number of peasant uprisings,
Toyotomi gave Masamune the derelict Iwatesawa castle and the surrounding
lands as his home domain.14 Masamune moved there in 1591,
rebuilt the castle, renaming it Iwadeyama, and encouraged the growth of
a town at its base. Today this town is the modern town of Iwadeyama.15
Masamune was to be based in Iwadeyama for approximately 13 years
and while he was there it became a major political and economic centre
in the region.16
many of the major daimyo of Japan, Masamune, and many of his
retainers, were actively involved in Toyotomi’s Korean campaigns (1592
and 1597) - both on the field of battle and in supporting roles. It is
said that Masamune and his retainers served with great distinction. 17
years after the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1598 Japan – which had
been at peace only since 1590 - plunged once again into civil war.
Masamune was ultimately to profit greatly from this war. Masamune allied
himself with the “Eastern Faction” led by Tokugawa Ieyasu. Tokugawa
had been one Toyotomi’s most senior generals and had instigated the
new civil war by moving to take control of Japan for himself rather than
keeping the promise he had made to Toyotomi to serve his 5 year old son,
Toyotomi Hideyori (1593-1615).18
Ieyasu triumphed in his bid to gain sovereignty over Japan at the Battle
of Sekigahara (21 October
1600).19 Despite what many textbooks and encyclopaedias will
tell you, Masamune was not present at this battle. Rather he and his
army were involved in fighting to the north at Uesugikagetsu20 where
he effectively secured Tokugawa’s flank from attack and helped him to
solidify his control of northern Japan.
reaped many rewards from picking the correct side to support. In
gratitude for his assistance, Tokugawa gave Masamune the lordship of the
huge and profitable Sendai domain which made Masamune one of Japan’s
most powerful daimyo. Indeed, Masamune had become so powerful
many people, including some of his most trusted advisors, believed it
was only a matter of time before he gained control of Japan at the
expense of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Suzuki Motonobu (1555-1620), Masamune 's
Finance Minister, even drew up a constitution for the “Date Shogunate.”21
being granted the Sendai domain Masamune chose to move his capital from
Iwadeyama to the small fishing village of Sendai. He did so because
Sendai gave him access to the sea (and thereby foreign trade) and
because the village also sat astride one of Japan’s major north-south
domestic trade routes. Masamune began building Aoba Castle (Sendai
Castle)22 in 1601 - sparing no expense on its construction.
In 1604 Masamune, accompanied by 52,000 vassals and their families,
moved to Sendai. He left his fourth son, Date Muneyasu, to rule his
vassals remaining in Iwadeyama.
Sendai Masamune not only encouraged the development of the town as a
trading centre but also built a major salt works and a number of shrines
and temples - some of which still exist today (see below). Masamune’s
rise in power and his new-found access to the sea also allowed him to
further pursue one of his great interests - Christianity, and the West
28 October 1613, alter having built a European style ship which he named
- after consultation with Spanish diplomats - Sant Juan Bautista (Saint
John the Baptist), Masamune sent an embassy of 180 of his retainers, led
by Hasekura Tsunenaga (1571-1622), to seek trade with Mexico and
southern Europe, and to visit Pope Paul V in Rome.23 The
embassy, called the Keicho Mission, returned to Japan in September 1620.24
Despite this mission being received favourably, and great European
interest in Japan, Date Masamune was forced to abandoned his Western
diplomacy after the Tokugawa Shogunate banned Christianity and severely
limited Japan's contact with the rest of the world.25
WHAT’S WITH THE BANANA?
I guess, is probably the question most people want answered - so here it
goes. The large banana shaped symbol that Date Masamune wore on his
helmet in fact is meant to represent a crescent moon. This symbol was
Data Masamune’s personal heraldic crest (J. Maetate). Easy, eh?
heraldic symbol of the Date family itself was two sparrows facing each
other surrounded by a circle of stylised bamboo. You still see this
symbol quite a lot around Sendai (and Iwadeyama) especially during
Before the Date clan moved to lwadeyama and
then Sendai, historically the most politically important city in the Mutsu
Province had been Tagajo, which had been both the provincial capital and
a major naval base during the Nara period (710-794).
That singular honour goes to Yamagata ken.
A note on the use of names. In most cases I have chosen to refer to
persons discussed alter the first time by their family names unless
doing so would cause confusion - such as in the case of more than one
family member being discussed. In these cases I have opted to use the
individual's given name. Date Masamune - as the subject of this article
- will be referred to by his given name. I hope this does not cause too
much confusion. By the way, I apologize for the use of footnotes bet I
just couldn't help myself.
The Mutsu Province covered an area which is today made up of Fukushima,
Miyagi, Iwate and Aomori, and a small part of Akita prefectures. During
the Tokugawa Shogunate the territory of the province was divided into approximately
20 daimyo domains
of which Sendai and Aizu were the most powerful. The Sendai domain was
controlled by the Date family while
the Gamo (1601-1627),
Kato (1627-1643), and the Matsudaira (1643-1868) families in turn
controlled the Aizu domain. Date Masamune had briefly controlled the
Aiziu domain (indeed had his base of operations in a castle there) in
1589-1590 before being forced to yield the castle to Toyotomi llideyoshi
The Minamoto-Taira War was the last phase of the two clans' struggle for
power which had begun in earnest in the 11th century. After the Hogen
Rebellion (1156) and the Heiji Rebellion (1160), the Taira succeeded in
wiping out most of the main line of Minamoto clan. However, Taira no
Kiyomori (1118-1181), the bead of the Taira clan, (unwisely as it turned
out) sent the three sons of Minamoto no Yoshitomo (the head of the main
line of the Minamoto clan and the leader of the Heiji Rebellion)
Minamoto no Yoritomo, Minamoto no Noriyori, and Minamoto no Yoshitsune
into exile rather than having them executed along with their father, as
was the common
practice of the day.
In 1180, burning with the desire to avenge his father, Yoritomo
rebelled. The rest, as they say, is history.
Yoshitsune, as his brother's chief general, had been responsible for the
final defeat and annihilation of the Taira clan at the Battle of
Dannoura in 1185. His good relations with the former Emperor Go-Shirakawa
(1127-1192), much greater military ability and popularity aroused
Yoritomo's suspicions and hostility. In 1185 faced with Yoritomo's
increasing hostility, and given the right to rebel by Go-Shirakawa (who
was hoping to weaken the Minamoto clan ), Yoshitsune joined with his
uncle, Minamoto no Yukiie in rebellion. The rebellion failed and
Yoshitsune fled. He was forced to commit suicide in 1189. Even today the
ill-fated Yoshitsune remains a far more favoured figure in Japanese
popular fiction than his brother Yoritomo, who is considered shrewd,
calculating, ruthless and even paranoid. Indeed, the phrase hogan-biiki,
meaning sympathy for the underdog or an ill-fated person, derives
from a military title given to Yoshitsune by the emperor Go-Shirakawa.
There are also many plays and
stories about the adventures
of Yoshitsune and his faithful retainer and friend, the warrior-monk
Benkei. One of the most popular is the
Yoshitsune Sembon-Sakura, “The Thousand Cherry Trees of Yoshitsune.”
In 1660 Date
Tsunamune was deposed and placed under house arrest by Tokugawa Ietsuna
made Tsunamune's infant (1 year old) son, Tsunamura, the new daimyo of
the Sendai domain.
over the domain lay
in the hands
Munekatsu (1621-1679) who was made regent. In 1666 there was an attempt
on Tsunamura's life through poison being placed in one of his meals (Tsunamura
didn't die but one of his taste testers did). Even though there was no proof,
Munekatsu, who had the most
to gain from Tsunamura's death, was widely believed to be responsible.
In 1670 a member of the Date family reported to
that Munekatsu was
badly handling the running of the Sendai domain (and may have hinted at
possible treasonous activities). In response one of Munekatsu's
retainers murdered the informant in the house of the Tairo (great
elder) Sakai Tadakiyo (1624-1681) a few months later - just before Sakai
was to pass his judgement on Munekatsu. The assassin was executed and
Munekatsu, who was deemed responsible, was imprisoned for life in Tosa
Province (now Kochi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku).
The Date family returned its lands to the imperial government in 1869.
The branch of the Date family which did this was based in Iwadeyama.
Thus today Iwadeyama has many cultural exchanges with towns in Hokkaido
(a prime example of this is during Iwadeyama's Date Masamune festival).
families were the Hatakeyama, Ashina, Nambu, Iwaki, Satake, Shirakawa,
Mogami and the Uesugi.
Dewa Province covered an area which today is made up of Yamagata and
The Aizu domain was
centred on the Aizu basin and is now part of the modern Fukushima
is himself a
fascinating figure in Japanese history.
A man of
humble origins (his father, according to legend, was a foot soldier) he
completed the work of national reunification started by Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), whom he had served under
as a general, and rose to become, by 1591, the undisputed ruler of Japan
through military conquest and as the emperor's nominated kampaku.
conquering Japan, Toyotomi turned his eyes to Korea and launched two
invasions in an attempt to conquer the country. The first invasion, in
1592, ended in
a draw. The second, in 1597, was called off in 1598 when Toyotomi died.
Iwatesawa castle had first been built in 1346 as a wooden moot and
bailey style castle. Over the years it had been converted into a
reasonably sized stone structure. In 1590 part of the hill on which the
castle was built collapsed, seriously damaging the castle (bits of this
hill are still falling off in large chunks - and it's forested now!).
Today the castle no longer exists, although one can still make out the
outline of the positions of the battlements (especially if you have a
map to refer to, yes I am a history geek). The hill on which it stood
(which is the next hill along from the one my school is on) is now a
memorial park to Date Masamune.
While Date Masamune resided in Iwadeyama the town was, in fact, much
bigger than Sendai, numbering over
people. Today the population of Iwadeyama (including its surrounds ) is
just over 14,000.
According to the Date Ke Tokenki (“Sword Records of
the Date Family"), it was during the first Korean campaign that
Masamune's sword Kura-giri (" Saddle Cutter") got its
second name Kurombu-giri ("Black Chap Cutter"). The
story goes as follows: During a meeting of officers to test swords a
dark-skinned Korean prisoner
was "as big as an ox" was presented as a test
were reluctant to offer their
testing fearing that the edge of their weapons might chip on the bones
of the “Korean giant.” Finally Masamune offered
through the prisoner and deep into the block on the first cut -
deep in fact that it could not be easily withdrawn - without damage. In
reference to the unfortunate Korean's dark complexion, this fearsome
sword became known as Kurombu-giri.
sword was a tachi made by the Tosho Kagehide of Bizen and had a
cutting edge of about 73 cm - it is now deemed an "Important
Cultural Asset" by the Japanese
Rather than murdering the child Hideyori when he
began his campaign to gain control of Japan, and thereby
a backlash against himself, Tokugawa Ieyasu
waited until Hideyori reached adulthood - and he had gained full
power in Japan - and then forced Hideyori to commit suicide and had his
seven year old son, Kunimatsu, beheaded.
Tokugawa Ieyasu did this in order to stop
either Hideyori or his son from becoming focuses for anti-Tokugawa
in Mino Province (modern Gifu Prefecture).
This battle was one of
the largest land battles ever fought on Japanese soil. Tokugawa Ieyasu's army alone numbered over 100,000 men. Tokugawa won this
through treachery than good generalship - as halfway through the battle
4 daimyo who
had allied themselves
with the opposing "Western Faction" defected to Tokugawa’s
“Eastern Faction.” The subsequent
surprise assault of their men on the Western
Faction led to a total rout of the Western army. After winning this
battle and consolidating his position Tokugawa Ieyasu founded the
Tokugawa Shogunate in 1603. Japan was to be ruled
by members this shogunal family for over 250 years (1603-1867).
In modern Fukushima Prefecture.
Suzuki ordered these documents destroyed while on his deathbed in order
to stop them from falling into Tokugawa
hands. If these documents had fallen into Tokugawa hands it is highly
likely Date Masamune would have been charged with treason.
So called because
it sits on Aobayama hill.
This ship was built by Japanese shipwrights under Spanish supervision.
Its very name indicates the interest Masamune
had in Christianity. Masamune's
interest in Christianity
indicated by the letter which he sent with
his envoys to the Pope, one line which said I’ll offer my land for a base of your missionary work. Send us as
Hasekura had an audience
with the Spanish viceroy of Mexico in 1614. By January 1615 he had
reached Madrid where he gained an audience with Philip III
and was converted to Christianity.
In October of the same
year Hasekura travelled to Rome where he met with Pope Paul V.
Pope Paul V
Hasekura well - to the extent that he even granted him Roman citizenship. The clock outside Maruzen in Sendai
commemorates this embassy (this is especially obvious when it strikes
Although a policy of almost total national seclusion - called sakoku (literally
“closed country”) in Japanese - was not fully adopted until 1639
during the reign of the third Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu
rulers, starting with Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1587 and followed by
Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1612 and 1614, had passed a number of edicts against
Christianity which were occasionally enforced but were more often than
not ignored especially if those Japanese converted to Christianity and
Western Christian missionaries remained discreet.
This changed in 1623 when Tokugawa Iemitsu came to power and began to
attempt to eliminate Christianity in Japan in
earnest. By 1639 he had passed numerous edicts (1633, 1634, 1635, 1636,
and 1639) which
forbade contact (on the pain of death) with the outside world in all but
the most limited (and heavily controlled) instances. While it is clear
that part of the policy of seclusion was to stop the spread of
Christianity - which
the Shogunate saw as a pretext to western invasion and a destabilising
influence on its rule, it is also possible
that the Shogunate also saw the policy of seclusion
as a way in which to gain all the benefits of foreign trade for itself
while preventing individual daimyo
being able to build their own power bases
through foreign trade and foreign political alliances (just as Date
Masamune was attempting to do) which they could then later use