On the grounds of the Aoba Castle ruins, is an imposing statue of a samurai on horseback with an eye patch and a crescent-moon-bearing helmet overlooking the vibrant city of Sendai, the largest city in the Tohoku region. It 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. Born in a time when Japan was plagued by civil wars during the Sengoku period (1467-1603), Masamune quickly rose to become a tactful, ruthless and ambitious warrior from a young age, earning the name One-Eyed Dragon (lost an eye to smallpox at a young age). In 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the daimyo who completed the unification of Japan under one rule, awarded Masamune lordship of the Sendai Domain for his loyalty, making Date the most powerful daimyo.
Despite his fearsome reputation, Masamune was also an educated man and a patron of the arts, which gave birth to his interest in the region’s rich culture and history that could be traced back to the ancient times. Wanting Sendai to be a spot to rival the Kyoto-Osaka region, he worked to expand trade and beautify the region. Tohoku, once a remote part of Japan, soon became a popular destination for tourism, trade and prosperity. While Masamune embraced tradition, he also saw the need to embrace foreigners and their technology and knowledge. He encouraged them to visit his region and also dispatched an embassy on the San Juan Bautista, a ship built with European shipbuilding techniques, to meet the Pope. This would be Japan’s first voyage around the world and the only diplomatic mission of the period.
Such political and civilizing projects spread throughout the castle town and eventually into communities across the entire Tohoku region. What Masamune created and left behind through these was a fertile culture- a culture that respects the richness of tradition while embracing the new, that appreciates the highest beauty and perfection while being modest, and that continues to live on in the lives of the people in Sendai today through their traditional artwork, cuisine and view of life.
Once the residence of the Date clan, who had to relocate here after having to relinquish their domain following the Meiji Restoration (1868), this two-storey wooden bungalow is now a popular restaurant and venue for special occasions. Guests can enjoy local cuisine presented in an adorable miniature Sendai tansu ( Japanese chest of drawers) while casting their gaze down upon a splendid Japanese garden. Another highlight is the artefacts and heirlooms they have on display, including Date’s iconic black suit of armour and helmet with the golden crescent moon.