Date Masamune was a warrior of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1568-1600) and the early part of the Edo Period (1600-1868) and one of the greatest daimyō of northern Japan.

Succeeding his father at 17, he defeated most of his rivalling neighbours, thereby significantly expanding his territories. Supporting the hegemons Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, he consolidated his power base and established the fiefdom of Sendai, one of the largest in the Edo Period. Showing interest in Christianity, he despatched an embassy to Europe. He died famed for being an unconventional warrior, one of his age's most powerful military leaders and a patron of the arts.

Date Masamune (伊達政宗,1567-1636) was the eldest son of Date Terumune (d. 1584), lord of Yonezawa Castle (modern-day Yamagata Prefecture) and Yoshihime, the daughter of Mogami Yoshimori, the daimyō of Dewa Province. First known as Botenmaru (梵天丸), his name was changed to Tōjirō (藤次郎) when he was eleven years old. During his childhood, he lost the sight in his right eye as the result of smallpox and was known by the nickname dokuganryū (独眼竜, "One-Eyed Dragon").


In 1579, Masamune married Megohime, the daughter of Tamura Kiyoaki, the lord of Miharu, an alliance fiercely opposed by some of Date's vassals. In 1581, he accompanied his father in a campaign against the Sōma family; at 17, he succeeded Terumune, who retired from his position of daimyō. Masamune moved quickly to extend his control over more than 30 districts in the provinces of Mutsu (陸奥国 Mutsu no kuni, now Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate, and Aomori prefectures) and Dewa (出羽国 Dewa no kuni, present-day Yamagata and Akita prefectures).

The Date clan


The mon (紋, family emblem) of the Date

The Date traced their origins back to the Fujiwara and were later provincial military leaders (then daimyō) from the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) through the Edo Period (1600-1868). Based in the Isa district of Hitachi Province (now Ibaraki Prefecture), their ancestor Isa Tomomune helped Minamoto no Yoritomo defeat his younger brother Minamoto no Yoshitsune and the Ōshu-Fujiwara family in 1189. Tomomune was rewarded with the Date district (modern-day Fukushima Prefecture ) of Mutsu Province in northern Honshū, from where their name was derived.

During the conflict between the northern and southern courts (1336-92), the Date fought for the Southern Court. Still, they submitted to the Muromachi shogunate (1338-1573) in the early 1400s and further enlarged their territories, becoming Sengoku daimyō by 1500. The legal code of the domain, the jinkaishū (塵芥集), drawn up by Date Tanemune (1488-1565) in 1536, has been a model for many other feudal codices.

The family's most famous leader, Date Masamune (1567-1636), greatly increased his holdings at the expense of neighbouring daimyō; beginning in 1590, he served under Toyotomi Hideyoshi but fought for Tokugawa Ieyasu at the Battle of Sekigahara, thus ensuring the family's position among the richest and most powerful of the tozama (outer) daimyō of the Edo Period. In addition to Masamune's domain of Sendai (now in Miyagi Prefecture) with an assessed income of 620,000 koku, branches of the Date controlled the Yoshida and Uwajima domains in Iyo Province (now Ehime Prefecture). In the mid-1600s, the Date were divided by a family succession struggle (see Date Sōdō below); the last daimyō of Sendai, Date Munemoto (伊達宗基), ruled the domain until the Meiji Restoration .

Shortly after Masamune had acceded to power, a vassal named Ōuchi Sadatsuna deserted to the Ashina (蘆名氏), then the lords of Aizu and rivals of the Date. Masamune declared war on Ōuchi and the Ashina but was stopped in Hibara and forced to retreat. Sadatsuna continued his campaigns against Sadatsuna. In the winter of 1585, one of his former allies, who had come under severe pressure by Masamune's forces, Hatakeyama Yoshitsugu, the lord of Nihonmatsu, offered to surrender. Forced to give up all his territories to the Date, Yoshitsugu arranged for a meeting with Terumune at Miyamori Castle, where - instead of asking for his assistance - he took Masamune's father and his retainers hostage. Masamune, on a hunting trip that day, rushed to the castle to rescue his father, but in the ensuing battles, Terumune and his entourage were killed by Yoshitsugu's men. He defeated the Hatakeyama in October 1595 in the Battle of Hitotoribashi in the face of a massive imbalance of troops in Yoshitsugu's favour (7,000 against 30,000 men).


Date Masamune's statue at Aoba-jo, Sendai (Photo credit: jpellgen)

The conflicts with neighbouring domains continued for the next few years. In 1589, after the siege of Kurokawa Castle in Aizuwakamatsu, Masamune finally defeated the Ashina in the Battle of Suriagahara. He moved his base to Aizu but was obliged by the emergent hegemon Toyotomi Hideyoshi to yield the castle to Gamō Ujisato and return to Yonezawa in 1591.

In 1590, Hideyoshi moved against his last remaining enemy in the Kanto area, the Hōjō clan, and prepared to attack Hōjō Ujimasa's stronghold at Odawara Castle. He obliged the daimyō of the Tōhoku area to send troops to support his forces. Masamune, who Ujimasa had asked to ally Hideyoshi, sent no assistance to either side. After lengthy deliberations and on the advice of his emissaries around Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and his lieutenant Katakura Kagetsuna, Masamune decided to set out for Odawara.

Before his departure, he had another family matter to settle. His mother, Yoshihime, had always favoured Masamune's younger brother Masamichi, also known as Kojirō, and wanted him to replace his older, one-eyed and near-sighted brother. The family of Yoshihime, the Mogami, had grown jealous of Masamune's rising power and exerted their influence on his mother to get rid of him. If Masamune was going to be killed by Hideyoshi for his lacking support, the Date family would face extinction. It would, therefore, be prudent to have Masamune killed to preserve the lineage through Kojirō. Yoshihime agreed to stage a plot and invited Masamune to a dinner that had been laced with poison. The plan was foiled when one guest died before Masamune tasted the food. Kojirō was killed to avert other conspiracies from brewing.

Above a replica of Date Masamune's famous armour (Source: tokiwakamesan). Masamune's famous crescent-shaped helmet is a typical example of a "kawari kabuto" (変わり兜, strange or unusual helmets) that became so common in the final years of the Sengoku period . The original of Masamune's impressive helmet is exhibited at the Sendai City Museum.

Facing Hideyoshi at Ishigakiyama Ichiya Castle, Masamune expected death. When questioned by Hideyoshi's vanguard why he had not sent an ambassador with a card of allegiance, he replied that he was an ignorant country rustic not acquainted with the ceremony of courts. And why had he waged war on the Ashina? Masamune retorted that a disloyal vassal had forced the struggle upon him. When he and Hideyoshi finally met, the furious hegemon asked Masamune to relinquish all the territory he had gained in Aizu. Masamune, in his best - and, according to witnesses, peculiar - attire, showed no fear and was later granted a private meeting with Hideyoshi, impressed by his military knowledge and unusual character.


Banners used by the Date troops
A: White mon in red (also called Sendaizasa, 'Sendai bamboo')
B: White peony in black
C: Three black vertical bars inside a circle
Source: Ströhl (ed.), Nihon Monchō - Japanisches Wappenbuch)

Later he was given Iwatesawa Castle, later renamed Iwadeyama Castle (in what is now Miyagi Prefecture), by Hideyoshi as a reward for suppressing peasant uprisings in Ōsaki and Kasai (葛西大崎一揆 Kasai Ōsaki ikki). Masamune participated in the invasions of Korea in 1592 and 1597. In the Battle of Sekigahara, he fought on the side of Tokugawa Ieyasu, and for his efforts, he was rewarded with the Sendai domain with an assessed yield of 620.000 koku of rice. He actively supported the Tokugawa forces in the Osaka Campaign (1614/15) against Toyotomi Hideyori, Hideyoshi's son.

As daimyō, Date built up the castle town of Sendai and governed with an iron hand. In 1605, he carried out a land survey, subsequently improved the river Kitakamigawa and other streams, and encouraged land reclamation. He also started a salt industry and promoted planting trees such as the Japanese lacquer tree, mulberry, and paper mulberry. The Date owned rich gold and silver mines; his domain was also noted for its sale of beautiful horses bred under official supervision.

In 1611, Date met the Franciscan priest Luis Sotelo in Edo (modern-day Tōkyō). He was also invited to Sendai Sebastián Vizcaíno (1548–1624), the Spanish envoy to Japan. He expressed his desire to cultivate relations with the king of Spain and trade with Mexico, known as Nueva España. He granted permission for Christian missionary work in his domain and the building of a church, planning the construction of a cathedral. To obtain advice from the pope through Sotelo, in 1613, he despatched one of his retainers, Hasekura Tsunenaga, to Rome. Granted audiences with the governor-general of Mexico, Philip III of Spain, and Pope Paul V, Tsunenaga relayed Date's desire to invite missionaries to his domain and conduct trade. During his absence, Christianity was forbidden by the Tokugawa shogunate. All Japanese harbours, except for Nagasaki and Hirado, were closed to foreign ships, so nothing came of his visit. Date now reversed his position, forcing Christians to renounce their faith and banishing Goto Juan (後藤寿庵, 1578-1623), a retainer who had been active in propagating Christianity in Sendai.

Date was also known as a patron of the arts. He studied waka poetry with Karasumaru Mitsuhiro (烏丸光廣, 1579-1638) and the tea ceremony with Furuta Oribe (古田 織部, 1544-1615), himself a disciple of Sen no Rikyū. He was also proficient in Noh drama, calligraphy, and the art of incense. According to the anecdote, on his deathbed, Masamune requested that portraits done after his death show him with two good eyes.

In 1987, the life of Date Masamune was dramatised in the 25th NHK taiga drama series entitled "Dokuganryū Masamune" (独眼竜政宗) with Watanabe Ken - of "Last Samurai" fame - playing the role of Masamune.


Watanabe Ken as Masamune (1987)

Date Sōdō

The Date Sōdō (伊達騒動, Date Family Disturbance) was a family succession struggle of the 1660s and early 1670s between members of the Date family. In 1660, the Tokugawa shogunate, charging the daimyō Date Tsunamune (伊達綱宗, 1640-1711) with responsibility for disturbances in Sendai, placed him under house arrest and designated his infant son Tsunamura (伊達綱村, 1659-1719) as his heir. Real power, however, rested with Date Munekatsu (1621-79), who allegedly had contrived the confinement of his nephew Tsunamune to succeed him. In 1666, an attendant died immediately after test-tasting a morsel of Tsunamura's meal. When rumours soon linked Munekatsu with this poisoning, he strengthened his position by forming alliances with other influential families in the domain. He could retain control of the domain's affairs when the young Tsunamura officially came of age. Late in 1670, another member of the Date family, Muneshige, reported Munekatsu's misconduct. Consequently, Munekatsu was investigated by tairō (大老) Sakai Tadakiyo (酒井忠清, 1624-1681).

A few months later, just before Sakai announced his judgment, the informer was suddenly assassinated by one of Munekatsu's officials. The assassin himself was promptly beheaded, and the shogunate soon after banished Munekatsu to indefinite detention in the Tosa domain (present-day Kochi Prefecture). It has been argued that this factional dispute was part of a larger disagreement regarding its financial and political situation. Eventually, Tsunamura restored the domain's fortunes; during his 30-year rule as daimyō, he improved its administration, promoted the arts of war and peace, and strengthened the economy.


  • Turnbull, Stephen, The Samurai Sourcebook, London 1998
  • Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric, Japan Encyclopedia, Harvard University Press 2005


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