Modern culture shaped by the ambition of a legendary samurai
Miyagi has a rich cultural history. The magnificent historical buildings in Shiogama and Matsushima and natural beauty of Matsushima Bay, have fascinated people across Japan for centuries; almost every area has its stories of Date Masamune, one of the most ambitious, innovative lords in medieval Japan; the vivid atmosphere of rapid modernization preserved as an old school building in Tome… explore the history of Miyagi and make your journey even more interesting.
One man’s legacy looms large over Miyagi Prefecture: Date Masamune (1567-1636). This samurai lived four centuries ago during the turbulent Sengoku period. Known as the “One-Eyed Dragon,” he outwitted and outfought other warlords until he won control of a vast domain. In 1601 he established Sendai City as his capital, and embarked upon ambitious building projects throughout his lands, creating many impressive temples, shrines and other landmarks that are still standing, and less conspicuously, irrigation and flood control which helped turn Miyagi into the rice-producing powerhouse it remains today.
Masamune is remembered even today for his strong sense of style. He and his men were unmistakable when they arrived on the battlefield in their jet-black armor, Masamune’s helmet embellished by its soaring golden crescent. As a patron of the arts and culture, his influence can be seen in the vivid coloring and gorgeous woodwork of Osaki Hachimangu Shrine and Zuihoden Mausoleum. The folk culture which took root during his reign lives on in many of Sendai’s festivals, such as the Aoba Festival.
Masamune was always a man of ambition. At no time was this more evident than in 1613, when he dispatched Hasekura Tsunenaga and crew on a trade mission to Europe. They met with Pope Paul V and Spanish King Phillip III in an attempt to establish direct trade relations. While ultimately unsuccessful due to increasingly isolationist policies adopted by the Tokugawa shogunate, European influences can be seen in patterns used on Date family clothing held in the Sendai City Museum and in motifs decorating the inside of the mausoleum at Entsuin Temple.
In 1689, renowned haiku poet Matsuo Basho made a 2,400-kilometer journey to the north, inspired by generations of poets who had written of the beauty of this wild landscape. His famous anthology, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, became the best-selling travelogue of its day, prompting countless people to follow in his footsteps: from Matsushima to Ishinomaki, Naruko, Hiraizumi, and beyond.
Miyagi’s history neither began nor ended with the age of samurai. There is evidence of prehistoric peoples dating back as far as 20,000 years. Ancient shell mounds have been unearthed along Miyagi’s coast, fascinating relics that can still be visited today. Twelve hundred years ago, before the reign of the samurai began, Miyagi was on the northern edge of the territory controlled by the Emperor in Kyoto and inhabited by the Emishi people. Exhibits at the Tohoku History Museum recreate and give insight into these ages.
In the late 1800s when the samurai era came to its abrupt demise, Miyagi embarked upon rapid modernization. Today, Sendai is the largest city in the entire Tohoku region. It is home to more than one million residents, a large manufacturing base, and a vibrant commercial downtown. Miyagi has developed into a farming and fishing powerhouse and top sake producer. Its natural heritage has made it a leisure destination beloved for its scenic coastline, extensive hiking trails, abundant hot springs and winter sports.
In 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake triggered a tsunami which caused unprecedented devastation to coastal communities. As a result of the tragedy, the area has received aid and assistance from across Japan and around the world, resulting in innovative initiatives and a vibrant new culture taking root along the coast.
After four centuries of transformation, Date Masamune still looks out upon Sendai. Stand with his statue at the site of Aoba Castle and reflect upon how far his domain has come. Then, explore Miyagi and uncover the local stories behind the places you visit.