Date Masamune: The Story of the “One-Eyed Dragon

masamune banniere

Bontenmaru, later Masamune, was born on September 5, 1567 in Oshu. He is the eldest son of Date Terumune, head of the Date clan and Daimyo (local lord) in the Tohoku region. Destined to succeed his father, he was trained from an early age. This is the beginning of the legend of Dokunganryu, the one-eyed dragon.

But what were the real facts in the life of this historical figure? Why was he so feared? Where did he get the nickname “One-eyed Dragon”? Flashback on the life of one of the most feared warriors inJapanese history.

Key points in the history of Date Masamune (1567-1636)

  • The role of Date Masamune in the unification of Japan

The young Daimyo is without a doubt one of the most feared warriors during this period of fusion.

  • The relationship between Date Masamune and the neighboring clans

The One-Eyed Dragon was known to be a formidable and unpredictable soldier during the Senguku period. This reputation will precede him in his relations with other families of the empire of the rising sun.

  • The battle of Sekigahara (1600)

Masamune took part in this epic battle that sealed the fate of Japan alongside Ieyasu Tokugawa.

  • The territory of Sendai

After the unification of Japan, Date Masamune became one of the first Daimyo to work for the Bakufu Tokugawa. It was then given the territory of Sendai.

Date Masamune: the origin of the legendary character

Statue of Date Mansamune

Between film, anime, manga and video game adaptations, Masamune is undoubtedly one of the most popular historical figures in Japan. But where does this infatuation with the character come from?

The key events that shaped the character of Date Masamune

Between the loss of his eye, assassination attempts by his own mother, and epic battles, Masamune’s life was not a smooth one. A look back at the events that marked the life of the One-Eyed Dragon.

  • Masamune in his childhood and adolescence

Around 3-4 years oldDate Masamune, then still called Bontenmaru, faces his first challenge. He catches smallpox and loses one of his eyes. If his mother begins to consider his other brothers as heir of the title Daimyo to his father, him, continues to prepare him to be his successor. He assigns his training to Kojuro Katakura, his former servant.

At 10 years oldBontenmaru performs his coming-of-age ritual. He took the name Masamune, which means “essence of politics”.

At the age of 12Masamune married Megohime, daughter of a Daimyo of the province of Mutsu. They will have many children together, including Date Tadamune, his successor.

At 14 years oldIn 1581, the young groom accompanied his father on his first military expedition. They face the Soma clan and come back winners. This was the beginning of Date Masamune’s military career.

Interesting fact: Masamune and Kojuro had a special relationship until their deaths. He was one of the few men Masamune trusted completely.

  • Masamune and the Date clan

At the age of 17, Masamune became the Daimyo of Date clan at the request of his father. Although the young man was reluctant at first, he finally accepted the position in 1584. He then became the Daimyo of the Masamune clan.

If his father is delighted by this transfer, his mother is still trying to put his brother Masamichi at the head of the clan. Date Terumune’s efforts to avoid a war of succession fall through. After the attempt to poison Masamune by Yoshihime, his own mother, the Daimyo to kill his brother reluctantly.

  • The Daimyo of Masamune

During the Sengoku period, the Daimyo of Japan are engaged in a power struggle. In these troubled times, one of Masamune’s vassals, Ouchi Sadatsuna, betrayed him and joined the Ashina clan in the Aizu region. The young Masamune is thus confronted with his first conflict at an early age. He declares war on the new traitor’s clan and undertakes his first conquests.

During these military campaigns, Date Masamune became known for his unpredictability and fighting skills. He then quickly became one of the most important Daimyo most feared by his peers. In only a few years at the post, the famous Dokunganryu has a real reputation.

Good to know: In spite of the image of samurai that we convey nowadays, the samurai of the Sengoku period were not the most faithful nor the most virtuous. Many historical accounts tell of their turning to join an enemy camp.

The birth of the legend of the One-Eyed Dragon

The reasons behind the loss of Masamune’s eye are part of the mystery that covers the character. Historians agree that he lost it after catching smallpox as a child. Some stories, mythologizing the man, tell that he lost it during one of his confrontations. Others report that in response to questions from his classmates, Masamune said he had eaten it.

One-Eyed Dragon

One thing remains certain, however, this physical characteristic will mark the figure of Date Masamune forever. So much so that he asked, before his death, to be always represented with both eyes open.

Interesting fact: In addition to his one-eyed eye, Date Masamune stood out on the battlefield with his black armor topped with an asymmetrical golden crescent moon. His ardor and unpredictability have also shaped his nickname of One-Eyed Dragon.

The conquest of Date Masamune: the expansion of the influence of the Date clan

Date Masamune is one of the mythical characters of the Sengoku period (1477-1573). He actively takes part in the wars between clans that ravage the empire, making a name for himself and his clan. Let’s dive into the universe that has perpetuated the name of the famous Dokunganryu .

Masamune versus Ashina Clan

Masamune’s first war was against the Ashina clan. A war where he will have no mercy. Indeed, Masamune, in his offensive, did not only aim at the Ashina, but also at all their allies. He did not hesitate to trample on the alliances his clan had with those who associated themselves, even slightly, with his enemy.

Let’s discover together the background of this historical war.

  • The assault on the fortress of the Ouchi.

The trigger for this war was the betrayal of Ouchi Sadatsuna, one of his subordinates. The latter had deserted to join the Ashina clan. And Date Masamune’s response to this reversal will be swift. Very fast.

In only three months, Masamune reached the fortress of the Ouchi, residence of the samurai family. Despite the Date’s alliance with the Ouchi, Masamune will not hesitate to execute 800 people to erase the debt of the man who betrayed him. An act which will make tremble the Daimyo of the region. He was the first to break a treaty in centuries.

This assault will mark the beginning of the era of the One-Eyed Dragon.

  • Land grabbing in Mutsu and Dewa provinces

In his journey to the Ashina clan, Matsimune seizes the lands of those he has defeated. Whether from enemy clans or friends, but associated in some way with the Ashina clan. Even the clans in which his family members were located suffered the same fate.

These acts confirm the fears of the other Daimyo about Masamune. They saw him as a violent and unpredictable being.

  • Kurokawa Castle Siege

After years of expeditions, the siege of Kurokawa Castle marks Masamune’s first clear victory against the Ashina clan.

  • The battle of Suriagehara

This battle will mark the end of the fighting between Masamune and the Ashina clan. Eager for revenge against the defeat in Kurokawa, Ashina Yoshihiro goes on the offensive. The battle of Surigehara broke out on June 5, 1589.

The 16,000 or so Ashina men, dominated by Masamume’s 23,000 soldiers, tried to flee. But the One-Eyed Dragon, having anticipated this configuration, had already blocked their only escape route. The Ashina clan is decimated and Date Masamune turns the Aizu estate into a base of operations.

In a nutshell

Masamune’s battles against the Ashina clan reveal to the world the young Daimyo’ s talents in the war. The myth of the fierce, unpredictable and merciless warrior that is the One-Eyed Dragon begins.

Battles of Date Masamune

The rivalries between the Date and Hatakeyama

Another fact that marks Masamune’s history is the increasing rivalry with the Nihonmatsu/Hatakeyama clan. Indeed, if the two clans have never been friends, Date Masamune took a radical decision that will seal the fate of both families: he had sworn to destroy this clan. But what were the origins of this tension?

  • The subterfuge of Nihonmatsu Yoshitsugu

In his quest to reach the Ashina clan, Masamune passed through the territory of the Nohinmatsu, a sub-clan of the Hatakeyama. Yoshitsugu. The head of the clan, Yoshitsugu, had planned to surrender to the Daimyo . Unfortunately, Masamune’s conditions were unacceptable to him. He takes advantage of a peace meeting between the two clans to kidnap the father of the Date leader.

In the attempt to deliver Date Torimune, Masamune managed to make the enemy retreat. Unfortunately, the former Daimyo loses life in combat. Masamune then vows to avenge his predecessor, stirring up tensions with the Nohinmatsu clan and Hatakeyama.

  • The battle of Hitadori

This epic battle represents Masamune’s revenge. He also contributed greatly to the legendary success of the Daimyo. But what really happened during this battle?

After the humiliating episode of the failed kidnapping, the Nohinmatsu/Hatakeyama decide to form alliances with other clans. They succeed in rallying the Satake, Ashina and Soma clans, other rivals of the Date, to the cause. 30,000 men are then gathered to attack the One-Eyed Dragon.

Masamune, on the other hand, had only 7,000 men to deal with it. Realizing his disadvantage, the leader of the Date decides to use his military genius, but in vain. Caught in the trap, he then decides to launch himself towards a final battle for honor. And against all odds, Masamune will win this fight.

This victory will show what an incredible general he was and will play a big part in the perpetuation of his reputation as the One-Eyed Dragon.

Interesting fact: The element that worked in Masamune’s favor during this battle was the withdrawal of the Satake clan troops. They had been informed of the attack on their territory in Hitachi and decided to go there as reinforcements.

Masamune’s place in the unification of Japan

Date Masamune is one of the most famous figures of the reunification period of Japan. His name, like that of Oda Nobunaga, Hideyoshi or Ieyasu will mark the history of the archipelago forever. But what were his relationships with these other historical figures of the Sengoku period?

Date Masamune and Hideyoshi Toyotomi

The relationship between Masamune and Hideyoshi Toyotomi was not without tension. Indeed, Masamune’s pride made it difficult for him to submit to anyone. This behavior also got him into trouble.

  • Masamune’s disobedience

During his quest for the reunification of Japan, Hideyoshi asked the Daimyo of north of the island to join him to seize the castle of Odawara. Masamune, at first reluctant to pledge his allegiance to him, will eventually change. Hideyoshi may not have been the official Shogun, but the Daimyo was became so powerful in its quest for unification that it was hard to ignore. Masamune went to the battle, but he was late. What Hideyoshi does not appreciate at all.

When the latter was recognized by the imperial power, he called Masamune for his trial.

  • The meeting between Masamune and Hideyoshi

There are several accounts of this meeting between Masamune and Hideyoshi. Some say that Masamune dressed in his best clothes to show his composure and determination to accept his fate. Others speak rather of the way in which the Daimyo has trained Hideyoshi’s aggressive monkey before the trial. Thanks to this, he would have appeared as a man not to be antagonized by the great Daimyo. After all, even the monkey was afraid of him!

However, despite these various speculations, the outcome of the trial remains the same: Hideyoshi would have spared him because he felt that he would be useful to him later.

To wit: Despite this pardon, Masamune’s act of disobedience will not go unpunished. Hideyoshi confiscated part of his land.

  • The Korean invasion expedition

During his submission to Hideyoshi, Masamune participated in the second wave of invasion of Korea in 1597.

Date Masamune and Tokugawa Ieyasu

Unlike his relationship with Hideyoshi, Masamune was more docile with Tokugawa. The two men therefore developed a much more privileged relationship.

Tokagawa Leyasu
  • Masamune’s allegiance

After Hideyoshi’s death in 1598, Masamune rallied to Ieyasu Tokagawa on the advice of his lifelong friend Kojuro Katakura. He joined the man in the battle of Sekigahara, opposing the forces loyal to Hideyoshi led by Ishida Mitsunari.

  • The battle of Sekigahara

This life-and-death struggle involves Masamune’s military knowledge. Tokugawa’s forces were inferior to those of their enemies and the outcome was uncertain. However, together with Ieyasu and many other Daimyo, they managed to take over the troops of Ishida Mitsunari.

In 1603, Ieyasu finished the unification of Japan and established the Tokugawa Shogunate. It is the beginning of theEdo era.

Date Masamune and the territory of Sendai: the emergence of a city?

Rallying his forces to Tokugawa Ieyasu, Masamune received the land of Sendai under the Tokugawa Shogunate. Then begins the journey of the Daimyo in the development of its territory.

Masamune and foreign relations

Masamune has an interest in foreign affairs. He then decided to finance the first Japanese expedition to Europe aboard the Date Maru. Tsunenaga Hasekure, the vassal to whom he entrusts this task, is in charge of finding commercial partners for the city. A mission that would be successful, but that would fall apart during the closing of the empire to the world (1650-1842)).

Masamune and Christianity

Christianity fascinates Masamune. So much so that during the campaign against Christianity in the empire, he intervened with Tokugawa to spare the Spanish missionary Luis Setelo.

Moreover, before Japan closed to the world, it tried to establish links with Western countries. He even ordered one of his vassals to go on an expedition to Europe to establish relations with the Pope.

To wit: Despite his unsuccessful attempts to establish trade relations between his territory and foreigners, Masamune still contributed greatly to the development of Sendai. To this day, he remains a respected and revered figure in the region. His statue still overlooks the city that he had erected.