We were once of the Fujiwara Clan, until our blessed ancestor Isa Tomomune went his own path sixteen generations after the death of Fujiwara no Uona. Under Tomomune we went north to the ends of the island of Honshu, to do battle against the Ainu barbarians living there. Verily, Isa Tomomune received this land directly from Minamoto no Yoritomo, who was the first of the Kamakura shoguns, for his mighty support in the battles against the Taira, and then against Yoritomo’s brother Yoshitsune who tried to usurp the new shogun’s throne.
Since those days, we Date have always tried to avoid the petty squabbles and vicious battles of our southern cousins. We are the Lords of the North, and though we acknowledge the emperor as our lord, our lands are ours under his wings. The other daimyos and even shoguns had learned the hard way to leave us to our own, and thus we remain strong.
We have, on occasion, sent samurai at the behest of the shogun, to quell disputes to our south, but always returned to our lands in the north thereafter. We do not shun the south, but those southerners are more involved in intrigue and power plays than are we, who wish only to rule our lands as had our forefathers.
Our greatest clan leader was the young Masamune, who became our seventeenth clan leader at the tender age of eighteen, upon the retirement of his father, the revered Date Terumune (who himself received the Teru character in his name from the shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru himself as a sign of his favor). Masamune is said to be a brash, hot-headed, and volatile lord, who dressed his armies in armor of black but helmets of gold. He would be a worthy warlord.
Masamune was soon put to the test. The evil Ashina Clan soon entreated one of his retainers to defect. Masamune declared war upon the Ashina, eventually besieging the stronghold at Otemori and putting all to the sword. Eight hundred fed his blades that day. Other families, seeing his ruthlessness, began to become worried and their relations with the Date began to fail. This did not matter to Masamune, who began a series of battles to expand his realm at their price.
The Date’s traditional foes- the Hatakeyama- were among the first to see his rising power as a threat. They decided not to curb his expansionism in battle, but rather through mediation. To this end, they asked his father Terumune, to intercede, but without result. So the Hatakeyama kidnapped the former daimyo and tried to escape with him in tow, but Masamune heard of his father’s plight and caught up with the Hatakeyama at a river crossing. There, Terumune begged his son to slay his kidnappers- even if it cost him his own life. Masamune hesitated out of filial devotion, then obeyed. The kidnappers were soon held to account- tortured and slaughtered along with their families. There was a brief power struggle around this time within the ranks of the Date between Masamune and supporters of his brother, Kojiro. Masamune settled this in his normal way- he killed his rival and forced his supporters out. Date Masamune was now the undisputed leading daimyo of the Tohoku (northern) region.
Another powerful daimyo, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, was on his way to becoming shogun in campaign after campaign. IN one of these campaigns, he applied enough pressure on the Tohoku daimyos that they agreed to support his armies with men. Date Masamune also acknowledged the request, but delayed his samurai until such a time as the outcome of the battle was already decided- he did not wish to back a losing horse. Hideyoshi brought him before him, where Masamune fully expected the order to commit seppuku, but was surprised to be let off with a warning andrelieved him of a few districts. After this, Date Masamune pledged loyalty to Hideyoshi.
After the demise of Hideyoshi, Masamune supported Tokugawa Ieyasu. This was inevitable, as Ieyasu had helped Masamune when the latter had been ordered by Hideyoshi to abandon the north and settle into a small prefecture on Shikoku. The fact that a son of Masamune was married to a daughter of Ieyasu did not make his decision any harder, either. Ieyasu rewarded him with the Sendai domain- a huge and rich area that legends held able to produce a million koku ( a koku was the amount of rice needed to support one man for one year, about two hundred eighty liters of dried rice), though no matter how innovative and intensive his programs, never managed to produce more than six hundred eighty thousand. It did not matter though, as the land made him one of the most prominent and powerful daimyos in all of Japan.
Masamune was more than an ambitious daimyo seeking power and glory. He was an able administrator, turning the tiny village of Sendai into a prosperous and thriving city by expanding the infrastructure and road networks of the Tohoku region to expand his trade. He also made extensive efforts to beautify the region, turning it from harsh and cold mountains to a land easy on the eye.
He was also a curious man, and one capable of accepting the differences in others. Maybe this stems from the time he had his own eye- blinded by smallpox- ripped out of his head, or maybe it wells up from a Zen sense that all men are merely what they are, or maybe it stems from his strong desire to expand his wealth by trading with any and everyone. Regardless, he allowed Portuguese and Dutch traders to enter his realm to trade, and to practice their religion. He allowed Christianity to grow in his realm, at least until Ieyasu expelled the Christians, and even afterward used his influence to have a captured missionary spared.
His involvement with Christianity is unclear- on the one hand we have accounts of his leniency and generosity toward them, and on the other there were the unlikely rumors that he was a secret Christian convert himself. He did personally fund a sailing ship to be built along European lines- the Date Maru- and sent it along with the spared missionary Soleto and two hundred men off to visit the Pope in Rome. Five members of this crew remained in Spain to avoid Ieyasu’s persecutions. Their descendants- our cousins- live there to this day. You may know them by their family name of Japón.
Date Masamune was never trusted very much by the daimyos to the south, despite familial ties to Ieyasu and his unwavering loyalty to both Hideyoshi (after pledging his loyalty) and Ieyasu. Much of it had to do with his brashness and arrogance as a youth, other of it the northern self-reliance and autonomy. Yet he proved a loyal servant and a strong daimyo. His son Date Tadamune would succeed him as daimyo of the north, while another son Hidemune received a fiefdom on Shikoku worth a hundred thousand koku.
Our clan would face other threats, but these we would overcome. Our clan will survive, through times of peace and times of war, and even now as you read our history, we still exist.