May 23, 2012
Dan-chan, graduate student in forestry who does research in the jungles of Malaysia and Borneo and intrepid Fuji-san climbing guide, met me at the train station in Sendai. Who was this samurai with the horned helmet who appeared everywhere in the region?
Date-san appeared on all the train station signs in cartoon form as a rice ball, onigiri, with horns; here he was at Matsushima.
Dan-chan took me on a bus up the hill past Tōhoku University where she studies.
NICHe: New Industry Creation Hatchery Center, a business incubator.
Date-san on a horse, impressed on a fence.
We arrived at a torii guarding the entrance to Sendai Castle, home of Date-san.
Zunda, almost as omnipresent in Tōhoku as Date-san.
Prayer blocks to hang on the fence, including good wishes for Tōhoku.
Animatronic lion fortunes; startling!
In memorial (notice the photographer?).
Finally, we met the statue of Date-san aside his horse.
Campaigning at age 14, Date-san took power from his father three years later, assuming the role of daimyō, 大名, “big name”, lord of the territory. He lost sight his right eye to smallpox in childhood, though whether it was removed later by him or one of his vassals remains unclear. Joseph Campbell wouldn’t be surprised at the similarity of this story to other myths: humans have a propensity toward the structure of these stories like this, common across cultures. During a series of land disputes Date-san’s father was kidnapped by a neighboring clan; as part of the rescue, his father demanded Date-san kill all the enemies, resulting in the father’s death as well. In a power struggle with his mother, he poisoned his brother and his mother fled.
Date-san improved the city of Sendai, turning the formerly small fishing village into a prosperous city. The Tōhoku Region was generally seen as a backwater, a remote area full of fishermen to the north. Date-san expanded trade and even sent a Western-style ship with an embassy of almost 200 people to Rome, visiting even Mexico and Spain en route. In a time when Christians were persecuted in Japan, Date-san was tolerant and even supportive of foreigners and their religious ideas. A few Japanese on the expedition stayed in Spain, their descents remaining to this day.
Dan-chan and I looked out over the city of Sendai, the cloudy haze preventing us from seeing the sea or far inland.
On the far hill is one of the largest statues in the world, the Sendai Daikannon, 仙台大観音, a depiction of the Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion or the godess of mercy. Even though she’s 100 meters tall, she was too far away to photograph property.
Sendai toward the Pacific.
Both of us under Date-san.
Carry on, Northeastern Japan! Thousands of cranes formed columns inside.
We returned on the bus to town and walked to a fish market. It wasn’t as overwhelming as Tsukiji, but the variety of fish was still delightful.
ほや, or sea pineapple. Dan-chan had to convince me this was a sea creature and not a plant.
Sea urchin, うに.
Back at the train station, there were loads of zunda souvenirs.
And Date-san rendered in cute keychain form! かわいいね！ (Though the beef tongues… maybe a little 怖い.)
I tried zunda mochi ice cream for a snack.
Waiting for my train I watched the conductor timing the exit of his Shinkansen from the train station. がんばろう日本! がんばろう東北! Carry on, Japan; carry on, Northeastern Region!
The train pulled out into the gathering night for points south; mine followed shortly, taking me south toward Tōkyo.
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