By Hiroshi Nishida / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterSENDAI — The remains of Sendai Castle can be seen on Mt. Aoba, where the remnants of the castle’s great hall and stone wall still occupy the former site of its Honmaru main building. Standing amid the vestiges of the stronghold — also known as Aoba Castle — I can imagine its previous dignified appearance.
A statue of Sendai domain warlord Date Masamune has been erected at the site, capturing his magnificent presence on the battlefield. He stands facing the city of Sendai, which he founded about 400 years ago and is now home to more than 1 million people.
Sendai was a wild land in the 16th century. Date constructed his castle in the Iwadeyama area, now in Miyagi Prefecture, and acted as leader of the country’s northeast. However, many mysteries remain as to why he moved his base here.
“He is said to have moved his castle here to prepare for battle against the Uesugi and other forces, as the geography is strategically advantageous. But construction of the castle started in 1601 after the Battle of Sekigahara,” said Jiro Akashi, 60, who studies ancient documents about Date at Sendai City Museum.
“As there were many damp areas around Sendai, it’s hard to say that the location is suitable for creating a castle town. It’s also hard to imagine that Date had grand designs for creating a large city.”
When Date grew old, he constructed Wakabayashi Castle as his new residence. His castle town was built southwest of Sendai Castle.
“[The construction of the castle and the town] consequently expanded the town area, which served as the foundation for a major city,” Akashi said.
In Sendai, which was obliterated by an air raid in July 1945, it is difficult to find traces of the Edo period (1603-1867) castle town.
Otemon Gate, the main entrance to Sendai Castle, and the original Zuihoden mausoleum for Date were both designated as national treasures, but burned down in the air raid.
The elaborately decorated Zuihoden, which was reconstructed in 1979 on a hill surrounded by dense forest, nevertheless captures Date’s power and influence.
Osaki Hachimangu shrine, which was built in 1607 as a guardian shrine for the castle town, escaped damage during the war and is one of the few cultural assets that kept its original appearance. The magnificent Momoyama-style shrine building enmeshed in greenery has been designated as a national treasure.
Sendai, which is known as the City of Trees, is characterized by its lush greenery, such as the rows of keyaki Japanese zelkova trees on Jozenji-dori street. But the City of Trees nickname is said to originate from the harmony between the main forest and nearby woodlands in the castle town.
Such scenery was visible in the city’s main area before the end of World War II, but was wiped out during the air raid. Nakajimacho Park in the city is the site of an extensive Japanese garden and Hachiman Mori no Yakata, an old Edo period store building that was reconstructed in the park, giving visitors a feel for Sendai’s original scenery.
The Gofudaimachi Shonin-kumiai association, which represents business operators in and around Omachi, Aoba Ward, Sendai, is working to restore the town of yesteryear.
Omachi, which is close to Sendai Castle, used to be a commercial center where merchants lived up until before the Meiji era (1868-1912). Most town blocks in the area from that time remain even now. In the postwar period, however, the eastern area close to Sendai Station became the city’s most prosperous area.
“We launched a merchant association about 30 years ago called Gofudaimachi — the name of Omachi during the Edo period — because we were concerned about the name change and loss of prosperity. We are trying to revitalize the area by holding various events such as hanami cherry blossom viewing and a summer festival,” said Yukiteru Konno, 52, executive managing director of a real estate firm.
Konno is part of the 19th generation of his family, which moved from Kyoto to Sendai during an Edo period land reallocation.
In a residential area of Omachi dotted with old stores, shops selling various high-end products and restaurants have started to open, though only gradually.
I walked from a neighborhood around Sendai Castle now known for its abundance of educational institutions, to the busy district near Sendai Station. The former Gofudaimachi area is located between the two districts. I felt the progression of history amid the neighborhood’s tranquil atmosphere.
While reporting for this article, I realized that Date may have made many miscalculations.
For example, he built Sendai Castle, a battle-ready fortress, despite the expected era of peace and dispatched a trade mission to Europe even though the nation was to be closed off to foreigners.
I wonder if he would have stayed in Sendai had he unified the country.
I thought Date’s unusual abilities might have led to Sendai’s foundation, and his miscalculations helped the city grow.
Take the Shinkansen for about 90 minutes or an expressway bus for five to six hours from Tokyo Station to Sendai Station. Take the subway or a regular bus from Sendai Station to major sightseeing facilities in the city.