Date Masamune: the one-eyed dragon
One of the most fascinating martial stories of the Japanese feudal era is the war between the Masamune and Hatakeyama clans. Both were famous samurai families who supported opposing sides of the shogunate. Follow the details of the escalating tensions, the kidnapping and the ensuing battle in our dedicated article. Ready to dive in? Read it here!
Who was Masamune?
Masamune was a hot-blooded and aggressive man, and had been since childhood. He had lost the use of his right eye as a child after catching a disease, and when a senior member of his clan pointed out that an enemy might catch it while fighting him, Masamune plucked it out himself. This story, combined with his aggressiveness, earned him the nickname One-Eyed Dragon.
Date of Masamune's conquests
One of Masamune's great victories was a battle in 1589. Masamune bribed an important Ashina servant to rebel, but he betrayed him and pursued him with a large army to the Ashina headquarters in Kurokawa. They fought at Suriagehara, and Masamune demolished the Ashina who were forced to flee. Masamune showed no mercy. He had cut off their escape route by destroying the bridge across the Nitsubashi River, which meant that the fleeing men would drown or be slaughtered.
After this victory, Masamune was ordered to work with Toyotomi Hideyoshi and help him besiege Odawara Castle. Hideyoshi was essentially the ruler of Japan, so Masamune was obligated to help him, even if he didn't want to. In order to ensure that he was on the winning side, Masamune waited for his spies to inform him of the likely winner before joining the battle.
Because of his late arrival, Hideyoshi did not give Masamune the respect he deserved, an act of discord in Japanese honor society. Because of Hideyoshi's lack of respect, Date Masamune chose to work with Tokugawa Ieyasu when Tokugawa Ieyasu fought Toyotomi's loyalists. He helped Tokugawa to establish his own shogunate, and in return gained much power and influence.
Masamune and Hatakeyama at odds
Because of the political machinations common during this period of Japanese history, tensions between the Masamune and Hatakeyama were always high. But, eventually, they started to get out of hand. Yoshitsugu, lord of the Hatakeyama, tried many times to bring peace between the two clans, but the hotheaded Date Masamune refused each time.
After many failures to reach a peace treaty, Yoshitsugu approached Masamune's father, Terumune, to try to mediate the situation. The two men ate together, and the next day Yoshitsugu visited Terumune again to thank him for the meal. Unfortunately, it was a trap, because once he arrived, Yoshitsugu kidnapped Terumune. When Masamune found out that his father had been kidnapped, he went into a rage typical of his title of One-Eyed Dragon, gathered an army and pursued Yoshitsugu.
Showdown with kidnappers
The Masamune clan found the kidnappers at the Abukuma River. They could have slaughtered them all on the spot, but Yoshitsugu was holding Terumune hostage and the rest of the Masamune clan feared for his safety. Terumune shouted to his son to fire on the Hatakeyama, but Date Masamune hesitated to attack. In the confusion, his father was killed and Yoshitsugu managed to escape. Masamune was furious and went to war with the Hatakeyama.
When the war started, it was not only between Masamune and the Hatakeyama. The One-Eyed Dragon was fighting all his allies, including the Ashina, Soma, Satake and many other samurai factions.
War between Samurai
Hatakeyama's allies established an army of 30,000 men against Masamune's much smaller force of only 7,000 men at a fort in his possession. Date organized his force in a defensive position around the fort in an effort to repel the invading forces. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned for him. The Hatakeyama quickly took control of three of his four fortresses, and one of Masamune's most important servants was killed in a duel with a Hatakeyama enemy.
Date Masamune attempted to defeat the enemy forces at Hitadori Bridge, but was forced to retreat to Motomiya Castle. Masamune and his army were sure that this was the end. They were vastly outnumbered, and they had lost the advantages they once had. Any chance they had of turning the tide of battle failed.
Survival of the fittest
It was supposed to be an easy victory for the Hatakeyama, but the next day brought many surprises. Instead of finally crushing their enemies, the Hatakeyama forces did not advance. In fact, much of the army packed up and went home because they had to defend their own lands against the invaders. The rest of the allied force was dismayed by this and retreated as well. Miraculously, Date Masamune had managed to survive a certain defeat, and he took advantage of his survival to take revenge on the Hatakeyama forces and their allies in the years to come.
The tactics of Date Masamune
The One-Eyed Dragon never stopped being aggressive, even as he grew older. It is said that he ordered his soldiers to shoot at their own forces in order to motivate them to fight harder. He also did not hesitate to eliminate generals and leaders in the middle of the battle to destroy the morale of the opposing soldiers. Sanada Yukimura was a famous samurai whom Masamune defeated on the battlefield. With the death of Sanada, the rest of his soldiers surrendered.
Masamune: an exceptional historical figure
Masamune was an extraordinary warrior, especially in a society that respected the code of Bushido and samurai honor above all else. Many other samurai have played a vital role in Japanese history, but none had the fire and rage that smoldered within him.