Sendai came as a surprise. After dawn-to-dusk train rides through the open fields of Tōhoku, all of a sudden there erupted this massive metropolis, and for a moment I felt as though I was back in central Tokyo (or one of the dozen central Tokyos).
Here was a serious city, and one identifiably of the South: the heat had returned with a vengeance, the humidity sweltered off the scales, and the trains became more crowded – and their occupants more grim in the face – in proportion to the southerly distance covered.
Sendai's image, captured in a train station window: giant Tanabata star festival streamers; Matsushima, to which we will return; and who is that fellow at the top with the crescent-shaped crest?
It doesn't take long to catch on that he and his headgear are something of an icon in the Sendai area. His contemporary guise as Miyagi's mascot – visible everywhere – seems to have altered his head to look like an onigiri, but still he stands on the governor's shoulder and scrutinizes everything.
He is the “one-eyed dragon”, Date Masamune (伊達 政宗), his image celebrated as though the city owes him its very existence – which might not be far from the truth. His story is a fascinating prism of Japan's chaotic age of inner conflict, and even more so of the different view of it you get from a tenacious Tōhoku perspective.