Historic letters found after being lost in tsunami

Above: Nobuhiro Utsumi displays letters written by warlord Date Masamune in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on Wednesday.

SENDAI (Japan) - TWO letters written by warlord Date Masamune were recovered recently, more than two months after they were washed away from a family home in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, by the March 11 tsunami.

Date lived from 1567-1636, and was first lord of the Sendai clan. His letters, which were made into decorative hanging scrolls by their current owner, Nobuhiro Utsumi, were kept in a wooden box in a storehouse. They were temporarily lost in the tsunami, which destroyed both Utsumi's house and the storehouse.

On May 31, Utsumi discovered the scrolls in debris on his neighbour's land when he was searching for his ancestors' ihai, or memorial tablets.

The letters, although discoloured by seawater, are in almost perfect condition. Utsumi rejoiced after he found them. "I thought they were lost forever," he said.

Utsumi, a 59-year-old dentist, is the 20th generation of his family in Minatocho, Ishinomaki, and can trace his family roots in town back 400 years.

Although it is unknown how his family came into possession of the letters, they have kept them as "Date's letters."

Sendai City Museum, which studies documents and other materials related to the Date family, said the letters were sent by Date to his second daughter Muu-hime. She married into the Ishikawa family, governors of what is now Kakuda, Miyagi Prefecture.

Kenichi Sato, 62, director of the museum, checked the letters after they were discovered. He confirmed that they were written by Date as they were addressed to "Omuu," the name of Date's daughter, and bear the signature "Mutsu," or Mutsunokami, governor of Mutsu Province, which was Date's title.

One of the letters was believed to have been sent from Sendai while the other originated in Edo.

One of the letters read: "I was glad that you gave me a farewell present before I went to Edo. I'll talk to you face-to-face when I come back at the end of the next year."

The other letter said, "I received your letter. It brings back fond memories and I'm relieved to hear that you are well."

Date was known as a superb, but somewhat ruthless, military tactician. He was all the more fearsome because of a missing eye, earning him the nickname "Dokuganryu," or "the one-eyed dragon."

The letters are believed to have been written by Date about two years after Muu-hime married at the age of 12. The letters indicate Date was concerned about his daughter.

"Date must have been just an ordinary father to his daughter," Utsumi said. "I'm really glad that the gift from my ancestors is safe."

-The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network