The biggest turn-off might have been that Lord Date has been dead for 373 years, having flourished during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period.
In fact, he enjoys a celebrity in today’s Japan that would be the envy of many actors or rock stars. Books, television dramas, films, animations, comics and video games examine his life — and he is only one of several celebrity medieval samurai in the limelight. Japan is in the throes of a feudal warlord boom whose heroes are not smooth-cheeked young men but scarred, disease-riddled, brutal warriors whose kind died out centuries ago.
Samurai dramas have long been a part of Japanese culture, enjoyed mainly by middle-aged men. What is new are the female warlord enthusiasts — Rekijo — or “History Ladies”.
Miyuki Isobe, 37, who has made a pilgrimage to Lord Date’s grave in the northern city of Sendai, said: “He lived during a time of wars, before firm government. His dreams of power were never realised but he did not give up. I like Masamune Date very much.” At Jidaiya, the history bookshop in Tokyo where Ms Isobe works, they noticed the change. “In 2006, seven out of ten of our customers were elderly men. Now 50 per cent are women and most of our sales are to people aged 20 to 40, ” she said.
The Dai-ichi Life Research Institute says that “history-related” goods and services are now worth £483 million a year in Japan. Travel agents offer tours to sites associated with feudal heroes, and Jidaiya is a centre for History Ladies from all over the country.
The shop hosts evenings where Rekijo can discuss their favourite warlords. Last night [they held their first “history dating party”, where unattached Rekijo met bachelor Rekishi — History Gentlemen. Ms Isobe said sales of history books increase during economic hard times as Japanese seek lessons in endurance from the past.
Television, particularly the recent year-long historical dramas by NHK, the national broadcaster, have also played their part. The trend may also be a reaction to the recent emergence of a tribe known as soshokukei danshi or “herbivorous men” who are gentle, foppish, unaggressive and not interested in traditional masculine pursuits such as fast cars, drinking — and women.
Eri Kohinata, 22, believes that young women like the discipline, sense of duty — and rippling, armour-clad torsos — of men of the feudal age. “Men these days are wimps, but men in history are courageous and manly,” she said.