Date Kuninao (伊達邦直)

Kuninao DATE (November 2, 1835 - January 12, 1891) was a head of the Iwadeyama Date family, Sendai Domain Sept in the end of Edo Period, who devoted himself to development of Hokkaido after Meiji Restoration and laid the foundation of Tobetsu-cho. Owing to his outstanding achievements he was bestowed with a court rank of Shogoi (Senior Fifth Rank) and is enshrined in Tobetsu-jinja Shrine and Hokkaido Kaitaku-jinja Shrine. Masato DATE, his grandson, had conferred on him the Baronage owing to Kuninao's achievements. Kunishige DATE, who was the fifteenth head of the Watari-Date family, contributed to building Date-mura Village in Usu-gun County (present-day Date City in Hokkaido) and was therefore raised to Baron, was his younger brother by blood.

Kuninao was born as the first son to 義監 DATE and his wife Rin in Iwadeyama-jo Castle in Tamatsukuri-gun County, Mutsu Province (the future Rikuzen Province). His childhood name was Tachi, and his common name 英橘.

During Meiji Restoration, by the order of the head clan that participated in Ouetsu Reppan Domei (known as Northern Alliance), he battled with the Imperial Army. He won a battle in Yamagata and made distinguished war service, but was defeated in the end because many of his allies had surrendered to the Imperial Army.

After the war the amount of his stipend was reduced from 14,000 koku to 65 koku, his castle was confiscated, and his vassals were deprived of the social status of samurai class. His vassals, who were no longer samurai, were ordered to take up farming again, but Kuninao, fearing that they would lose their means of livelihood, decided to volunteer for development of Hokkaido that the new government was promoting, using money made by selling his personal properties. Kuninao's application for permission being accepted, he was ordered to govern Sorachi-gun County in Ishikari Province in 1869. However, as the Sorachi-gun County was located inland, which caused difficulty in transporting goods for example, Kuninao applied for permission to be relocated to a coastal area. Since the application for relocation was not accepted, Ken AZUMA who was karo (chief retainer) appealed to Daijokan (Grand Council of State) again, which brought him to house arrest on the ground of his unscrupulous behavior.

In December in the same year, Kuninao, having ordered his vassals to conduct a field survey in advance, visited Hokkaido himself the following year and conducted a field investigation based on the results of the preceding survey. Since the government's specification of the settlement site was quite sketchy, they needed to negotiate with the Hokkaido Development Commissioner which was the local government, as to the exact place to develop. The Sorachi-gun County was no promising place for land reclamation, and therefore, he negotiated and gained permission to borrow a landing place in Shippu, Atsuta-gun County (present-day Shippu, Atsuta-ku Ward, Ishikari City).

He recruited those who are interested in Iwadeyama and left for Hokkaido on March 2, 1871. The number of immigrants was about 180. However, Shippu had such a bad type of soil and a lot of sandy areas that crops did not grow well there. As the shipped food supply did not reach them, Kuninao's party were in extreme poverty and pleaded to the Hokkaido Development Commission, thereby getting permission to relocate the reclamation site from Michitomi HIGASHIKUZE, Hokkaido Development Commissioner, who came to inspect Shippu. Kuninao ordered Ken AZUMA and others to find an alternate place, and concluded based on their survey that Tobetsu was suitable, and got permission for relocation from the Hokkaido Development Commission. Having made a plan of relocating the site to Tobetsu in 1872, Kuninao returned to Iwadeyama to recruit immigrants to Hokkaido again. The pioneers of the second immigration were 182 in number and, after having joined the first party, engaged in developing Tobetsu. The pioneers of the third immigration in 1879, reached 250 in number, and again, Kuninao took charge of recruiting them. In that year it was newly decided that Tobetsu needed a kocho (head official of the settlement), and Ken AZUMA, the former Karo, took the job.

Upon establishment of the Development Commissioner Tobetsu Office, Kuninao was appointed official of "Kaitaku-nanatozoku, kaitakushi-kangyo-ka-Tobetsu-zaikin" (literally, Development 7th grade, Industry Encouragement Service at Tobetsu, Development Commission). On February 26, 1881, he was appointed sub-second army lieutenant, and an additional post of Kaitaku-nanatozoku (literally, Development 7th grade) in March, and was given Jurokui (Junior Sixth Rank). In 1882, his position was changed into the Ministry of Army, and in May, 1885, he became a second ex-legionary lieutenant in the army. Even after that he conducted a field research of reclaimed land in various places, but passed away in January, 1891. His child 基理 also died in May in the same year.

In August the next year, Kuninao's old retainers made a request to the Ministry of Home Affairs to found Aso-jinja Shrine (the future Tobetsu-jinja Shrine), thereby enshrining Kuninao. In October the next year his grandchild, Masato, was conferred the Baronage on the ground of Kuninao's achievements in developing Hokkaido and was thus raised to the peerage. In November 1915, a court rank of Shogoi (Senior Fifth Rank) was conferred posthumously on Kuninao. In 1940, in commemoration of 2600 years of the Imperial reign Kuninao was enshrined in Hokkaido Kaitaku-jinja Shrine.

[Original Japanese]