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Cool Japanese Samurai / Saigo Takamori (西郷 隆盛) / Meiji Restoration

(The Statue of Saigo Takamori, in Ueno Park Tokyo)

Saigo Takamori (Takanaga) (西郷 隆盛(隆永), January 23, 1828 – September 24, 1877) was one of the most influential samurai in Japanese history, living during the late Edo Period and early Meiji Era. He has been dubbed the last true samurai. He was born Saigō Kokichi (西郷 小吉), and received the given name Takamori in adulthood. He wrote poetry under the name Saigō Nanshū (西郷 南洲).
(Saigo Takamori in French-inspired uniform.)

Saigo Takamori was born on December 7 in the lunar calendar, on the tenth year of the Bunsei era (January 23, 1828), in Kagoshima in the Satsuma domain (present-day Kagoshima Prefecture). Saigō served as a low-ranking samurai official in his early career. He was recruited to travel to Edo in 1854 to assist Satsuma Daimyo Shimazu Nariakira in promoting reconciliation and closer ties between the Tokugawa shogunate and the Imperial court (公武合体).
(Saigo Takamori (with tall helmet) inspecting Choshu troops at the Battle of Toba-Fushimi.)

Upon assuming command of the Satsuma troops based in Kyoto, Saigo quickly formed an alliance with samurai from Aizu domain against the forces of rival Choshu domain, and prevented that domain from seizing control of the Kyoto Imperial Palace in the Hamaguri Gomon Incident. In August 1864, Saigo was one of the military commanders of the punitive expedition mounted by the Tokugawa bakufu against Choshu over the incident, but in secret he was conducting negotiations with Choshu leaders, which later led to the Satcho Alliance. When the Tokugawa bakufu sent a second punitive expedition against Choshu in August 1864, Satsuma remained neutral.

In November 1867, Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu resigned, returning power to the Emperor in what came to be known as the Meiji Restoration. However, Saigō was one of the most vocal and vehement opponents to the negotiated solution, demanding that the Tokugawa be stripped of their lands and special status. His intransigence was one of the major causes of the subsequent Boshin War.

During the Boshin War, Saigo led the imperial forces at the Battle of Toba-Fushimi, and then led the imperial army toward Edo, where he accepted the surrender of Edo Castle from Katsu Kaishu.
(The Seikanron debate. Saigo Takamori is sitting in the center. 1877 painting.)

Although Okubo Toshimichi and others were more active and influential in establishing the new Meiji government, Saigo retained a key role, and his cooperation was essential in the abolition of the han system and the establishment of a conscript army. In spite of his humble background, in 1871 he was left in charge of the caretaker government during the absence of the Iwakura Mission (1871–72).

Saigo initially disagreed with the modernization of Japan and the opening of commerce with the West. He famously opposed the construction of a railway network, insisting that money should rather be spent on military modernization.

Saigo did insist, however, that Japan should go to war with Korea in the Seikanron debate of 1873 due to Korea's refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Emperor Meiji as head of state of the Empire of Japan, and insulting treatment meted out to Japanese envoys attempting to establish trade and diplomatic relations. At one point, he offered to visit Korea in person and to provoke a casus belli by behaving in such an insulting manner that the Koreans would be forced to kill him. However, the other Japanese leaders strongly opposed these plans, partly from budgetary considerations, and partly from realization of the weakness of Japan compared with the western countries from what they had witnessed during the Iwakura Mission. Saigo resigned from all of his government positions in protest and returned to his hometown of Kagoshima.

By TS on May 25, 2012
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tag : Samurai, Cool_Japanese



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Author:T. SATOH