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Saigo Takamori (Takanaga) 西郷 隆盛(隆永) (1828-77)

Saigo Takamori

One of the most illustrious son of Kagoshima, Saigo Takamori was one of Satsuma samurai supporting the Meiji Restoration.

Saigo was an early opponent to the Tokugawa regime. He was exiled from 1859 to 1864, then returned to train Satsuma warriors. He became advisor to the new Meiji emperor and rejected the Westernization of Japan.

In 1873, while many senior statesmen like Ito, Okubo or Kido were abroad on the Iwakura Mission, Saigo pressed the government to invade Korea, so as to punish it for not opening relations with the new Meiji government. When the Iwakura Mission returned to Japan in September 1873, Saigo's plan was overturned.

Saigo took badly what he thought was an outright rejection of his ideas, and suffered a breakdown. He retired from the government with a group of dissident and went back to Kagoshima. He soon gathered supporters among disenchanted samurai and those having bad feeling against the government.

Saigo was a conservative, old-style samurai, who still lived with the values of honour and purpose. In January 1877, he led the Satsuma rebellion and attacked the government troops in Kumamoto with 40,000 men, mostly peasants armed with guns. The ensuing 6 weeks battle ended in a victory for the government's conscript army.

Saigo and only 400 of his men stayed loyal to him fought back to Kagoshima, where he committed suicide on 24 September 1877. He remains one of the most striking symbols of devotion to principle. He is often considered as the last real samurai to die as such.



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