Daibutsu, Kamakura

Daibutsu, Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura, June 2010. There were thousands of school kids visiting that day. It was still great fun.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori

The movie of the same name is loosely based on these events from the rebellion that Saigo led.

The book is about one of the most important samurai during the time of the Meiji Restoration. Other than Sakamoto Ryoma, Saigo was possibly the person more responsible then any other for the overthrow of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Saigo Takamori was a low level samurai from Satsuma domain. He rose to importance and eventually was one of the leaders of the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogun. Saigo led the imperial armies to victory over the Tokugawa forces in 1868. Later, he was one of the top statesmen in the new Meiji government.

Saigo retired in the early 1870's and returned to rural life in Satsuma. Saigo was a proponent of the Confucian philosophy of benevolent and caring governance. He promoted a mix of traditional values and the adoption of the good aspects of modern society from the west.

However, Saigo began to become disillusioned with the new Meiji government. He felt they were not sufficiently preserving the cultural values of Japan in their race to modernize and adopt western cultural practices. The final blow came when the the Meiji government stripped the samurai of all that made them samurai--tradition, honor, glory, and feudal privilege.

When the government outlawed the carrying of swords, many samurai throughout Japan, and especially in Satsuma, could take no more and they rebelled. The largest and last of the rebellions was led by Saigo Takamori in 1877. Saigo's rebels fought the Imperial army throughout the southern Kyushu area.

But their fight was hopeless from the beginning. The Imperial army was to large and to well equipped. Saigo and his last band of holdouts were defeated on a hill outside of Kagoshima city. In true samurai spirit, with defeat certain and Saigo wounded, he had his head cutoff by one of his last samurai fighters.

This was a good book. It not only describes the history of the time but also goes in to some detail Saigo's philosophy.

The book I read about Aizu referenced this rebellion.  Many of the Aizu samurai revelled in the government crushing Saigo's Rebellion.  Many Aizu samurai joined the Meiji Government forces to fight Saigo and his rebels.  They felt that this was their chance to avenge what happened to Aizu.  When in it was announced that the rebellion was crushed and Saigo was dead, there was much celebrating among the former Aizu samurai.


  1. I have also read this book. I really liked it. I first bought it after I saw the movie and thought the book was going to be a cheap rip-off, but was happily surprised.

  2. I agree. Besides, usually it is the movie that is a cheap rip-off of a book

  3. If you did not catch NHK's Atsuhime you would love the depiction of Saigo Takamori.

  4. I did watch Atsuhime. Good show. I liked Sakamoto Ryomoa's character as well. I am currently watching Tenchijin.