If it is about the most influential samurai in feudal Japanese history, the roads will point out to Saigo Takamori. He was one of the three men who were acknowledged for their contributions that led to the Meiji Restoration period in Japan.
He was best known for being the last true samurai and was a part of the elite and noble military officers. They ruled during the late Edo through the early part of the Meiji period.
During his younger years, he was better known by the names Saigo Kokichi, Kichibe, or Kichinosuke. However, upon reaching adulthood, he was given the name Saigo Takamori. He was also credited for his work on poems using the pseudonym Saigo Nanshu.
Saigo Takamori Younger Years
He was born under the Satsuma Domain which is now the modern-day Kagoshima Prefecture. Following the Japanese calendar, he was born in the 10th year of the Bunsei era.
As a Japanese boy, he was considered to be a giant, standing six feet tall and weighing a hefty 200 pounds. He belonged to a family of samurai; and although it was a low-level rank, it was still an honorable one.
The Saigo clan has an official status which is the Jokashi (full samurai) but they lived as Goshi (rural samurai). As a part of the samurai class, his family should have lived with a stipend, yet in practice, they were poor. The main responsibility of his clan was to serve as the feudal lord’s bodyguard.
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A Man of Character
As a samurai warrior, Saigo Takamori possesses all the necessary virtues of the samurai these include the following:
- Personal Motto in Japanese which was Kei-ten; ai-jin which is about respecting heaven and loving others.
- He was a friendly individual. He attracted a lot of people and followers.
- He was a brave warrior
- Was a generous man
- Impatient with details that makes him quick to decide. He was a man of action.
- Trained in Zen Buddhism and Neo Confucianism under Wang Yangming
- He was an excellent swordsman
Saigo Takamori Life during the Edo Period
Saigo Takamori was enlisted to travel to Edo to work under Shimazu Nariakira, who was part of the Kobu Gattai movement. The goal of this movement was to promote closer ties between the Tokugawa Shogunate and the Imperial Court.
However, his function as an assistant to Shimazu Nariakira came to an abrupt end when his Daimyo suddenly died.
Being unprotected, Saigo was hunted down and exiled to Amami Oshima island. However, his service was again called for, only to be banished again to another remote island in Okinoerabu. This was near the island where he was previously exiled.
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With the new Satsuma Daimyo, Shimazu Hisamitsu he granted Saigo Takamori pardon. He also gave him the responsibility of handling the domain’s interest in the Imperial Court.
Saigo Takamori was very vocal about his beliefs. He believed that Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu should be punished by having his domain and special privileges are taken away from him. This bull-headed determination is what started the Boshin War.
Saigo Takamori At Boshin War
Saigo Takamori led the Imperial forces during the Battle of Toba-Fushimi. After he led the army towards Edo, they became victorious and he was able to conquer Edo Castle which was protected by the Shogun’s Army Minister, Katsu Kaishu.
He was a Japanese statesman and naval engineer who lived during the same period as Takamori.
Administrative Role Of Saigo Takamori
Saigo Takamori assumed a major role in the replacement of the Satsuma Han system which reformed the way things were run under the Empire of Japan.
Under this reform, all the Daimyo or feudal lords were required to revert the authority to Emperor Meiji and his house. This process took place in several stages that formed a new centralized Meiji Japanese government. It replaced the old feudal system. Simply put, a new oligarchy form of government emerged.
However, the domains were renamed as prefectures. Suffice to say that the most important effect of phasing out of the Satsuma Han system was it built the foundation of modern Japan after the Meiji Restoration.
Each of these domains was allowed to keep ten percent of tax revenues. Taxes were taken from actual rice production. The amount collected as a whole was greater than those under the Shogunate government.
In other words, the Daimyo had become government employees yet were still given their rights to rule the military troops who were under them.
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Accomplishment before the Age of 40
Before he reached the age of 40, Saigo Takamori has achieved a lot for a man of his age. His achievements include:
- Commander of the Satsuma Han (fief) forces stationed in Kyoto. Kyoto back then was the Imperial capital.
- Decision maker for his own Han
- Wide range of connections among the Imperial loyalist. He ensured the supremacy of the Imperial court over the Japanese nation
- Saigo Takamori was appointed to the Council of State
- Special envoy to Korea
- He was one of the main leaders responsible for overthrowing the Shogunate government
- Opened his private school, offering military science and physical training
Saigo Takamori was better known for being the last true samurai due to his persistence of pushing for the modernization of Japan. During that period, such conviction was truly respected. Japan was having its own identity crisis as a nation.
Saigo Takamori was trying to introduce the concept that as a nation, Japan will still remain as Japan, but is willing to embrace the coming of a new age.
By participating in such changes, he was actually introducing something innovative as early as the early 1800s.
Saigo Takamori’s End
Saigo’s army marched towards Tokyo to protest their grievances against the government. A full-scale war took place that lasted about six months.
The war resulted in Saigo Takamori’s death where he was severely wounded. One of his loyal lieutenants took Saigo’s life by beheading him. The failure of Saigo’s rebellion in effect caused his bitter end.
Image Source: Edoardo Chiossone [Public domain]