Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Episode 29 – The Great Saigo, Part 2

This week we have the second and final part of our series on Saigo Takamori, covering his rebellion against the government, his death, and his legacy. Tune in for one of the most famous stories in Japanese history!

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Ravina, Mark. The Last Samurai. 

Images (Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation)

Saigo Takamori and his officers in traditional dress, as depicted by the French Le Monde Illustre.

Saigo Takamori and his officers as depicted by the French Le Monde Illustre. Note that while some are wearing traditional garb, Saigo himself is wearing a Western officers uniform.

Saigo and his companions on the advance. Note the Western style military uniforms.

Saigo and his companions on the advance. Note the Western style military uniforms.

One of the bank notes issued by Saigo's government in Kagoshima during his rebellion.

One of the bank notes issued by Saigo’s government in Kagoshima during his rebellion.

Saigo's troops in an unidentified battle. Note both the banner (with the slogan of the rebellion, Shinsei Kotoku [A New Government of Great Virtue], emblazoned on it) and the Western-style weaponry being fired in the background.

Saigo’s troops in an unidentified battle. Note both the banner (with the slogan of the rebellion, Shinsei Kotoku [A New Government of Great Virtue], emblazoned on it) and the Western-style weaponry being fired in the background.

A contemporary Japanese illustrated newspaper depicting Imperial Japanese Army soldiers.

A contemporary Japanese illustrated newspaper depicting Imperial Japanese Army soldiers.

Soldiers  of the Imperial Japanese Army in the Kumamoto Garrison in 1877. The Kumamoto Garrison resisted Saigo's advance, buying time for the rest of the IJA to assemble and counterattack.

Soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army in the Kumamoto Garrison in 1877. The Kumamoto Garrison resisted Saigo’s advance, buying time for the rest of the IJA to assemble and counterattack.

The Battle of Tabaruzaka; Saigo's troops are on the right and those of the government are on the left.

The Battle of Tabaruzaka; Saigo’s troops are on the right and those of the government are on the left.

A contemporary photograph of the fortifications surrounding Shiroyama erected by the Imperial Japanese Army. The fortifications were designed to prevent Saigo from escaping, but he was able to do so anyway and flee south to Kagoshima for a final battle.

A contemporary photograph of the fortifications surrounding Shiroyama erected by the Imperial Japanese Army. The fortifications were designed to prevent Saigo from escaping, but he was able to do so anyway and flee south to Kagoshima for a final battle.

A decade after his death, the Meiji government rehabilitated Saigo and erected this statue in his honor at Ueno Park in Tokyo (site of one of his victories during the Boshin War).

A decade after his death, the Meiji government rehabilitated Saigo and erected this statue in his honor at Ueno Park in Tokyo (site of one of his victories during the Boshin War).

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Episode 28 – The Great Saigo, Part 1

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Episode 30 – A Review of Shogun

1 Comment

  1. Jason

    When I visited Ueno Park I found the statue to Saigo Takamori very interesting. The reason is because I grew up in Virginia surrounded by the cult of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. Not too far from where I grew up there are 2 high schools named for Robert E. Lee, as well as schools named for Stonewall Jackson, and J.E.B. Stewart (which is about to be renamed). And i’m not even mentioning all the highways and roads named for various Confederate officers.

    I think there are several parallels between the two. Both Lee and Saigo were upstanding officers for their respective countries and arguably contributed to the development of their countries (Lee’s service as an engineer and in the Mexican War, Saigo as a leader in the Bakumatsu). In the Lost Cause historiography the Confederate leaders are fighting to preserve their “genteel way of life” against a changing and industrializing world similar to how Saigo was fighting to preserve what he believed was the samurai way of life. I also think there are problematic aspects to their legacies. Lee and the Confederacy fought for slavery and white supremacy and had Saigo triumphed how many millions of Japanese would have had their lives and rights constrained thanks to the samurai retaining their “privileges”?

    Do you think those are fair thoughts or am I way off in left field on this one?

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