Episode 136 – The Fall of the Samurai, Part 19

This week, Saigo Takamori is going to sidetrack the whole government by pulling the idea of invading Korea off the shelf, sparking a political crisis. Once the dust from this debate has settled, the political landscape will have changed once again, and the battle lines for a final showdown over the fate of Japan will be drawn.

Listen to the episode here.


Lu, David. Japan: A Documentary History, Vol II.

Ravina, Mark. The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori.

Harootunian, Harry, et al., eds. The Sources of the Japanese Tradition.


During the Tokugawa era, Japan and Korea maintained very cordial relations, and visiting Korean ambassadors enjoyed celebrity status. This print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (courtesy of Ukiyo-e.org) depicts visiting Korean ambassdors being greeted by the shogun.
The debates over the Korean invasion created a massive rift within the government and resulted in the resignation of Saigo Takamori and his supporters. Here, the events of the final imperial conference where the invasion was decided against are depicted. Notice how Westernized the government already is by this point; all the major figures except the emperor are depicted in Western clothing.
After being forced out of the government, Itagaki Taisuke would spend the rest of his life agitating for representative government. In 1882, he was nearly assassinated by a supporter of the government, an event dramatized in this print.
Conscription physicals like the one shown here proved ccontroversial at first for a population not used to this kind of invasive treatment. By the early 20th century, when this photo was taken, they were commonplace and considered something of a right of passage.
After the slow abolition of the samurai class, the military was one of the few career paths open to ex-samurai. Much of the army and navy leadership was dominated by samurai and their descendants. Here a group of samurai officers are depicted in 1877; notice that the former symbols of samurai status have all been replaced by Western affectations.
The national police force was another common vocation for ex-samurai. This group of members of the Tokyo Metropolitan PD, shown in 1888,