Today is the birthday of Saigo Takamori (1828-1877), also known as the Last Samurai. He was born in Kagoshima in the south of Japan on Kyushu island. Though born into a poor samurai family, he still received the requisite military and educational training needed to be a samurai warrior.
He was a supporter of the imperial court, primarily involved in the overthrow of the Tokugawa Shogunate, commanding military forces in Kyoto, the imperial capital the time. He becomes a national hero by helping to firmly establish the Meiji Restoration. In 1871 he was convinced to join the government and was given command over the Imperial Guard. In 1872 he was promoted to general. He later rebelled against the very government he restored because of its many weaknesses and its undermining of samurai culture. Saigo left the emperor’s service with thousands of his samurai supporters, specifically when his plan to invade Korea was rejected (1873) returning to Kagoshima.
Upon his return to the south of Japan, he established many schools to train samurai and some 30,000 young men flocked to Kagoshima. This worried the Meiji court, fearing a samurai rebellion. In the Satsuma rebellion which followed in 1877, Saigo’s samurai forces faced a much larger conscripted army with more modern weaponry. After six weeks of fighting, Saigo was wounded in the hip; he performed seppuku. The Meiji court was victorious. This signaled the beginning of the modernization of Japan and the end of the samurai tradition. Saigo historically stands at this nexus.