On this day in 1828, the famous Japanese samurai warrior Saigō Takamori was born in Kagoshima. He went on to lead troops of the Satsuma region as they fought their rivals Chōshū, and opposed the opening and modernising of Japan in the Meiji Restoration of 1868, and the ruling Tokugawa Bakufu. He was a leader of the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion against the Meiji Government. Takamori was fighting against Western encroachment and strove to maintain the ‘old ways’.
Takamori is perhaps best known as the basis for Ken Watanabe’s character in the 2003 film ‘The Last Samurai’. It’s a great film and whilst understandably not historically accurate, it does give an insight into the idea of the ‘last samurai’. Takamori was striving to keep what he thought was a defining feature of Japanese national identity: the samurai. The samurai were the last bastion of an era of isolation which left Japan untouched by foreign powers for hundreds of years. The moment Commodore Perry’s boat arrived in Japan, the samurai saw the beginning of the end. Whilst they failed, and the Meiji Restoration abolition of samurai endured, the samurai remain an intrinsic part of Japanese history and culture. When examining Japanese attitudes to battle in World War Two, and even modern debates over land ownership with China, we can see the residue of the samurai mentality.