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Saigo Takamori as One of Japan’s Most Distinctive Samurai

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Saigō was well known as ‘The Last Samurai’. He succeeded in the difficult task of overthrowing Tokugawa who led the Shogun’s and took control from the Emperor. Saigō returned all power to the Emperor and helped to establish the Meiji Restoration. However, being a new leader soon collided with his own values and beliefs as a firm follower of the code of conduct.

Saigō Takamori is considered one of the many great heroes of Japanese history. He had led the Meiji reforms and the creation of a type of army that ended the rule of daimyo. However, other displeased samurai in Satsuma viewed him as a symbolism of the country’s traditional righteousness and requested his guidance when in opposition to the Meiji state. He accepted the request and betrayed his domain lord. “In 1873, the government began to conscript commoners as soldiers, replacing the samurai”.

Saigō Takamori is known as one of Japan’s most distinctive samurai. He is still remembered today for his outstanding efforts which resulted in him successfully overthrowing the Tokugawa Shogunate. He was significant not only because he retrieved all power back to the emperor when he defeated Tokugawa and rendered him powerless but also drastically changed Japanese history by defining modern Japanese society and following the code of conduct. Wander Wisdom explains that with this quote, “Saigō Takamori is remembered both for his leading role in the Meiji Restoration that overthrew the shogunate in 1868 and for his unsuccessful rebellion against the new government less than a decade later”. This quote talks about the long-term effects of what Saigō did, how what he did is still important in this modern age, it is also highlights specific events such as the code of conduct which demonstrates broad knowledge of the Samurai and the Japanese culture and its importance. “Saigō from earliest manhood agitated for ‘restoration’. He felt the need to change the way history was playing out”. This quote alludes that Saigō was trying to evolve the Japanese society and create something more modern, even in this age Japan is well known for many interesting events in history such as the friction between Saigō Takamori and Tokugawa leyasu, however, the emperor’s power would not have been returned if it wasn’t for Saigō playing such a pivotal role.

According to National Geographic, “The samurai felt their status and prestige shrinking, as though they were becoming common citizens on a par with peasants if they did not correctly honour their country”. This confirms that Saigō understood that Japan was inevitably going to adapt/change, but he could not betray those who fought with him. The Meiji government called for an invasion of Korea, However, Saigō opposed to this and argued that Japan should use diplomacy, rather than turning to violence, and he offered to head a delegation himself. He suspected that Korea would attempt to assassinate him but believed that his death would be worthwhile if it had provided Japan with a true reason to condemn their neighbours. Unfortunately, the prime minister announced that it would be too dangerous for Saigō to travel to Korea as an emissary and forbade him from doing so. In complete disgust he resigned as army general, imperial councillor and commander the very next day.

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The most likely effect of the significant changes that occurred during this period could be how Saigō dishonoured his name by leading The Meji Restoration before beginning and leading a rebellion after his defeat in the political limelight of the Meiji government. Saigō failed to follow the basic Bushido Code which resulted in him being known at this period of time in history as a failure and tragic figure. However, the traditional process of seppuku revived his reputation. Still one hundred and fifty years since the Meji Restoration the spotlight is once again on the the last samurai. “From obscure origins in southwestern Japan, Saigō rose to the centre of the Japanese establishment before turning against it”. This quote brings to light the main fact that Saigō Takamori neglected to follow the four main principles of the Bushido Code, which forced him to commit seppuku in order to bring honour back to his name. This was a punishment for all samurai who had committed serious offenses, brought shame to themselves and their master or failed in war.

Saigō Takamori is known as a role model to the people in Japan and what he did still continues to inspire. Even though he died as a rebellion to his country, he still lives on as an honourable hero and has allowed people to view what happened from his perspective, he stood for what he believed in. According to Artelino. “Saigō Takamori was revered by the ordinary Japanese people as a hero. His consistent beliefs and attitudes have not lost any of its momentum”. The evidence enables an understanding of the event and has clearly portrayed how his heroism still lives on in Japanese history and worldwide teachings. What he did had a large effect on the way his people felt about him, but after he followed through with seppuku it made him even more respected by them than he was beforehand.

The factors that contributed to this tragic situation include important stages in Saigō’s life that shaped his strong beliefs and character, as mentioned in this quote. “Possessing all the samurai virtues—bravery, generosity, and excellent swordsmanship—he attracted friends and followers in great numbers. He was impatient with details, making decisions quickly and preferring action over argument; his natural disposition was probably reinforced by his education”. This means that Saigō Takamori was born an outgoing character, a confident type of person who wants their way and is willing to stand for what they believe in. However, this got him into a bit of trouble when he brought disgrace upon himself, his family, his country and the Bushido Code, which resulted in the only way for his honour to be returned which was through the process of seppuku. He died at the age of 49.

According to ThoughtCo, on September 24, 1877, at 3:45 am, the Emperor’s army launched its final assault in what is known as the Battle of Shiroyama. Saigō was shot through the femur in the last suicide charge and one of his companions decapitated him and hid it from the troops to preserve his honour. This confirms that Saigō did wrong and not only dishonoured his and family’s name by failing to follow the Bushido Code, but also dishonoured his people. However, the imperial troops managed to locate Saigō’s head, but later woodcut prints defined the rebel leader kneeling down in the seppuku process, but this was practically impossible due to his shattered leg. Although he made many mistakes throughout his life if it was not for what he strongly believed in and did history may have played out very differently. He affected Japanese history both positively and negatively.

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Saigo Takamori as One of Japan’s Most Distinctive Samurai. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 27, 2023, from
“Saigo Takamori as One of Japan’s Most Distinctive Samurai.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
Saigo Takamori as One of Japan’s Most Distinctive Samurai. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 Sept. 2023].
Saigo Takamori as One of Japan’s Most Distinctive Samurai [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2023 Sept 27]. Available from:
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