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Editor's Note:

With the permission of The East magazine, we will provide about six episodes of an article published in the February 1978 issue of the magazine. The East Magazine's website is:  www.theeast.co.jp  

There are statues of Saigo Takamori in Kagoshima and in Ueno Park.

Saigo Takamori (jand the Seinan Revolt

Part 3

Only One Died 

It was on the 13th day of September, the month following the Cabinetfs decision to dispatch Saigō to Korea, that the observation mission led by Iwakura Tomomi returned to Japan after its long journey to America and Europe. However, two members of the mission, Finance Minister Ōkubo Toshimichi and Councillor Kido Koin, had returned to Japan earlier, in May and July, respectively. Kido, who had been in contact with his comrades in Japan during his journey and had been informed of the countryfs domestic situation, was deeply dissatisfied with the governmentfs conduct during the delegationfs absence from the country. 

Before the missionfs departure, leading envoys and key government officials remaining behind had exchanged promises to change neither personnel nor institutions during the delegationfs visit to the West. But the promise had been broken. During the missionfs absence, for example, three new members had been appointed to the State Council. Besides, Saigō had been appointed to the post of supreme commander of the military forces. When Kido was informed of this during his visit to the West, he grew furious with rage, saying, gIn civilized nations, the sovereign usually holds the post of supreme commander. How could it be that Saigō is supreme commander!h 

When he returned to Japan, Kido was surprised at Saigōfs influence in the government. Like Ōkubo, another member of the mission, Kido through his year and a half of observation in Western countries had been moved by the fact that those nations were based on heavy industry. And he had carried back the firm conviction that Japan should first develop its industry and, at the same time, make military preparations. 

However, he arrived in Japan to find the nation excited with debate over the conquest of Korea. Both Kido and Ōkubo were of the opinion that Japan was now in no position to fight a foreign war. Instead, they suggested, priority should be given to domestic development. 

It is true that both Kido and Ōkubo had returned to Japan before the August cabinet meeting which approved the dispatch of Saigō to Korea. But Kido, aware that he would be in the minority, did not attend. Ōkubo as finance minister was not entitled to attend. As a matter of fact, Ōkubo had been repeatedly invited by Chancellor Sanjō to join the State Council. However, he had declined the offer. Both Kido and Ōkubo were determined to take a wait and-see attitude until the return of the other members of the Iwakura Mission and then settle the matter once and for all in a confrontation with Saigōfs faction. Iwakura was de facto leader of the government at that time. This was why the emperor, while sanctioning the August cabinet decision, ordered its official announcement delayed until after Iwakurafs return. 

This situation greeted Iwakura upon his arrival. Although Iwakura was now back in the country, a cabinet meeting to give final approval to Saigōfs mission to Korea was left suspended. Saigō began to grow impatient and urged Sanjō to open the council. However, Sanjō avoided giving a positive answer on some pretext or other,

By October 11, a full month after Iwakurafs return, Saigō could wait no longer. He wrote a letter to Sanjō: gSince it is a fact that imperial sanction has been granted in the matter of the dispatch of my humble self as an envoy, if it were withdrawn at this stage, imperial edicts would be regarded as without authority by the public. I believe that kind of thing could never happen, but I am writing to you in order to make sure of it. . . If the decision were ever revoked, I would simply have no alternative but to express my apologies to my patriotic friends with my death.h 

The expression gpatriotic friendsh must have referred to the imperial guardsmen who followed Saigō and other former samurai who looked to him for support. Saigō earnestly wished to meet the expectations of those gpatriotic friends.h 

As this letter suggests, his enthusiasm for his visit to Korea was tremendous. Was he really prepared and determined to die in Korea? With this question in mind, even a mere glance at a few of the deeds of the first half of his life leaves me unable to say anything but, gHe was.h 

In the 5th year of the Ansei Era (1858), 15 years before Saigō wrote his letter to Chancellor  Sanjō, Lord Shimazu Nariakira met an untimely death in his domain. His retainer Saigō was 31. This lord of Satsuma Domain had given Saigō an important position, weighty duties for one born into a low-ranking samurai family. Saigō was in Kyoto at the time of his lordfs death charged with a secret mission. When he was informed that his lord had died, Saigō is said to have cried aloud, his stout body trembling. He had served this lord famed for wisdom without sparing himself.

With the loss of his master, Saigō had also lost the will to live. He decided to hurry back to Satsuma and follow his lord in death by committing ritual suicide before the lordfs grave. 

With impassioned sincerity, however, a priest called Gesshō dissuaded his friend Saigō from his intention. The priest Gesshō shared a common purpose with Saigō through anti-shogunate political activities in Kyoto. Gesshō admonished Saigō, asking him if following the lord to the grave would really show loyalty. The priest continued that bearing the wishes of the deceased in mind, Saigō should make strenuous efforts all the more, and that Saigō himself knew it better than anyone else. Moved by Gesshōfs true-hearted words, Saigō pulled himself together and made up his mind to exert himself to achieve his departed lordfs wish to reform the national polity. 

Several months later, with the vigorous suppression of anti-shogunate elements by Ii Naosuke, the chief minister of the shogunate, the shogunatefs forces stole near Gesshō, who was an important contact between anti-shogunate samurai and the Imperial Court. Out of a desire to rescue the priest from danger, Saigō secretly spirited the priest away to Satsuma. Since the death of Lord Nariakira, however, the situation in Satsuma had changed considerably, and Saigō no longer received such favorable treatment from the domain authorities. Informed that he had sheltered a man wanted by the shogunate, the authorities ordered Saigō to immediately send Gesshō to Hyuga Province, the present Miyazaki Prefecture. As he gave the order, Saigō felt ashamed of his inability to protect his friend. 

When notified of the order, the priest said to Saigō in a quiet voice, gI have nobody to rely on but you. If I am to arrive in Hyuga only to be turned over to the hands of shogunate officials, I have a decision.h 

Understanding immediately what this decision meant, Saigō replied, gIf you are determined to do so, I, too, am determined.h 

Late at night on the day when the order to exile the priest was issued, a canoe was seen pulling out into Kinko Bay, or what is today Kagoshima Bay. Aboard the boat were Gesshō, Saigō and four of his followers. It was when the boat had reached some 12 kilometers (7½miles) offshore that Saigō stretched out his big arms to Gesshō, held him in his grasp, and jumped into the dark waters. 

The two men sank into the sea, each holding the other, but were pulled up into the boat before long by the followers. Feeble Gesshō was already dead. The pulse of stout Saigō could still be felt, although faintly. He was revived only after frantic treatment by his followers. 

The fact that Saigō lived while Gesshō died weighed heavily on his heart for long afterwards. Looking back on the past, a friend of Saigō later said that after the event Saigōfs mood seemed to be one of eagerness for death. To Saigō this probably meant that he continued to seek significant challenge in his life, but without being greedy for life itself. In other words, he was always willing to sacrifice his life without regret when the time came. This was Saigōfs character, and his popularity among Japanese owes a lot to it. I think that his determination to sacrifice his life as an envoy to Korea was not tainted by even the slightest falsehood.

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