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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 (西郷隆盛)and the Seinan Revolt

Part 5 

King of Kagoshima

 OPINION is divided on the question of whether Saigō, after resigning from office, intended to make a comeback. Some historians believe that Saigō hurried back home secretly resolved to come to power by force of arms. However, he seems to have shown no sign of having such an intention during his life after returning to Kagoshima. For instance, a poem thought to have been composed by him the year of his return is to the effect that he suffered a defeat in the matter of conquering Korea, but later ages would surely understand that he was right. There is no sign that he bore ill will against the government and hoped for a comeback. Instead, the poem reflects a composed mind believing in the justice of history's judgement. In truth, after returning home, Saigō lived in comfortable retirement, free from worldly cares, sometimes going hunting in the fields and mountains together with his pet dog, sometimes relaxing in hot spring resorts. He occasionally helped with the farming, and at times he shared the pleasures of composing poems with his friends.  

Perhaps he really wanted to live such an undeniably pleasant life as a private individual. But the situation would not allow  him to do so. As was mentioned before, 300 members of the Imperial Guards, out of their respect for him, abandoned their official posts in the capital to return to their homes. Moreover, 300 officers of the capital police force, which consisted almost exclusively of former samurai from Satsuma Domain, had also resigned to return to Kagoshima. 

These people all hoped for the conquest of Korea, and circum stances from which he could not escape obliged Saigō to be their champion. Also, the fact that Saigō was revered as the leader of the former samurai in Kagoshima meant that he was de facto the supreme leader of the prefecture The prefectural officials were all former samurai of Satsuma; there were none from other prefectures. Even the prefectural governor and policemen were no exception. Kagoshima, in short was a dictatorship of the former samurai of Satsuma. When domains were replaced by prefectures in 1871, the governor of each prefecture was appointed from a different prefecture from that he was to govern. In addition, since the government had declared freedom of choice in occupations, prefectural officials belonging to the class of commoners (heimin) were on the increase in many prefectures. Kagoshima Prefecture was an exception. It was a "kingdom" of former samurai, and whether he liked it or not Saigō was "king."

Circumstances outside of the prefecture also worked to put an end to Saigō's retirement and force him to rise again. For example, Etō Shinpei, who had resigned from the State Council at the same time as Saigō and retired to his home prefecture of Saga, led 3,000 former samurai from the prefecture in revolt against the government in February 1874, the year after his resignation. He raised an army for the purpose of driving the anti-conquest faction out of government and beginning the conquest of Korea. When Etō rose in revolt, he expected that Saigō would also rise. But Saigō did not. 

When the revolt broke out, Shimazu Hisamitsu, the former lord of Satsuma Domain who was then in Tokyo as an advisor to the Cabinet, hurried back to Kagoshima Prefecture and summoned Saigō, who was then relaxing at a hot spring resort near the southern tip of Satsuma Peninsula. The former lord ordered Saigō to subdue the rebellion. But Saigō, refused on the spot, saying, "What does the government have an army and navy for? It's no longer my concern."  

Saigō's words can be taken as showing sympathy for the insurgent troops. But they can also be interpreted as meaning that he just no longer wanted to be in the government's service. 

Defeated by the government army just a week or so after the outbreak of the revolt, Etō secretly fled to Kagoshima to ask Saigō's help. Saigō  sternly turned him down. Arrested on Shikoku, Etō was executed in April of the next year, 1875. By that time Ōkubo had gathered the substance of power into his own hands. Some of the former samurai in Kagoshima criticized Saigō for having let his comrade die without raising a hand. One of them reproachingly asked Saigō why he had not sympathized with Etō. In an indignant, decisive voice Saigō is said to have answered, "There is no need for me to do so with a man who flees leaving his 3,000 men to their fate." To Saigō the question of whether or not he should have supported the revolt was probably of secondary importance. In Saigō's own philosophy of life and his sense of moral justice, Et-6's flight was probably inexcusable. 

In June 1874, four months after Etō's revolt, two schools were established in the city of Kagoshima at Saigō's prompting. One was popularly called the Rifle Corps School, the other the Artillery School. Both schools had a core of former samurai who had returned from the capital. Although managed at the prefecture's expense, in character the schools seemed more like vehicles for Saigō's private army or ideological education institutes rather than prefectural schools. The training focused on military drill, but also covered the Chinese classics and moral discourses to inspire students with the ideology of traditional Bushido, which emphasized loyalty, among other things. 

With the object of training students as army and naval officers, Saigō also established a military academy in the city of Kagoshima, funded with the bonuses granted him by the government in recognition of his distinguished service in the Meiji Restoration. The establishment of this school resulted from his idea that he would not have received the bonuses had it not been for those who had died in battle for the Meiji Restoration. He regretted that their deaths had meant his reward. The sons of former samurai studied at the military academy. Under its principal, Major General Shinohara, the school had a teaching staff of former members of the Imperial Guards and two foreigners employed by the prefecture. 

Returning to the Rifle Corps School and the Artillery School, after their establishment branch schools were opened in various places throughout Kagoshima Prefecture. Expanding rapidly, the two schools with their branches had 30,000 students just a year after their founding. The students ranged widely in age, from boys to men in their 40s. But they were all former samurai. The student of those "private" schools established by Saigō devoted themselves to military preparations with the definite intention of rising in arms. Saigō neither prohibited their military preparations nor expressed any objection to their idea of rising in arms. However, it seems that whenever they showed signs of recklessness, Saig-5 calmed them down by, for instance, reasoning that the time was not yet ripe. Whether or not Saigō had any intention of rising in arms himself, the students of the schools were convinced that their champion would rise when conditions were right. Thus, the whole of Kagoshima was turning into a barracks for Saigō's private army.