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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
In the meantime the central government, now under Ōkubo's control, stepped up its suppression of anti-government elements and also carried forward its policy of dissolving the former samurai as a class. In June 1875 the government, with a view to controlling speech and published writing, issued a press law and slander regulations. In March 1876 a decree abolishing the wearing of swords was issued. And in September the payment of regular stipends and special bonuses, the last financial privilege of the former samurai, was discontinued. Furthermore, seven months before those payments were stopped, the government had concluded a friendship treaty with Korea. With this, the idea of conquering Korea, a battle some former samurai had looked forward to, completely lost meaning within the government.
In this charged atmosphere of discontent among the former samurai of the country, revolts broke out in rapid succession in October 1876—first in Kumamoto, then Akitsuki in Fukuoka Prefecture, and then Hagi in Yamaguchi Prefecture. All were the desperate acts of cornered men. Each of these rebellions was controlled by the government's army within a month or so after its outbreak. Now that things had reached this point, discontented former samurai fixed their eyes on the southwestern corner of Japan in the hope that Saigō would finally rise against the government.
The government's eyes were turned toward Kagoshima, too. In December 1876 a plan which probably originated with Ōkubo was put into action. His trusted follower Kawaji Toshiyoshi, a high-ranking member of the Metropolitan Police Office, dispatched 20 some odd policemen originally from Kagoshima to the prefecture on the pretext that they were home on leave. Their secret mission was to feel out the situation in Kagoshima and do everything possible to break up the former samurai in the prefecture.
As a precaution, in January of the next year, 1877, bullets and gunpowder stored in the War Ministry's Kagoshima Powder Magazine were carried out by steamer under cover of night. Noticing this, however, the young, impetuous students of Saigō's private schools rushed to the powder magazine and seized gunpowder and bullets left behind. When this incident took place, Saigō was hunting on the Osumi Peninsula. Informed of the incident by his younger brother Kohyoe, Saigō suddenly heard himself say, "Damn!" Saigō is said to have scolded the students for seizing the gunpowder, asking them with reproach whatever they intended to use it for.
Soon after this incident, however, one of the policemen dispatched to Kagoshima by the government was caught by students of the schools. He confessed that he had been sent by Kawaji to assassinate Saigō. With this, Saigō finally made his decision to raise an army.
On February 12 Saigō and his close associates Kirino and Shinohara submitted a written notice to the prefectural authorities under the names of General Saigō and Major Generals Kirino and Shinohara. Although they had resigned, the government still treated them as officers on its temporary retirement list. Part of the notice read as follows: "Since at this time we have something to inquire about to the government, we will leave here at a not distant date. We are filing notice of this for your understanding. As we will be accompanied by former soldiers, a number of men will set out. We sincerely hope you will see that the public does not get disturbed."
On February 15 Saigō's army left Kagoshima for the first stop, Kumamoto, braving the heaviest snowfall in 50 years. The force, about 13,000 strong, even included artillery units. It was indeed a full army. Later, those enlisted in Kagoshima Prefecture joined the forces, and men from other prefectures of Kyushu also rallied around Saigō. Thus his army grew to 30,000 men. It was an army far larger than any of the previous former samurai revolts.
The government, alarmed, issued orders to put down the rebels: "The insurgents of Kagoshima Prefecture have forced their way into Kumamoto Prefecture, bearing arms at their own discretion. They disregard the national law, and their treason is obvious. Therefore, the emperor has deigned to issue an edict to subjugate them." In this way the last and greatest rebellion of former samurai broke out.
Saigō Takamori had made the greatest contributions in the revolution of 1867, the overthrowing of the shogunate and the reestablishment of Imperial Regime. Now, a decade later, this same man was the leader of the largest army ever raised in rebellion against the new government. Called the Seinan, or Southwest, Revolt, it signified the resistance of the former samurai to their dissolution as a class. It was also a struggle against the end of a major chapter in Japan's political history: the seven-century rule of samurai.