Takamori Saigo - the Leader in the Overthrow of the Tokugawa Shogunate

Imagine living almost 300 years ago in Shogunate Japan. Learning the ways of the samurai until your whole life changes. You lose your way of life. Your values. Your beliefs. Your way of fighting. Who is there to save you?

In this essay I will talk to you about Takamori Saigo (1828-1877), a significant individual if not god among Japanese people from his life span – the late Edo period to early Meji era – after and surely now. I will answer the inquiry question of ‘what is the significance of Takamori Saigo (1828 – 1877) and how he was influenced by the beliefs and values of his society’ by exploring Saigos early life, values and beliefs, his role in the Meji restoration and his significance. His significance not only on Earth but also in the stars.

Takamori Saigo also known as the last samurai! Life has changed because of the political weakness in Shogunate Japan. But what problems caused this issue? At the time of The Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867) – Saigo’s time – ‘the foreign policy of Japan was weak and evasive.’ This caused confusion whether they could bring the western ways into Japan to improve fighting or not.

Takamori Saigo, was a trained samurai and excellent swords man though lacked with detail. As a leader in the overthrow of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the most influential samurai in Japanese history, Saigo has been influenced by his values and beliefs throughout his positions in the Meji restoration. When rebelling against the overthrow Saigo was promoted to an inferior rank within his samurai class. He was loyal and brave. He was also of an ‘unusual size and physique; as an adult he was almost six feet tall weighing some 200 pounds. A giant among his contemporaries, he appeared frightening at first glance with his large piercing eyes and bushy eyebrows, but he was friendly…’ As stated in National Geographic, 2017 he also ideally wanted to be ‘a man who is utterly unconcerned with his life, fame, money or rank.’ But his legacy still remains today.

Saigo believed in Neo-Confucianism and Buddhism. He was faced with compulsory training of literature and art but to become a fully rounded individual he needed to master the tea ceremony. After being appointed, Saigo learnt about the agricultural administration but also learnt about his beliefs and righteousness from his appointer, Satsuma ‘the most influential man outside man outside government services’. As well as his beliefs, Saigo possessed the samurai values of bravery and generosity. As seen in Mark Ravina’s book ‘The Last Samurai: The Life and battles of Saigo Takamori’, Saigo is seen as ‘the model samurai: loyal, courageous, fearless in the face of death, incorruptible, fair and compassionate...However as a compassionate leader, not a tyrannical overlord.’ An example of his corruptibility was when his daimyo died, he and a friend jumped into a lake; the currents carried their bodies back to shore, but his friend died. To commemorate it one year he wrote a poem. This shows the daimyos importance to Saigo as in Neo-Confucianism the higher up person shows respect and protects the lower person in return for respect and obedience. As stated by Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 2019 Saigos moto is ‘ kei-ten; ai-jin (meaning Revere heaven, love man)’ even through both positions in the Meji Restoration he kept loyalty to his values and beliefs.

The Meji Restoration. The name given to the fight between the government influenced by western ways and well the other people mainly just wanting Japan to stay true to its old ways of fighting. Shown by national Geographic, the Meji restorations moto was ‘Enrich the country, strengthen the army,’ as the western military As said in the New World encyclopedia At the Time of the Meiji Restoration ‘the foreign policy of Japan was unclear and evasive.’ Causing disruption and confusion when they wanted to bring in western ways. The Meji Restoration –mainly in 1868- showed the end of the Edo period and started the new Meji era. Saigo was the commander of the forces of Satsuma, arranger the surrender of the fief and was in one of the small groups who negotiated the secret alliance of the shogun. After Saigo directed a campaign against the supporters of the shogunate Saigo entered retirement. In 1869, Saigo got the highest granted in the emperor awards to those who brought about the restoration but still wasn’t convinced to join the new system.

So, how did this superhero to the Japanese society die? After the first attempt at suicide didn’t go according to plan Saigo got injured at the Battle of Shiroyama. Resulting in him ordering one of his faithful lieutenants to do his work for him. Beheading Saigo publicly in1877. But as stated by Höchi Shinbun through Mark Ravina’s book states that Saigo ‘Sustained his fame until the last … died without shame and closed his eyes with the full satisfaction of vengeance.’ But the end of Saigo did not end there.

If you can’t imagine the importance of Saigo you don’t have to look much further than the sky. I say that because after Saigos defeat serious injuries were obtained when Saigo was said to be seen on the ‘bright star’ fully heathy and well not injured or dead. As this appeared in the newspaper, small blocks of wood would appear with Saigo and the ‘bright star’ associating the newfound ‘demigod’ with ‘the star’ forever more.

Saigo’s real significance came from his role in the overthrow of the tokugawa shogunate. As said in Encyclopaedia Brittanica, ‘If the great Saigo could not win, no one else would be foolhardy enough to try….’With the last Samurai’s defeat came a newfound Japan, where even though the military system was in place Saigo was still know throughout Japan.

The statue seen in -Ueno Park, Tokyo shows Saigo walking his dog. While this seems peculiar Saigo in full samurai uniform acknowledges the old Japan. To conclude, the significance of Takamori Saigo was for his role in the overthrow of the Tokugawa Shogunate and he was influenced by his values and beliefs – Buddhism and Neo-Confucianism-throughout his life as he put others before himself and keeping true to the old Japanese society. 

07 July 2022
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now