The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori (Google eBook)

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John Wiley & Sons, Mar 29, 2011 - History - 288 pages
17 Reviews
The dramatic arc of Saigo Takamori's life, from his humble origins as a lowly samurai, to national leadership, to his death as a rebel leader, has captivated generations of Japanese readers and now Americans as well - his life is the inspiration for a major Hollywood film, The Last Samurai, starring Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe. In this vibrant new biography, Mark Ravina, professor of history and Director of East Asian Studies at Emory University, explores the facts behind Hollywood storytelling and Japanese legends, and explains the passion and poignancy of Saigo's life. Known both for his scholarly research and his appearances on The History Channel, Ravina recreates the world in which Saigo lived and died, the last days of the samurai.

The Last Samurai traces Saigo's life from his early days as a tax clerk in far southwestern Japan, through his rise to national prominence as a fierce imperial loyalist. Saigo was twice exiled for his political activities -- sent to Japan's remote southwestern islands where he fully expected to die. But exile only increased his reputation for loyalty, and in 1864 he was brought back to the capital to help his lord fight for the restoration of the emperor. In 1868, Saigo commanded his lord's forces in the battles which toppled the shogunate and he became and leader in the emperor Meiji's new government. But Saigo found only anguish in national leadership. He understood the need for a modern conscript army but longed for the days of the traditional warrior.

Saigo hoped to die in service to the emperor. In 1873, he sought appointment as envoy to Korea, where he planned to demand that the Korean king show deference to the Japanese emperor, drawing his sword, if necessary, top defend imperial honor. Denied this chance to show his courage and loyalty, he retreated to his homeland and spent his last years as a schoolteacher, training samurai boys in frugality, honesty, and courage. In 1876, when the government stripped samurai of their swords, Saigo's followers rose in rebellion and Saigo became their reluctant leader. His insurrection became the bloodiest war Japan had seen in centuries, killing over 12,000 men on both sides and nearly bankrupting the new imperial government. The imperial government denounced Saigo as a rebel and a traitor, but their propaganda could not overcome his fame and in 1889, twelve years after his death, the government relented, pardoned Saigo of all crimes, and posthumously restored him to imperial court rank.

In THE LAST SAMURAI, Saigo is as compelling a character as Robert E. Lee was to Americans-a great and noble warrior who followed the dictates of honor and loyalty, even though it meant civil war in a country to which he'd devoted his life. Saigo's life is a fascinating look into Japanese feudal society and a history of a country as it struggled between its long traditions and the dictates of a modern future.

  

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Review: The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori

User Review  - Adam Carter - Goodreads

fascinating look at a man torn between old and new, and also torn by conflicting allegiances to the old samurai order and a nascent Japanese national identity. An honest portrayal of a complex historical figure. Read full review

Review: The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori

User Review  - Luis - Goodreads

if the movie had been more like this book, the movie would have been 10,000 times better! Read full review

Contents

INTRODUCTION
1
POWERFULLY SENTIMENTAL
13
A MAN OF EXCEPTIONAL FIDELITY Saigo and National Politics
43
BONES IN THE EARTH Exile and Ignominy
77
TO SHOULDER THE BURDENS OF THE REALM The Destruction of the Shogunate
107
TO TEAR ASUNDER THE CLOUDS Saigoand the Meiji State
151
THE BURDEN OF DEATH IS LIGHT Saigo and theWar of the Southwest
191
NOTES
215
BIBLIOGRAPHY
240
SOURCES
255
INDEX
257
Copyright

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About the author (2011)

MARK RAVINA is an associate professor of Japanese history at Emory University and Director of the East Asian Studies Program. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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