About Saigo Takamori

Takamori Saigo

A historical figure during the last days of the Edo period to the early Meiji period, Saigo Takamori was born in 1828, in Shimokajiya-cho near Kagoshima Castle (the current Kajiya-cho in Kagoshima City). Satsuma was known to promote superior talents regardless of one’s pedigree during the last days of Edo period. Even though his father Kichibei was a lower-ranked samurai, Saigo was chosen to accompany his lord, Shimadzu Nariakira to Edo. There, Shimadzu Nariakira came to realize young Saigo’s talent.

Birthplace of Saigo Takamori
Yamagawa Port |Where Saigo Departed to Amamioshima Island and Tokunoshima Island.

Known to be one of kaimei-ha (supporters of enlightenment), Nariakira pursued modernization of the domain from early on. Nariakira was an influential figure for Saigo. However, after Nariakira passed away, Saigo’s circumstances worsened and he hid himself away on Amamioshima Island in order to avoid the eyes of the shogunate. After continuous appeals made by men including Okubo Toshimichi, Saigo was called back to Satsuma. His return was short and he was again expelled to the Okinoerabu Island after he disobeyed the new lord of the domain, Shimadzu Hisamitsu.

Saigo reappeared on the front-stage of history during a coup d'état in Kyoto. After he was pardoned, Saigo headed to Kyoto and defeated Choshu (present day Yamaguchi Prefecture) in an incident now known as Kinmon Incident. As the commander of Satsuma’s troops, Saigo then led the first punitive expedition against Choshu. During the Boshin War, he led the imperial army as a commander and defeated the shogunate forces. Accomplishing these deeds, Saigo was chosen to play a leading role in establishing the Meiji government.

Statue of Saigo Takamori
Nanshu Shrine | Statue of Saigo Takamori

After the restoration, Saigo carried out changes including haihan-chiken (abolishment of the domain system) and chouheirei (conscripted army system) as the counselor of the new government.
However after a clash with Okubo on a debate over the issue on Korea, Saigo moved back to Kagoshima and established shigakko, a private school to educate young Satsuma samurai. The students eventually became radicalized against the Meiji government and Saigo was unable to prevent the increasing tension. This led to the outbreak of the Satsuma Rebellion. After numerous battles took place within Kyushu, Saigo committed suicide at Shiroyama in Kagoshima. Following his motto, “Keiten Aijin” (Respect the Divine and Love People), Saigo was aware of his destiny and treated others with love and affection throughout his life.