The Last Samurai : The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori Paperback
by Mark Ravina
The dramatic arc of Saigo Takamoria 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 Saigoa 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 Saigoa 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 Japana 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 lorda s forces in the battles which toppled the shogunate and he became and leader in the emperor Meijia 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, Saigoa 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 hea d devoted his life.
Saigoa 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.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 288 pages
- Publisher: John Wiley and Sons Ltd
- Publication Date: 04/03/2005
- Category: Biography: historical, political & military
- ISBN: 9780471705376
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Review by robintuttle
Fascinating look at the history of Japan during the last half of the 19th century. Primarily about the enormous social and cultural changes, political intrigues, civil wars and rebellions that occurred as Japan struggled to become a modern nation capable of competing and co-existing with the Western world. I found particularly interesting Saigo's (the last samurai of the title) frequent political reversals (from shogunate samurai to Imperial loyalist to samurai rebel). Ravina's explanation of these changes in Saigo's loyalties are based on Saigo's life-long loyalty to the samurai code of honesty, morality and loyalty. This is my first foray into Japanese history, so I don't know if other author's have different takes on this period and on Saigo, himself. I will have to look into other histories.Although this book can be quite difficult for the Western reader because of the many Japanese names and the writer's assumption of some basic knowledge of Japanese feudalism on the part of the reader, I found it fascinating and well-written enough to finish the book in two days.