Everyone has seen Tom Cruise`s Hollywood flick “The Last Samurai” but how many of us knew the true last samurai, “Saigo Takamori (西郷隆盛)”?
Saigo Takamori`s actual name is ‘Saigo Kokichi’. Generally Samurais change their names when they become adults. ‘Takamori’ is added to his family name ‘Saigo’ and he is often referred to as ‘Takanaga’. He lived during the early Meiji era and he is famous for his politics and bureaucracy. He is born in 1828 in Kagoshima and he served as a low cadre samurai in his early life. He later became a very powerful leader of the Imperial forces and has played an important role in the Meiji Restoration. He was successful in expanding the influence of Empire of Japan and in showing the prowess of Japan in front of the Western powers. There is a statue of Saigo in the famous Ueno Park in Tokyo.
Picture depicting Saigo in a battle
Saigo was the man behind Japanese dominance over Korea and he openly opposed the Westernization of Japan except in militarization. Saigo wanted to suppress Korea as Koreans were not ready to accept the dominance of the Meiji Empire. But the government opposed his plans and in protest, he resigned his position and formed a rebellion in Satsuma city of his prefecture with some of his faithful soldiers. It provoked a huge conflict between the government and the Samurai rebellion. It is said that he has died in the fierce battle, however, his head has not yet been found until now. Some legends say that his servants preserved his head and some say that he might have fled to British India or Russia. After this rebellion, the Meiji empire abolished the Samurai system and posthumously honored the true last samurai, Saigo Takamori.
The Battle of Shiroyama, which is the last and final battle of the Satsuma rebellion, has been made as a film starring Tom Cruise as an American military adviser fighting in the rebellion helping Saigo. Saigo`s role is played by ‘Ken Watanabe’ in the movie and he was nominated as the best supporting actor that year, The movie won multiple academy awards and is revered as a classic.