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The Last Samurai

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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Table of Contents

Note To The Reader. Acknowledgments. Introduction. 1. "Powerfully Sentimental". Siago's Early Years in Satsuma. 2. "A Man Of Exceptional Fidelity." Siago and National Politics. 3. "Bones In The Earth." Exile and Ignominy. 4. "To Shoulder The Burdens Of The Realm." The Destruction of the Shogunate. 5. "To Tear Asunder The Clouds." Saigo and the Meiji State. 6. "The Burden of Death Is Light." Saigo and the War of the Southwest. Notes. Bibliography. Sources. Index.

About the Author

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.


Known as the "Robert E. Lee" of Japan, Saigo- (1828-77) first helped overthrow the feudal Tokugawa regime and establish Meiji Japan in1868, then in 1877 led a bloody, futile uprising against the new government. He feared the impersonal, commercial, and centralized nation would destroy samurai traditions of personal honor, regional loyalty, and social service. Ravina (director, East Asian Studies Program, Emory Univ.) is a careful scholar who nevertheless writes an action-filled story that resonates today. He shows us that Saigo- was no reactionary, though he harked back to the tradition of the socially responsible Confucian warrior who valued community, not class exploitation or individual advancement. Especially interesting is Ravina's presentation of Saigo- 's legacy in popular culture, where he became a folk hero, forcing the government to elevate him posthumously to a reconciling national martyrdom. Fascists and right-wing patriots from the 1930s to today have evoked samurai tradition, but their efforts are exposed as tawdry exploitation by this engrossing and thoughtful history. Highly recommended for all college and larger public libraries. [Interest in this period may be driven by the new Tom Cruise film of same name and period, though it is not based on this book.-Ed.]-Charles W. Hayford, Northwestern Univ., Evanston, IL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

?In a pacy narrative that reads like a thriller, Ravina follows Takamori through his last battle?? (Good Book Guide, April 2005)

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