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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Customer Rating: Summary: Great service! Comment: Book was in good condition. Really fast delivery. It came in like a day. Thanks! Customer Rating: Summary: The Life Behind the Legend Comment: For those of you who like your reviews short and to the point: this book is just plain wonderful. I used it as an assigned text in a class I taught about modern Japan and will use it again. It is an academic book in that it addresses serious issues, but it is also exceptionally well-written. Those two qualities are usually mutual exclusive of one another. Ravina starts with an arresting sentence: "Where was Saigo Takamori's head?" and the story stays engaging throughout.
Ravina's purpose is to tell the story about the real man behind the Tom Cruise movie of the same name. Readers will discover that there are significant differences between what the film depicted and what really happened. Ravina might tell his story well, but also has an important one. While the Ken Watanabe's Matsumoto was a traditionalist opposed to change, the real Saigo Takamori was one of the Japanese equavilent of George Washington. He helped bring down the Shogun and was a founding father of modern Japan. He was also a learned, thoughtful man who studied the Confucian classics.
One of Ravina's strengths is showing that the many enemies of the Tokugawa family had an easier time agreeing to bring to bring them down than on what should replace their central authority. Saigo had fought against the shogun because they were the hereditary enemies of Satsuma, his daimyo or feudal province and/or lord. He was not prepared to create a modern, central state that abolished Satsuma altogether. Less than happy about the events that were taking place, he quite the new government. A few years later led a revolt against his former comrades. In an important point, Ravina shows that Saigo did a poor job of articulating a message about why he was rebelling, so people with a lot of different agendas who were unhappy at what was happening to Japan for any number of reasons. He literally was a rebel without a cause and has remained an enduring, modern folk hero in modern Japan. Customer Rating: Summary: Virtue to the End Comment: Saigo Takamori is rightly remembered, despite being a traitor in some people's views. His life was one of ebbs and flows, being at the centre of power in Japan and also at the very fringes in internal exile. Knowing that a character from Cruise's movie was loosely, (very loosely, as it turns out), based on him, I had to read the book about the real man.
"The Last Samurai", (the book from here), is arranged quite well in broad phases of Saigo's life, from childhood to his final battle and campaign. The book focuses a lot on what drove and influenced Saigo, from the Confucian classics he absorbed through Oyomei learning and also Mito thinking. All of these influences profoundly affected Saigo, along with some important events in his life. I was interested in his emphasis on a lord-vassal relationship that took on a very personal nature for him, and was something that he craved.
The book is well referenced and has a good number of endnotes given for various sources and some details additional to the main text. Ravina has clearly written the book as an academic text that is still accessible to the lay reader. Not only that, Ravina manages to keep the interest and grip the reader to the very end.
I liked this book very much, both for the subject matter, but also for the way in which Ravina presents his subject. He keeps Saigo in context with the history around him, and also makes plenty of references to the wider issues that Saigo was involved in and why. This is a great book about a great man. Customer Rating: Summary: For me an interesting read Comment: After seeing "The Last Samurai;" I was curious to read a little about what really happened with Saigo Takamori.
I was not surprised to see that the movie took the characters in different directions. In the movie Saigo was a defender of tradition and tried to fight against the Westernizing of Japan with the theme of the clash between the old ways of Samurai Swords against the modern ways of the Gun.
Saigo was more of a "rags to riches" story. He went from being the son of a clerk to one of the most powerful men in Japan. He was also instrumental in the dismantling of the Shogunite which ended Japanese feudalism and opened the doors to the 19th Century.
Guided by the principles of Confusism, he garnered such respect that the simple act of refusing to be involved in the Meijin goverment was viewed as a threat by the goverment.
His rebellion got volunteers simply because of a failed plot to assassinate him.
Saigo was a very complex man and the very fact that a great deal of myths were created about him and his rebellion makes the task of studying him almost impossible.
To Ravina's credit he mentions myth and lore several times rather then presenting them as fact.
Overall the book could be labeled rather dry for details rather then being guided through a story.
I would label it a worthwhile addition to a library about the Samurai.
Customer Rating: Summary: Good Insight into the True life of a Samurai Comment: While a true fan of the Samurai movies may enjoy reading about the life and times of the last Samurai, those looking for a "real life" account of the Characters found in the "last Samurai movie" will be sorely disappointed. The first chapter starts out alright, but gets pretty dry with a great number of names, places, dates, and facts, all of which also read pretty foreign to the average reader. Its not too unlike trying to read the old testament, book of numbers or book of kings. However, a fan of politics will certainly appreciate it. The life of Saigo Takamori was one of a civil servent - imagine reading about the life and times of your postal carrier. However, it improves if you get throught the first 2 chapters.