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Satsuma Rebellion and Saigō Takamori Prints

Prints in Collection


 
The Debate Over Invading Korea (Seikanron), 1877
Suzuki Toshimoto (active c. 1877-1890s)
[portraying events  of August-mid October, 1873]
IHL Cat. #497


The Arraignment of Oyama Tsunayoshi, 1877
Yōshū Chikanobu (1838-1912)
[portraying events of February 1877]
 IHL Cat. #445

 
Kagoshima senki, 1877
Yōshū Chikanobu (1838-1912)
[portraying events of February-March 1877]
IHL Cat. #449

 
Illustration of the Rebels Being Suppressed at Kagoshima
 
Illustration of the Rebels Being Suppressed at Kagoshima, 1877
Yōshū Chikanobu (1838-1912)
[portraying events of April 1877]
IHL Cat. #450

 
Report on the Actual Condition at the Battlefield, 1877
Kobayashi Toshimitsu (a. 1876–1904)
[portraying events of September 1877]

 IHL Cat. #447



Retreat to the Defensive Position
at Hyuga, 1877

Yamazaki Toshinobu (1857-1886) 
[portraying events of March 1877]

IHL Cat. #482


 
Kobayashi Toshimitsu (a. 1876–1904)
[portraying a fabricated event]
IHL Cat. #448
 
Presentation of the Emperor's Gift Cup for the second time to commanders involved in pacifying Western Japan (Saigoku)
Presentation of the Emperor's Gift Cup for the second time to commanders involved in pacifying Western Japan (Saigoku)
 ‎Utagawa Yoshitsuya II (active 1870s)
[
After the last of the rebel forces were decimated by the Imperial Army in late September 1877, the Emperor made sure to visit and congratulate both officers and soldiers.]
IHL Cat. #684


 
Famous Soldiers of Japan, 1878
(portraits of Saigō and government military officers who fought against him)

 
Fukuchi Gen’ichirō, October 26, 1885
(The journalist Fukuchi Gen'ichir
ō taking notes on the battlefield during the Satsuma Rebellion)
Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915)
IHL Cat. #881


   Saigō Takamori, No. 17,
from the series
Personalities of Recent Times,
February 24, 1888
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892)
IHL Cat. #926


The Satsuma Rebellion (February 1877 – September 1877)

and Its Woodblock Prints


In riding through the streets one notices the crowds in front of the picture shops, which are bright in color from the war prints. The Satsuma rebellion furnishes themes for the illustrators. The pictures are brilliant in reds and blacks, the figures of the officers in most dramatic attitudes, and "bloody war" is really depicted, though grotesque from our standpoint. One of the pictures represents a star in heaven (the planet Mars), in the centre of which is General Saigo, the rebel chief, beloved by all the Japanese. After the capture of Kagoshima he and other officers committed hara kiri. Many of the people believe he is in Mars, which is now shining with unusual brilliancy. - Edward Sylvester Morse1

Summary
The unsuccessful Satsuma Rebellion of 1877 (also known as the Seinan War2 西南戦争), a nine month long uprising of Satsuma-based samurai against the nine year old central Meiji government, was Japan’s last civil war.  Led by ex-Meiji government official and samurai Saigō Takamori 賊魁西郷 (January 23, 1827 – September 24, 1877), the rebellion resulted in the death of  roughly 20,000 rebels and 6,000 government forces.

Background
With the formation of a conscript military based on European models in 1873 the samurai class of professional soldiers found itself marginalized.  In Satsuma, the samurai class was particularly powerful and a strong central government issuing prescripts against many of their long-time privileges generated, at best, grudging partial compliance.  With the issuance of the March 28, 1876 prescript against samurai carrying swords and an August cut in government stipends to samurai, opposition to the central government turned violent, and on October 24 two hundred radical samurai attacked and briefly held Kumamoto Castle, the Meiji government’s main military installation in Satsuma.  Sporadic outbreaks continued, culminating in raids at the end of January 1877 on the government armory in Kagoshima City by students from the private samurai schools, known as Shigakko.

Saigō Takamori (1827-1877)
 

Saigō Takamori was a revered figure to many Japanese.  Physically he was imposing, standing six feet tall and weighing 200 pounds.  He was a key player in the formation of the Meiji government, both as a military leader against the Tokugawa shogunate (see the print Surrender of the Ezo rebels) and as a politician shaping foreign and domestic policies.   After his leaving service with the Meiji government, largely over differences on Japan’s Korea policy, [see the print The Debate Over Invading Korea (Seikanron)] he returned to his home province of Satsuma where he cultivated his image as “a man of virtue, culture, and honor” and where he was generally regarded as a “living legend.”3  While not actively engaged in politics he remained politically involved through the Shigakko (private samurai schools), where he was “celebrated as the spiritual leader.”4 

While he is viewed by historians as a reluctant leader of the rebellion his reputation made him the natural leader.  After a raid on the government arsenal by Shigakko students, his hand was forced and on February 7, 1877 he announced his decision to “confront the central government.”5  Nine months later the rebellion was over, Saigō was dead and his out-manned and out-gunned rebels decimated. 
Twelve years later in 1889, as part of the celebrations around the introduction of a new constitution, Saigō was pardoned by the emperor and elevated in rank. In 1898, a bronze statue of Saigō with his faithful hunting dog was erected in Tokyo's Ueno Park.  [See the print Bronze Statue of Saigō in Ueno Park.]

1898 Statue of Saigō Takamori and his dog in Ueno Park
1911 photograph National Diet Library

The Legend Continues
Source: The Japan Times Online http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20090913a6.html


The Japan Times
Sunday, Sept. 13, 2009

Death Song Linked to Meiji Era Hero Saigo Found in Army Doctor's Diary

KAGOSHIMA (Kyodo) What may be a death song written by Takamori Saigo, a hero of the 1868 Meiji Restoration, has been discovered in the diary of an army doctor who was in the antigovernment force Saigo led in the 1877 Seinan War, it was learned Saturday.

The song, written in the traditional quatrain poetry style featuring seven Chinese characters on each line, was discovered in a diary entry made by Taisuke Yamazaki that was dated Sept. 24, 1877. That was the day when Saigo, one of most popular figures in Japanese history, committed suicide in Kagoshima during the civil war.

…[T]he author laments in the song that all the roads are blocked by enemies in the war, his life is full of both merits and demerits, and he has no face to again meet Nariakira Shimazu, the samurai who ruled over Kagoshima.


Woodblock Prints
Throughout the revolt the conflict was chronicled, sensationalized, mythologized and, finally, its leader Saigō was deified by woodblock publishers and artists.  Woodblock prints issued in the hundreds depicting bloody battle scenes, strategy meetings and, ultimately, Saigō’s death and “ascendance to heaven” were eagerly bought by the public.  Constructed from their imaginations and newspaper reports, well-known artists such as Yoshitoshi, Kunichika, Chikanobu, Yoshitora, Toshinobu, Kunimasa IV and lesser-known artists such as Toshimitsu, Kunimatsu and Toshimoto churned out prints in the tradition of the great warrior prints of the earlier Edo-period.

Baido Kunimasa, Curious Southwestern Stories of Kagoshima Prefecture: The “Saigo Star”
"Toward the end of the Satsuma Rebellion, an unfamiliar red star shone in the night sky, and rumors circulated that the star must be an incarnation of Saigo Takamori, who was leading the rebellion. One of the stories went that with the help of a telescope you could see Saigo himself within the star. The controversy culminated to the point that newspapers had to report that the star was simply Mars appearing close to Earth."6

These Satsuma Rebellion prints would serve as a model for the thousands of prints produced during the 1894-1895 Sino-Japanese War and the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War.

1 Japan Day By Day, 1877, 1878-79, 1882-83, Volume 1, Edward Sylvester Morse, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1917, p. 269.
2 Translated as the "West-South War" (Seinan no eki).
3 The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori, Mark Ravina, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004, p. 196.
4 Ibid., p. 197.
5 Ibid., p. 201.

6 Waseda University Library http://www.wul.waseda.ac.jp/kosho/bunko10/b10_8333/index.html


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