Portrait of Saigō Takamori

The Huge Win of the Armed Forces

 Japanese Color Woodblock Print

Portrait of Saigō Takamori

by Hasegawa Sadanobu II, 1877

Portrait of Kirino Toshiaki

IHL Cat. #1171

About This Print

Issued in the beginning of November 1877, approximately six weeks after the end of the nine month Satsuma Rebellion (see the article Satsuma Rebellion and Saigō Takamori Prints) and the death of its leader, Saigō Takamori, this print portrays Saigō decked out in all his military finery from the days when he was one of the most powerful men in the new Meiji government. While it was not until the end of February 1889 that Saigō, the rebel, received his official state pardon and the restoration of his imperial court rank, he and his top commanders were portrayed as heroes by print makers and their publishers as soon as the rebellion was crushed.

undated postcard

This installation features more than 30 loans from two remarkably rich local resources, the Lavenberg Collection of Japanese Prints, and the Lee & Mary Jean Michels Collection. It was co-curated by Professors Akiko Walley (History of Art and Architecture) and Glynne Walley (East Asian Languages and Literatures) and JSMA Chief Curator Anne Rose Kitagawa. QR codes on selected labels allow visitors to access translations and explanations of the complex wordplay, imagery, and cultural context of these fascinating objects.


HASEGAWA Sadanobu II/Konobu I

(二代 長谷川貞信/初代小信1848-1940)

Japanese; Meiji period, November 5, 1877

Portrait of Saigō Takamori, Former Army General Senior Grade of the Third Court Rank (Kyu Rikugun Taishō Shōsanmi Saigō Takamori zō)

Ukiyo-e woodblock print in vertical ōban format; ink and color on paper

The Lavenberg Collection of Japanese Prints, IHL.1171

The prints on this wall all deal with the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. The new Meiji government, founded in 1868, spent its first decade consolidating power by dismantling the samurai class that had constituted its predecessor, the Tokugawa shogunate. Soon the loss of privilege as well as the dislocations brought by rapid modernization provoked a reaction, and in 1877 former samurai and sympathizers in Kyushu rose up against the central government. They were led by Saigō Takamori (1828-1877), hero of the Meiji Restoration, whose career is recounted on this print. The rebellion was unsuccessful, and the defeat of ex-samurai at the hands of the Meiji government’s modern military was a turning point for the new government.

Translation of text on print:

Saigō Takamori was born in Satsuma. His former name was Zenbei, and he also used the sobriquet Nanshū. He was naturally endowed with unusual talent and an imposing appearance, such that all who saw him immediately recognized him as extraordinary. Enlisting early in the royalist cause he entered the Capital of Kyoto in the Kaei era [1848-54] and became a follower of the monk Gesshō, incumbent of the Hōjōin at Kiyomizu. Favored by the noble Lord Konoe he grieved at the desuetude into which the royal house had fallen, and plotted with Ijichi Masaharu and Kaieda Nobuyoshi to do great deeds. But then the shogunate sent forces to arrest and confine these idealists. Saigō fled to Kyushu with Gesshō, meaning to return to his own holdings, but when they were prevented, they made a pact to throw themselves into the sea. They leapt into the water in each other’s arms, but others on the boat pulled them out. Saigō was revived, but Gesshō perished. Having thus been returned mysteriously to life, Saigō assumed the name Kikuchi Gengo. His domain shunned his actions and banished him to the Great Island [Amami]. He spent several years there, his aspirations becoming ever firmer even as his learning grew broader. He was pardoned in Bunkyū 3 [1863] and returned to his domain, where he changed his name to Kichinosuke and quickly rose in the domain’s government. In Keiō 1 [1865] he participated in the shogunate’s campaign against Chōshū but effected the release of imprisoned royalists in many domains. Not least of his deeds was done in the spring of Boshin [1868] when as deputee in charge of the imperial forces’ expedition to the East he took Edo Castle. Subsequently he followed the Great Governor-General [Prince Arisugawa] in pacifying Hokuetsu, in which action he performed meritoriously. In further quelling brigand forces in Ezo his tactics were uniformly apt for the moment. For all of this the Court elevated him to the post of Councilor, but he refused and returned to his domain. Then on 6/2/Meiji 2 [1869] it was decreed that for his aid in the great work of Restoring the government, for seizing Edo Castle and leading the Hokuetsu expedition, and for his stalwart performance of military deeds, his leadership, and his successful and foresighted planning, all of which had brought much comfort to His Majesty, he would be rewarded with a stipend of 2000 bales of rice. In Meiji 4 [1871] he was elevated to Third Rank, First Grade, at court and made Councilor. In 4/Meiji 6 [1873] he was made Commander in Chief of the Army. In the 10th month of that year he advocated on behalf of an Imperial expedition against Korea, and when that was refused he resigned his position and returned to his home country. He also attempted to refuse all his rewards and emoluments, but the court would not allow this, and so he devoted them to the establishment of private academies in the countryside. He sent several of his students abroad to study, without requiring reimbursement. In this way the young men of the prefecture came to support him. Then in the 2nd month of this year he joined with Kirino [Toshiaki], Shinohara [Kunimoto], and others to raise a great army with himself as commander in order to make inquiries of the Government. With violence they occupied the Higo Road, and the Government moved quickly to mount an expedition against them. By land and sea, forces flying the Imperial flag advanced upon Kyushu. Battles were fought in Bungo, Higo, Satsuma, and Kumamoto. In the 9th month the rebel forces again attacked Kagoshima, but then the Imperial forces surrounded them at Shiroyama with superior numbers. At 3:00 in the morning on 9/24, they began attacking from all sides. There was no way to fend them off now, and he, along with Kirino and Murata [Sansuke], slit his belly, dying at Shiroyama. The remaining rebels were all captured, and by 7:00 that morning the rebellion had been quelled. Once he had held lofty rank and position, but in this way, having enlisted with insurrectionists, he became a traitor to the Realm.

(Glynne Walley, Associate Professor of East Asian Languages & Literatures)

Print Details
 IHL Catalog
 Title or Description  Portrait of Saigō Takamori 西郷隆盛像 (The Former Army General Senior Grade of the Third Court Rank旧陸軍大将正三位)
 Series  from an untitled series of portraits of former military figures
 Artist  Hasegawa Sadanobu II (1848-1940)
ōjū Sadanobu hitsu with yin-yang seal
 Seal  artist's yin-yang seal
 Writer of Text
 Publication Date  November 5, 1877 御届明治十年十一月五日
Yasuda Yosaburō 安田與三郎 [Marks. ref. 619; no publisher seals shown]
Right side of the cartouche shows the artist's 画工 personal name
 徳太朗 [Hasegawa Tokutarō] and address.
 Impression  excellent
 Colors  excellent
 Condition  good - backing partially removed; paper waviness due to partial removal of backing; trimmed to margins left and bottom
 Genre  ukiyo-e; rekishi-e
 Format  vertical oban
 H x W Paper 
 14 1/8 x 9 1/4 in. (35.9 x 23.5 cm) 
 H x W Image  

 Collections This Print
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