29 Jan - 1877

Satsuma Rebellion begins

The Satsuma Rebellion was the last revolt of the samurai against the imperial government of emperor Meiji. Ending with the famous Battle of Shiroyama the uprising marks the final chapter of Japan’s most famous warriors.

Shiroyama from The Last Stand 29 Jan - 1877

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Saigō Takamori and his officers
Saigō Takamori and his officers

The Satsuma Rebellion, also known as “seinan sensō” (Southwestern War), entered history as the famous last uprising of the samurai against the imperial government of the Japanese Empire. Led by Saigō Takamori, one of the three great nobles of the Meiji restoration, the revolt took place on the Japanese island of Kyūshū in 1877. Leading up to the infamous battle of Shiroyama – the last stand of the samurai –, the uprising served as an important source of inspiration for the SABATON-Song “Shiroyama“ from “The Last Stand”.

For countless centuries the samurai class had shaped the political fate of the land of the rising sun. Although having a reputation as fierce warriors, the samurai of the 19th century lived a different life than one would imagine. Since the Tokugawa shōguns had isolated the country internationally during the Edo period in 1636, Japan had enjoyed a time of peace and prosperity. Left without the possibility to win glory on the battlefield the samurai had turned to a less dangerous life, acting as stewards and administrators to their daimyō.

The Satsuma Rebellion, also known as “seinan sensō” (Southwestern War), entered history as the famous last uprising of the samurai against the imperial government of the Japanese Empire. Led by Saigō Takamori, one of the three great nobles of the Meiji restoration, the revolt took place on the Japanese island of Kyūshū in 1877. Leading up to the infamous battle of Shiroyama – the last stand of the samurai –, the uprising served as an important source of inspiration for the SABATON-Song “Shiroyama“ from “The Last Stand”.

For countless centuries the samurai class had shaped the political fate of the land of the rising sun. Although having a reputation as fierce warriors, the samurai of the 19th century lived a different life than one would imagine. Since the Tokugawa shōguns had isolated the country internationally during the Edo period in 1636, Japan had enjoyed a time of peace and prosperity. Left without the possibility to win glory on the battlefield the samurai had turned to a less dangerous life, acting as stewards and administrators to their daimyō.

However, with the downfall of the Tokugawa shōgun in 1867 and the inevitable end of the self-imposed isolation Japan was ushered into a new age. The island state began to industrialize rapidly, while western ideas of politics, society, and warfare found their way across the sea. Still accounting for 5% percent of the population the once-so-mighty samurai class suddenly found themselves to be a vestige of forgone times. In the following years, the warrior caste was stripped of all their privileges, their social status as the ruling class of Japan was abolished.

The siege of Kumamoto
The siege of Kumamoto

Hence, many samurai faced poverty and were left with a growing sense of dissatisfaction. One of them was Saigō Takamori, who, ironically, once had fought fiercely for the Meiji restoration. Disappointed of the political developments in Tōkyō he had returned to Satsuma and established several private academies, which grew into new homes for many cast-out samurai and raised deep concerns within the imperial government. However, in 1877 the tension between Satsuma and Tōkyō culminated. The Satsuma rebellion had begun.

Believing the government had tried to assassinate him, Saigō gathered over 20 000 samurai, whom he led to a march on Tōkyō in January 1877. Besieging the castle of Kumamoto in February the rebellion was soon confronted with counterattacks by imperial forces. Defeated in several battles – the siege had already been lifted in April by General Kuroda Kiyotaka – Saigō was left with heavy casualties. Down to 500 men the samurai had retreated to Shiroyama, where the last stand of the samurai was destined to take place.

Outnumbered 60:1 the samurai forces fought a heroic but desperate battle, which resulted in a crushing defeat. The legend says that Saigō Takamori, already severely wounded, conducted seppuku before the imperial forces could capture him. Recognizing his fortitude and loyalty to the ideals of a samurai Saigō Takamori was posthumously pardoned by the Meiji emperor in 1889. The age of the Samurai had been gone out in a blaze of glory.