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The Last Samurai - The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori - cover

The Last Samurai - The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori

Mark Ravina

Publisher: Wiley

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Summary

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.
Available since: 03/29/2011.
Print length: 288 pages.

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