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Goin’ Japanesque!

Travel Through Kagoshima: See the Footprints of Saigo Takamori, Japanese Hero

A strong build, thick eyebrows and a fierce set of glaring eyes; there is not another person in Japanese history whose bronze statues or images are as recognized as his.
His name is Saigo Takamori. Even today, he is familiarly known by people in Japan and overseas as “Saigo-don”.

Saigo Takamori played an active part in the closing days of the Tokugawa shogunate regime and contributed largely to the establishment of the Meiji government. However he was doomed to end up in battle with the very Meiji government he helped set up.

Today, we would like to introduce some places in Kagoshima prefecture relevant to Saigo Takamori and explore why he is still loved by many today.

 

Saigo Takamori and Tsugumichi, Place of Birth

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Writer’s Photo

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Writer’s Photo: Stone Marker of Place of Birth

In the year 1827, Saigo Takamori was born in a castle town of Kagoshima, into a low class samurai family. There is a stone marker that remains in a section of Kajiyamachi, located about 5 minutes by foot from Kagoshima Chuo station. His stone marker remains along with that of his younger brother Tsugumichi (a Meiji period military man and politician as well a contributor to the Meiji restoration). Engraved in the stone marker are the letters “西郷隆盛君誕生之地 (the birth place of Saigo Takamori)”.  

The Saigo family was not wealthy, but Saigo Takamori was discovered by a monarch, Shimazunari Akira when Saigo was 26 years old. This catapults him to the center of the political world. Even though he rose in status, he did not succumb to greed but lived a humble life. This is perhaps one of the reasons people look up to him.

 

Bronze Statue of Saigo Takamori

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Writer’s Photo

This is the bronze statue of Saigo Takamori. It is 8 meters tall and stands on a high slope, so it looks quite dynamic.

By standing next to the dog in front of the bronze statue, you can capture the entire bronze statue in your photo so it’s a good place to take a photo.

On weekends and holidays when many tourists are anticipated, there are often volunteer tour guides on the standby to take your picture for you.

The name of the dog is Tsun. Saigo often walked in the mountains with Tsun. There is a famous story of him and the dog during the battle we will introduce later in the article. It is said that once Saigo knew his end was near, he took off the dog’s collar to let him free.

 

Shiroyama: Last Battleground of Seinan War

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Writer’s Photo

As mentioned earlier, Saigo Takamori leads to starting the Seinan War, which makes him the opponent of the Meiji government, which he himself helped establish.

To put it simply, the Meiji government took away special privileges enjoyed by the samurai up until the Edo Period and there were many who were discontent. Around the same time, Saigo Takamori did not agree with the government and so he resigned from his post to come back to Kagoshima. It was probably not Saigo’s intent to start a war, but he was made the great commander by a young group of people who rose to action.

The Seinan War continued for 7 months and the battle fought at Shiroyama became the last.

Shiroyama is currently made into an observatory, overlooking the active volcano Sakurajima and the Kagoshima bay.

 

Saigo Cave Site

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Writer’s Photo

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Writer’s Photo

The Saigo cave site appears as you descend a short distance from the Shiroyama observatory.

He spent the last 5 days of the Seinan War, hiding in this cave but was met by a full force attack. He is hit by a bullet as he descends the valley. Anticipating his own death, he takes his life by his own sword.

Looking into the cave, it does not look too deep but rather cramped. What Saigo-don was thinking during his 5 days here is beyond our imagination.

 

Nanshu Bochi Cemetary

南洲墓地

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Writer’s Photo: The Grave of Saigo Takamori

The Nanshu Bochi is a cemetery to mourn Saigo Takamori and other members of his army that died in the Seinan War.

The battle grounds of Seinan War were not limited to the Kagoshima Prefecture, but various parts of Kyushu. The remains of those that sacrificed their lives in the battle grounds are buried in this cemetery, so the souls of over 2,000 people rest here.

Saigo, known to value the opinions of farmers and lower class samurai.
Saigo, lover of nature and animals.
Saigo, who took part in the new Meiji regime but did not wish to be in the ranks.
Saigo, who was not able to appease the discontented samurai class and met his fate along with them.

These factors are perhaps the reason why people relate to him, calling him by the nickname “Saigo-don”. 

 

The grandness of Sakurajima, the solemn mood of the cave, the atmosphere of repose for the souls in the cemetery, there is so much more than photos and words can explain. We hope you have a chance to visit to see for yourself the man and history of Saigo Takamori.

 

<Birthplace of Saigo Takamori and Tsugumichi> MAP
Address: 5-2 Kajiyamachi, Kagoshima Prefecture
Access: 5 minute walk from Kagoshima Chuo Station

<Bronze Statue of Saigo Takamori> MAP
Address: 4-36 Shiroyama, Kagoshima-shi
Access: Take the “Kagoshima City View” shuttle bus from Kagoshima Chuo Station. Short distance from “Saigo Dozo mae (Saigo Bronze Statue Stop)”

<Shiroyama Observatory> MAP
Address: 22 Shiroyama, Kagoshima-shi
Access: Take the “Kagoshima City View” shuttle bus from Kagoshima Chuo Station. Short distance from “Shiroyama Stop”

<Saigo Cave Site> MAP
Address: 19 Shiroyama, Kagoshima-shi
Access: Take the “Kagoshima City View” shuttle bus from Kagoshima Chuo Station. Short distance from “Saigo Dokutsu (Saigo Cave)”

<Nanshu Bochi Cemetery> MAP
Address: 2-1 Kamitatsuo-cho, Kagoshima Prefecture
Access: Take the “Kagoshima City View” shuttle bus from Kagoshima Chuo Station. 6 minute walk from “Saigo Nanshu Koen Iriguchi (Saigo Nanshu Park Entrance)”

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Mikiko

About the author

I cherish the history, culture and nature of Japan. In university, I majored in history and I currently often travel to see things that I have not seen around the world through my own eyes. I hope to convey to all of you, the excitement I feel through such experiences. I hope you come to love Japan even more.

View all articles by Mikiko
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