Satsuma Rebellion

From Academic Kids

The Satsuma Rebellion (Seinan Sensō 西南戦争, 'Southwestern War') was a revolt of the Satsuma clan samurai against the Imperial Japanese Army.

The samurai of Satsuma had grown dissatisfied with the direction the government was taking. The modernization of the country was resulting in the dismantling of feudalism: stripping the emperor of official power and destroying the traditional social structure. Perhaps more importantly to the samurai the dismantling of feudalism also meant the abolition of their social status, privileges and power, and undermined their financial position. The rebellion was led by Saigo Takamori, who a few years earlier, had been a leader in the government and who, as field marshal, had actually been responsible for forming the government army that he now opposed. Saigo had supported the reforms in the beginning. But when the privileges of his own samurai class were abandoned, his conservative and traditionalist character caused him to side with his class rather than the national government.

In January 1877, the government sent a naval unit to disarm Kagoshima, a key city in the Satsuma domain. The unit was attacked by Saigo and his men. Saigo's samurai forces fought with some modern firearms (as well as traditional weapons) but his military tactics were traditional and antiquated. In February, Saigo and his army of 25,000-40,000 men besieged the government garrison in the city of Kumamoto. The siege of Kumamoto is considered by historians a major tactical blunder on Saigo's part as it allowed time for the government to attack with 300,000 soldiers. The rebel samurai managed a kill ratio of 2 to 1 but were heavily outnumbered. The battle lasted six weeks, and lowered the number of Saigo's men to 300-400. Saigo and his remaining samurai were pushed back to Kumamoto where, in a final battle, the Battle of Shiroyama, Saigo committed seppuku before he could be captured in September 24, 1877.

The crushing of the Satsuma Rebellion cost the government greatly financially. This rebellion was also the end of the samurai class. Saigo Takamori was labeled as a tragic hero by the people and 10 years later the Japanese government pardoned and promoted him posthumously to highest honors.

The movie The Last Samurai is loosely based on the events of the Satsuma Rebellion.

Further reading

Henshall, K. (2001). A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower. New York City, NY: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-23370-1

ja:西南戦争 de:Satsuma-Rebellion


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