Satsuma Rebellion

Satsuma Rebellion
   Known in Japan as the seinan senso, or “Southwest War,” the Satsuma Rebellion was the greatest of the series of samurai rebellions that rocked the newly established Meiji regime between 1874 and 1877. The eight-month engagement pitted 60,000 troops of the new national conscript army against the 42,000 samurai warriors from the former feudal fiefdom of Satsuma. Suppression of the rebellion in September 1877 marked the end of significant armed opposition to the new regime.
   The Meiji Restoration of 1868 brought the end of feudal Japan and the beginning of a new, modern national polity. Although the founders of the Meiji state came from the samurai class, among their modernizing reforms was the elimination of privileges that had guaranteed samurai supremacy in the early modern period: the exclusive right to bear arms (two swords), to receive a stipend from the local lord, to wear the hair in a top-knot, to possess a surname and family crest, and to ride on horseback. The new central government chipped away at these rights between 1870 and 1876, provoking a series of five major uprisings.
   Although the Satsuma Rebellion far exceeded the next largest disturbance, the 1874 Saga Rebellion of 2,500 samurai, it followed a general pattern of samurai protest. As with its predecessors, the origins of 1877 lie in the 1873 debate over a proposed invasion of Korea. Disgruntled by the decision to prioritize internal modernization over foreign invasion, several members of the ruling circle quit the national government for their native lands and assumed leadership of growing local disaffection with Tokyo.
   Directing the Satsuma Rebellion was Saigo Takamori, popularized in a 2003 Hollywood film as The Last Samurai. Saigo had played a pivotal role in toppling the feudal regime and in promoting modernizing reforms. But after the 1873 split, he returned to his native Kagoshima and renounced public life. Moved by the sincerity of Satsuma resistance to the increasingly crass materialism of the nation, he agreed in February 1877 to lead a samurai march on Tokyo. An imposing figure of almost 6 feet, 240 pounds and piercing gaze, Saigo was already a celebrity in his time. His ritual suicide in the name of purity is legend and has ensured his place as modern Japan’s greatest hero.
   See also <>.
    Ravina, Mark. The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2004.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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