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The rebellion of Satsuma 西南戦争 First Part

La ribellione di Satsuma


Although Satsuma's domain had been one of the protagonists of the Meiji Restoration and War Boshin and that many of his men had come to influential positions in the new Meiji government, wax was a growing dissatisfaction with the direction the country was taking.

The modernization of the country (with the consequent abandonment of the feudal system) meant the abolition of the privileged social condition of the samurai class, and thus undermined their financial position. The rapid and massive changes in culture, clothing, and Japanese society made many Samurai think of a betrayal of Sonno joi, "reviving Tenno and expelling the barbarians," used as a justification to overthrow the Tokugawa.

Takamori Saigo, who was one of Satsuma's senior leaders in the Meiji Government and who at the beginning supported the reforms, was very concerned about the growing corruption and because the slogan of his movement was "新政 厚 徳", "New Government, High morality "what was happening went against this philosophy.


Saigo Takamori statue

                                                                                             Saigo Takamori 西郷 隆盛

Since Saigo was one who supported the war much against Korea, he offered to visit the latter in person so behaving so offensive with the Koreans that they would have been forced to kill him by provoking a war that would not only spur the strengthening of the forces but it was also the way to restrain their role to the samurai, but the plan was rejected and so Saigo resigned in protest from all his government assignments and returned to his Kagoshima and like him many other Satsuma samurai in military and police forces.

To maintain and occupy these men, in 1874 Saigo founded a private academy in Kagoshima and very soon his many branches were created throughout the prefecture. "Training" was not purely academic: although classical Chinese teachers were taught, all students were required to take part in training with weapons and tactical education. The traditions of Bushido 武士道 were the key point of this training, and since Saigo also launched an artillery school, all these schools resembled more and more paramilitary political organizations, and they went on to win the support of Satsuma's governor, who appointed the samurai to political office, where they came to dominate the Kagoshima government.

The support for Saigo become so strong that by the end of 1876 Satsuma was in fact detached from the central government. The news of these academies that Saigo founded was well received in Tokyo. The central government was already attempting to seduce small but violent samurai revolts in the Kyūshū (Saga rebellion), and to know that many and fierce Satsuma samurai, guided in the rebellion by the famous and popular Saigo, was nothing short of alarming. In December 1876, the Meiji government sent a police officer named Nakahara Hisao with 57 men to investigate reports of subversive activity and disorder, but all these men were captured and tortured confessed that they were spies sent to assassinate Saigo.

Although Nakahara subsequently repudiated the confessional extortion by force, it was widely believed to Satsuma and was used by the disgruntled samurai as a justification that a rebellion was now inevitable to protect Saigo. The situation was such that the Meiji Government on January 30 1877 sent a warship to Kagoshima to remove the weapons wound up in the arsenal of the city and it was precisely this that caused an open conflict, although with the elimination of the samurai rice salaries in 1877, tensions were already extremely high. Infuriated by the government's tactics, some fifty students from the Saigo Academy attacked the Somuta Arsenal by taking away their weapons. Over the next three days, more than 1,000 students organized raids on shipyards and other arsenals, and based on these events Saigo came out and began to drive the uprising.


La ribellione di Satsuma 2


In February 1877, the Meiji government sent Hayashi Tomoyuki, an officer of the Ministry of the Interior, along with Admiral Kawamura Sumiyoshi, to the Takao warship to ascertain the situation that had emerged, once arrived, the governor of Satsuma, Oyama Tsunayoshi explained that the uprising had been the natural answer to attempting to assassinate the government against Saigo, and asked Admiral Kawamura (Saigo's cousin) to land to help calm the situation but once Oyama was partitioned, one small ships fleet full of armed men tried to board the Takao with force, but they were all rejected. The following day, Hayashi declared to Oyama that he could not allow Kawamura to land on the ground while the situation was so unstable, and that the attack on Takao was practically an act of war.

Returning to Kobe, Hayashi met generals Aritomo Yamagata and Hirobumi Ito, and it was decided that the Japanese Army should be sent to Kagoshima to prevent the revolt and spread to other areas of the country favoring Saigo, meanwhile Saigo met with his lieutenants Kirino Toshiaki and Shinohara Kunimoto and announced his intention to march on Tokyo to ask questions to the government. Saigo refused the help of large volunteers and made no attempt to contact any of the other domains to get their support leaving no troops in Kagoshima to defend the base against any attack.
In this way he intended to show that he was acting in legality and that his gesture had no subversive ends and to reinforce this concept, he wore his military uniform, but unfortunately the events degenerated thus leading the parts to the inevitable clash.

In the second part of the article we'll  see some salient events of this war in the numbers and dates.



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