The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori

The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori

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by Mark Ravina
     
 

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On September 24, 1877, Saigo Takamori, one of Japan's most loyal and honored samurai, died in the bloodiest conflict Japan had seen in over two hundred years-a battle led by Saigo and his band of loyal students. Now, more than 125 years after his death, Saigo still remains a legendary yet enigmatic figure in Japan. Why would Japan's greatest warrior, whose sole

Overview

On September 24, 1877, Saigo Takamori, one of Japan's most loyal and honored samurai, died in the bloodiest conflict Japan had seen in over two hundred years-a battle led by Saigo and his band of loyal students. Now, more than 125 years after his death, Saigo still remains a legendary yet enigmatic figure in Japan. Why would Japan's greatest warrior, whose sole purpose was to serve his country, set in motion a civil war and lead a group of rebel soldiers to overthrow the government that he had personally helped to restore?

Against the colorful and turbulent backdrop of Japanese feudal society, The Last Samurai chronicles Saigo's life, from the childhood events that shaped his courage and passionate sense of justice to Saigo's demise by his own hand on the battlefield of the Satsuma Rebellion. The Last Samurai offers a riveting account of the making of Japan's most honored samurai, details the tragic clash between his samurai ideals and Japan's transformation into a modern nation, and illustrates why this consummate soldier and reluctant rebel is still as revered today as he was in his time.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Known as the "Robert E. Lee" of Japan, Saigo- (1828-77) first helped overthrow the feudal Tokugawa regime and establish Meiji Japan in1868, then in 1877 led a bloody, futile uprising against the new government. He feared the impersonal, commercial, and centralized nation would destroy samurai traditions of personal honor, regional loyalty, and social service. Ravina (director, East Asian Studies Program, Emory Univ.) is a careful scholar who nevertheless writes an action-filled story that resonates today. He shows us that Saigo- was no reactionary, though he harked back to the tradition of the socially responsible Confucian warrior who valued community, not class exploitation or individual advancement. Especially interesting is Ravina's presentation of Saigo- 's legacy in popular culture, where he became a folk hero, forcing the government to elevate him posthumously to a reconciling national martyrdom. Fascists and right-wing patriots from the 1930s to today have evoked samurai tradition, but their efforts are exposed as tawdry exploitation by this engrossing and thoughtful history. Highly recommended for all college and larger public libraries. [Interest in this period may be driven by the new Tom Cruise film of same name and period, though it is not based on this book.-Ed.]-Charles W. Hayford, Northwestern Univ., Evanston, IL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
“In a pacy narrative that reads like a thriller, Ravina follows Takamori through his last battle…” (Good Book Guide, April 2005)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780471089704
Publisher:
Wiley
Publication date:
11/24/2003
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
310,925
Product dimensions:
6.34(w) x 9.14(h) x 0.97(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Ravina has opened up a dimension of Saigo’s life that was closed to English readers before now."
—Charles L. Yates, The Historian

Meet the Author

MARK RAVINA is an associate professor of Japanese history at Emory University and Director of the East Asian Studies Program. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Have you ever heard of Saigo Takamori, the "last samurai"? Whether you heard he was good or bad, this book will set it all straight. In the 19th century, Japan is changing into the modern Japan we all know, and in the middle of it all was the great man surrounded by myth and legend, Saigo Takamori. Saigo started from a poor, yet samurai, family, and rose to a major political and military figure who was considered to be the last true samurai. This book focuses on Saigo's commitment to the samurai's way- to fight with honor and courage for his lord and state. And although many say he failed completely, not staying loyal to bushido- the code of the samurai- or Japan, he was really doing what he thought was best. He saw the government as corrupt, not standing for what Japan should stand for, and helped to take it down twice. The first time he succeeded, but his partners betrayed him, and made a government unlike what he had dreamed of, so he tried again. This time he failed, but he tried till the very end to stay loyal to stay loyal to the virtues of Bushido, while trying to stay loyal to Japan. He attacked the government he helped establish, but it had not been the one he thought it would be, and he showed that maybe, just maybe, his ideals can be achieved in government. In the end, he was seen as both a legendary hero who shaped Japan to what it is today, and as a treacherous traitor who tried to destroy the Japan he helped create. What I like most about this book was the great inserts of Japanese jargon, from goju- neighborhood schools- to ronin- a traveling samurai without lord or master. As you look though the book, the jargon is everywhere, italicized for fast recognition. The one part I don't like is how whenever a new person or place is put into the story, the book goes into great detail about their entire history. Although it does help understand his life, and the descriptions of the places create exceptional views, the descriptions can make the book a bit lengthy and starts to lose its luster. But overall, the book was exceptional, giving insight and explanation to Saigo's motives, ideas, and impact on Japan as the last samurai. And maybe one day, a country can spring up that is loyal to the people, with people loyal to it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Despite the great plot, characters, and camerawork of the recent movie 'The Last Samurai,' the movie left me with several questions. Obviously, although based ona true event, the movie was not completely historically accurate. It was shortly after viewing the movie that I came a across this book, 'The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori.' This book reveals the true history behind the modernization process of Japan and the creation of the Meiji state. Central to this creation and the subsequent rebellion against it was Saigo Takamori. Saigo was born a relatively poor son of a 16-person samurai family. At a relatively young age, Saigo was swept into national politics and soon helped aid the overthrow of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Before the revolution was complete, though, Saigo was exiled. He was released by the Meiji state and then exiled again. As time wore on, he began increasingly to doubt the effectiveness of this government. Saigo begins to rebel, and the nation rallies around him. He is crushed by the modern weapons of the establishment, however, and dies a symbol of old Japan. Mark Ravina does an excellent job of displaying the factual history of Saigo's life, not his legend. The only downfall of this book is the necessary history experience to understand it. Ravina uses several names and places the reader is assumed to know. If you have the requisite basic knowledge of Japanese history, then this book is your ticket to a greater understanding of one of Japan's greatest samurai figures ever.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a very intersting book on the life of Saigo Takamori. I am not that familiar with Japanese history, but this book gave me an insight in the life of avery intersting person. Takamori lived through and was instrumental in Japan's change from a warrior fuedal society into culture with an emporer. This book addresses this transformation, which is extremely fascinating; it also delves into the personl life of Takamori. For those of you who want to go beyond the fiction of the Tom Cruise movie and learn some real history, pick this book up and learn the truth.