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Satsuma Rebellion of 1877 - Sources

The division of feeling which existed in several of the clans following the Meiji Restoration was most conspicuous in Satsuma, Choshiu and Mito. Even before the Restoration the contentions of rival parties had led in Choshiu to grave disorders, which had weakened that clan in its conflict with the Tokugawa Government; while in Mito the struggle of opposing factions, supporting, respectively, the Shogunate, and the Court party represented by the old Prince of Mito, had resulted in prolonged and fierce fighting. Though in Satsuma the rivalry of individual leaders had stopped short of open hostilities, the division of feeling was not less marked. There, the situation was complicated by the existence of no less than three parties — two conservative groups led, respectively, by the old noble Shimadzu, the father of the young ex-daimio, and by the elder Saigo, the latter being at once the most influential and most numerous; and a third—the party of reform—which looked for guidance, among other prominent men, to Okubo, Kuroda, Matsugata, Kawamura and the younger Saigo.

After the Restoration the condition of things became less unsettled in Mito, and to some extent also in Choshiu. But in Satsuma the division of feeling remained unaltered, a circumstance which, added to separatist tendencies that stood in the way of combined action, was, in the sequel, of much benefit to the Government. What the disaffected clans and individuals wanted was a larger share of power. All, perhaps, over-estimated their share in the accomplishment of the Restoration. They had, they considered, paid the piper, and they wished to call the tune.

Ten years passed after the Restoration, and during that time order was gradually restored within the country. Meanwhile, however, a crisis was developing in the government itself. The conflict of opinions between the conservative internal policy party and the strong foreign policy party resulted in a vehement controversy over the question of an invasion of Korea, and finally led to the great Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. But this war served as a touchstone to test the ability of the new regime and was an indispensable medium for perfecting the modern institutions and unified organization of the state. Notwithstanding the great sacrifices it was called upon to make, the Imperial Government was fortunately able to give proof of its ability to maintain the unified rule over the nation, and was left virtually free to proceed on its way toward administrative reforms and general public improvements.

Friction among the Cabinet members over the question of Korean conquest, added to the local disturbances, made the already confused state of things worse confounded, and the result was the famous Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. In this rebellion, Saigo Takamori, one of the veteran statesmen of the Restoration, who enjoyed a wide popularity and was well versed in military tactics, acted as the head of the insurrection. Kumamoto, Fukuoka, Saga and other places in Kyushu, not to speak of Satsuma, his birthplace, responded to his call. They resisted the Imperial forces until they were destroyed to the last man.

Takamori Saigo, defeated in his insistent advocacy of the invasion of Korea, resigned his councillorship in the Cabinet and returned to his native place. Ever since his retirement from office, and his withdrawal to his native province in 1873, the elder Saigo had remained in Kagoshima, the chief town of Satsuma. Here he had established an institution which, in order to disguise its object, was called a "private school." In reality it was a military college. In its central quarters in that town, and in branches elsewhere, the youth of the clan received a military training. In the autumn of 1875 it was already in a flourishing condition, and in the course of the following year there were in Kagoshima alone some seven thousand pupils, or associates. By this time much uneasiness prevailed. Public apprehension found free expression in the Press, which said that the nation was divided into two parties, one being for the Government, the other for Satsuma, and asked what could be done to preserve peace.

The coming into force in January, 1877, of the edict, issued in the previous year, prohibiting the wearing of swords, was followed by Shimadzu's resignation of the high office he held in the Ministry. In disgust at this latest move of a Government with which he had never from the first been in sympathy, he left Tokio. Not being allowed to travel by sea, he went back to Satsuma by land, following the historic route he and other nobles had so often taken before. The members of his retinue carried in cotton bags the swords they were no longer allowed to wear; and when, at the end of his journey, the gates of the yashiki at Kagoshima closed upon his palanquin, he may have realized that he had passed for ever out of the political life in which he had at one time played so conspicuous a role. In the hostilities which followed he took no part, being content to show his disapproval of the new regime by withdrawing into a retirement from which he never again emerged.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:18:05 ZULU