This is the first real biography, in English or Japanese, of
Saigo Takamori - the last Samurai - the great hero of Meiji Japan.
It is impossible to over-estimate Saigo's importance, both during
the pivotal Meiji period and today. A samurai from Kagoshima, Saigo
played a major role during the Meiji Restoration, then died in 1877
while involved in a samurai rebellion against the government he had
done so much to create. He remains today among Japan's most beloved
national heroes, and is universally believed to embody the very
essence of what it means to be Japanese. As the Japanese themselves
say to foreigners - Understand Saigo and you will understand Japan.
Yet for one so firmly fixed in the public heart and mind, Saigo is
surrounded by controversy and ambiguity, and his life has been the
subject of sustained debate since before his death. As this
fascinating and highly important study shows, the controversy
surrounding Saigo arose and continues today because Dai Saigo - The
Great Saigo - and the historical Saigo Takamori are two very
different characters. One is the myth, the other the man behind it,
who has until now remained largely unknown. Returning to primary
sources, the author reconstructs the historical Saigo from the
mythic Dai Saigo. In a book that is at once a groundbreaking
biography, a study of the mythologizing process and a compelling
example of the power of image in everyday life, the author
demonstrates that the lasting importance of Saigo Takamori lies
less in the undeniably significant role played in the creation of
the Meiji state and the birth of modern Japan, than in the power he
continues to exert over the Japanese popular imagination, and in
what we can learn from that about the Japanese today.
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