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Books > Biographies & Memoirs > Historical > Asia > Japan > 0471705373
  1. The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori
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  2. The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori

    Delivery: 10-20 Working Days
    Customer Ratings (37 reviews)
    Price R537.00

Additional Information

The dramatic arc of Saigo Takamori's life, from his humble origins as a lowly samurai, to national leadership, to his death as a rebel leader, has captivated generations of Japanese readers and now Americans as well - his life is the inspiration for a major Hollywood film, The Last Samurai, starring Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe. In this vibrant new biography, Mark Ravina, professor of history and Director of East Asian Studies at Emory University, explores the facts behind Hollywood storytelling and Japanese legends, and explains the passion and poignancy of Saigo's life. Known both for his scholarly research and his appearances on The History Channel, Ravina recreates the world in which Saigo lived and died, the last days of the samurai.

The Last Samurai traces Saigo's life from his early days as a tax clerk in far southwestern Japan, through his rise to national prominence as a fierce imperial loyalist. Saigo was twice exiled for his political activities -- sent to Japan's remote southwestern islands where he fully expected to die. But exile only increased his reputation for loyalty, and in 1864 he was brought back to the capital to help his lord fight for the restoration of the emperor. In 1868, Saigo commanded his lord's forces in the battles which toppled the shogunate and he became and leader in the emperor Meiji's new government. But Saigo found only anguish in national leadership. He understood the need for a modern conscript army but longed for the days of the traditional warrior.

Saigo hoped to die in service to the emperor. In 1873, he sought appointment as envoy to Korea, where he planned to demand that the Korean king show deference to the Japanese emperor, drawing his sword, if necessary, top defend imperial honor. Denied this chance to show his courage and loyalty, he retreated to his homeland and spent his last years as a schoolteacher, training samurai boys in frugality, honesty, and courage. In 1876, when the government stripped samurai of their swords, Saigo's followers rose in rebellion and Saigo became their reluctant leader. His insurrection became the bloodiest war Japan had seen in centuries, killing over 12,000 men on both sides and nearly bankrupting the new imperial government. The imperial government denounced Saigo as a rebel and a traitor, but their propaganda could not overcome his fame and in 1889, twelve years after his death, the government relented, pardoned Saigo of all crimes, and posthumously restored him to imperial court rank.

In THE LAST SAMURAI, Saigo is as compelling a character as Robert E. Lee was to Americans-a great and noble warrior who followed the dictates of honor and loyalty, even though it meant civil war in a country to which he'd devoted his life. Saigo's life is a fascinating look into Japanese feudal society and a history of a country as it struggled between its long traditions and the dictates of a modern future.

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Mark Ravina
Most Helpful Customer Reviews

If you saw the film "The Last Samurai" and have not studied much Japanese history, you have a long way to go before you can appreciate this book or the larger than life story of Saigo Takamori. This is an incredible story, but I can sympathize with people who are unfamiliar with Japanese words and history, and if you are in that category you may not get the most out of this outstanding book.

If you are new to Japanese history, I suggest you begin with Eiji Yoshikawa's historical fiction masterpiece "Taiko", which is way better than the very disjointed "Shogun". Taiko is a good introduction into The Way. From there, check out John Steven's, "The Sword of No Sword: Life of the master Warrior Tesshu". Tesshu has a great story where he rides across the DMZ carrying a Shogunate message right past the Imperial guards and into Saigo's command tent during a meeting of the generals, without being stopped! Saigo was so struck by this bold act, he received the message and allowed... Read more
For students of Japanese History Saigo has always been an enigma.

This work makes sense of Saigo and his ultimate revolution without purpose.

A strong recommendation for those with a serious interest in Japanese History and the Meiji Period.
While a true fan of the Samurai movies may enjoy reading about the life and times of the last Samurai, those looking for a "real life" account of the Characters found in the "last Samurai movie" will be sorely disappointed. The first chapter starts out alright, but gets pretty dry with a great number of names, places, dates, and facts, all of which also read pretty foreign to the average reader. Its not too unlike trying to read the old testament, book of numbers or book of kings. However, a fan of politics will certainly appreciate it. The life of Saigo Takamori was one of a civil servent - imagine reading about the life and times of your postal carrier. However, it improves if you get throught the first 2 chapters.
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