Seinan Rebellion (1/2)The final battle of the samurai: Takamori Saigo vs. the government

Seinan War

Seinan War

Article category
case file
Incident name
Seinan War (1877)
Kumamoto prefecture, Miyazaki prefecture, Oita prefecture, Kagoshima prefecture
Related castles
Kumamoto Castle

Kumamoto Castle

Hitoyoshi Castle

Hitoyoshi Castle

After the Boshin War ended in 1869, the new government (Meiji government) carried out a series of reforms. Against this backdrop, a rebellion led by the samurai class under the banner of Takamori Saigo was the Seinan War, which occurred in Kumamoto, Miyazaki, Oita, and Kagoshima prefectures from February 15 to September 24, 1877. The last civil war in Japan, fought by the cornered warrior class, is also known as a tragic battle. This time, I will explain the Seinan Rebellion in an easy-to-understand manner.

Why did the Seinan War occur? The background of the samurai rebellion

After the former Shogunate army was defeated in the Boshin War, the Meiji government implemented reforms one after another. In June 1869, the feudal lords were forced to return their land (ban) and people (register) to the Emperor through Hanseki Hokan. The feudal lords continued to rule as they were appointed to the feudal lords, but the emperor remained at the top. Furthermore, in July 1871, feudal domains were abolished throughout the country and prefectures were established. Centralization of power to the Emperor progressed rapidly.

In 1873, the government implemented a conscription ordinance that required all citizens to serve in the military, and even farmers were required to serve in the military. In 1876, the Sword Abolition Order prohibited the wearing of swords, and the Chitsuroku Disposition was implemented, abolishing the chitsuroku that the government had paid to samurai in lieu of stipend. Chitsuroku accounted for about 40% of the national budget, putting a strain on public finances. The abolition of Chitsuroku was a necessity of the times, as there was a series of criticisms about paying large sums of money to the samurai class, who made up only about 5% of the population.

In fact, at the time of the Meiji Restoration, the government had significantly reduced the samurai's stipend, and in 1870, it created a system in which five years' worth of stipends would be paid to those who "changed" from samurai to farmers or approval. , was pushing the samurai out of business. The Chitsuroku disposition also occurred in this vein. However, if Chitsuroku were simply abolished unilaterally, most of the samurai would be left on the streets, and it was certain that dissatisfaction would erupt. Therefore, the government provides Kinroku public bonds for several to ten years of Rokutaka as retirement benefits. If they had public bonds, interest would accrue, so the samurai clan could continue to receive money. However, the interest rate was only a small amount, and although some samurai families sold their bonds and started businesses, very few were successful. However, they still lack the ability to become bureaucrats in a government that emphasizes ability. This resulted in a large number of fallen samurai.

The samurai class, who were forbidden to wear the sword, which was the lifeblood of samurai, and whose vested interests, the chitsuroku, were cut off, suffered from hardships, and were unable to do anything about their daily lives.Their pride as a privileged class of the Edo period was shattered. That anger is directed at the government. As a result, dissatisfied samurai tribes began to rebel in various places.

Takamori Saigo, the key man of the Seinan Rebellion, and his private school

Saigo Takamori, Okubo Toshimichi, and Kido Takamasa are known as the three great figures of the Meiji Restoration. Among these, Saigo Takamori was an opponent of the government during the Seinan War. At that time, there was conflict within the Meiji government over relations with Korea. In response to Taisuke Itagaki's insistence on attacking Korea, Takamori Saigo goes to Korea as a messenger and tries to persuade the Korean side. In response, Tomomi Iwakura and Toshimichi Okubo insisted on giving priority to domestic affairs and refused to send Takamori's envoy. They believed that if Takamori was killed as a messenger in Korea, a war would suddenly break out. As a result of these conflicts within the government, Takamori, along with Taisuke Itagaki and others, resigned from the council and moved to Shimotsuke in 1873 (Meiji 6 Coup).

Afterwards, Saigo Takamori returned to Kagoshima and established a private school for Kagoshima's samurai class in 1874. The school was created with the intention of alleviating the dissatisfaction of the samurai class. Kuniki Shinohara supervised the gun corps school, and Shinpachi Murata supervised the artillery corps school and children's school. Toshiaki Kirino directed Yoshino Kaikensha and worked on the land clearing business. Private schools have more than 10 branch schools in Kagoshima city and about 150 branches in the prefecture, and the prefectural governor, Tsunayoshi Oyama, also supported private schools, making them a major force in Kagoshima. . People associated with private schools came to serve as mayors and police officers within the prefecture, and as a result of their involvement in Kagoshima's politics, Kagoshima Prefecture took on the appearance of a semi-independent state run by private school factions.

Under these circumstances, in 1876, dissatisfaction among the samurai class exploded due to the Sword Abolition Order and Chitsuroku Disposition. In Kyushu, the samurai class rebelled in Kumamoto and Fukuoka prefectures. In response, the government is becoming increasingly cautious, wondering if Kagoshima will be next. It is necessary to prevent Takamori Saigo, who was originally known as a highly charismatic person, from rebelling at all costs, so Toshiyoshi Kawaji, the head of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, dispatches spies to Kagoshima to keep an eye on him.

Furthermore, in January 1877, the government transferred weapons and ammunition held by the army in Kagoshima Prefecture to Osaka. This measure was intended to prevent weapons from falling into the hands of the private school factions, but the private school factions rebelled against this move and started a raid on ammunition. Furthermore, it was revealed that the government had been plotting the assassination of Takamori Saigo, and the private schools' anger towards the government reached its peak, and they held a meeting in February to discuss how to respond to the government.

At the meeting, Shinsuke Beppu insisted on giving up arms. On the other hand, Yaichiro Nagayama believed that discussions should begin, and he expressed the opinion that Takamori Saigo and others should come to Tokyo to question the Meiji government. The discussion became confusing, with some suggesting that the matter should be appealed directly to the Emperor. In the end, Toshiaki Kirino, who had a lot of power at a private school, advocated sending troops, and as a result, the majority of people supported the war against the government.

By the way, Toshiaki Kirino was a martial artist who was feared as ``Hitokiri Hanjiro'' (Hanjiro Nakamura) at the end of the Edo period. There is no doubt that he admired Takamori Saigo and was angry at the assassination plan. Takamori Saigo, the party involved, seems to have been cautious about fighting the government, but he decided to fight against the government with the support of the private school faction. This is how the Seinan War began.

Furthermore, there is a theory that this assassination plan for Saigo Takamori was made by Toshimichi Okubo, and that the private school faction misunderstood the order ``Shisatsu'' given to the spies, which was originally an ``inspection,'' to be a ``stabbing.'' The theory has been strong until now. In recent years, there have been no assassination plans in the first place (the spy who was said to have planned the plot was forced to confess through torture), and it can be assumed that the assassination plans were used as a pretext for the samurai class who opposed the government. However, it is true that the government was wary of the power of private school students and Takamori Saigo, who led them. A showdown between the two would have been inevitable.

Seinan War ① Battle of Kumamoto Castle

Takamori Saigo assembled an army against the government with students from a private school in Kagoshima, and on February 15, set out for Kumamoto in the midst of the heaviest snow in decades. There are approximately 13,000 of them. After that, the army swelled to about 30,000 people due to repeated conscription. Meanwhile, on February 19, the government appointed Imperial Prince Arisugawa Taruhito as the commander-in-chief, and appointed Army Lieutenant General Aritomo Yamagata and Navy Vice Admiral Sumiyoshi Kawamura as deputy commanders in charge of practical matters. The total military strength is said to be between 50,000 and 100,000, and Kiyotaka Kuroda, who fought alongside Takamori through the Meiji Restoration, and his cousin Iwao Oyama also participated. The samurai class of the former Satsuma domain was split in two during the Seinan War.

The first place the Satsuma army headed was Kumamoto Castle, which was protected by the Kumamoto Chindai (army unit). However, on February 19th, before the Satsuma army besieged Kumamoto Castle, a fire broke out within Kumamoto Castle, and the castle tower and Honmaru Palace were completely destroyed. The cause of the fire is not clear, and it is said that it was the work of the government army, the Satsuma army, or an accidental fire.

On February 20th, the Satsuma army and the Kumamoto military base clashed. On the 22nd, the Satsuma army led by Toshiaki Kirino and Shiro Ikegami surrounded Kumamoto Castle and launched a simultaneous attack. However, even though Kumamoto Castle was burnt down, it was still a strong castle built by Kiyomasa Kato, a master castle builder, using the latest technology of the time. Moreover, Kumamoto Castle had 120 wells, and the tatami mats were made from Japanese kanpyo and potato shells, making it perfect for castle sieges. As a result, 3,500 soldiers led by Kumamoto Chindai Commander-in-Chief Tanihanjo continued to besiege the castle, and although the Satsuma army switched to a food and supplies offensive, they were unable to capture the castle. Meanwhile, government reinforcements arrived in Fukuoka on February 26th. The war gradually expands.

Seinan Rebellion ② “Battle of Tabarazaka” was a turning point

The place where the government reinforcements heading south and the Satsuma army clashed was Tabarazaka in Kita Ward, Kumamoto City, Kumamoto Prefecture. It is a gentle slope with a length of 1.5km and a road width of 4m, but it is said to have been opened by Kiyomasa Kato to protect Kumamoto Castle in case of an attack from the north. It was the perfect place for the Satsuma army to meet and attack the government army. On the other hand, for the government army, Tabarazaka was the only wide road they could use to transport cannons and supplies, and it was an important transportation point that they could not avoid. In this way, the two armies clashed at Tabarazaka, and a fierce battle raged from March 4th to March 20th.

The article on Seinan Rebellion continues.

Naoko Kurimoto
Writer(Writer)I am a former travel industry magazine reporter. I have loved history, both Japanese and world history, since I was a child. I usually enjoy visiting temples and shrines, especially shrines, and often do ``pilgrimages to sacred places'' themed around historical figures. My favorite military commander is Ishida Mitsunari, my favorite castle is Kumamoto Castle, and my favorite castle ruins is Hagi Castle. My heart flutters when I see the ruins of battle castles and the stone walls of castle ruins.
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