Japan Museums: Saigo Takamori Headquarters Museum
Saigo Takamori Headquarters Museum 西郷隆盛宿陣跡資料館
Variously known as The Seinan War, The Satsuma Rebellion, or Saigo's War, the uprising against the government led by Saigo Takamori in 1877 was the stuff of legends even before it ended with the suicidal last stand on Shiroyama in Kagoshima on September 24th.
For most people this event is considered to be the end of the war, but in fact the Battle of Wadagoe, a little more than a month earlier, near Nobeoka in Miyazaki can be considered the end of the war in military terms. With the Battle of Shiroyama being just a mopping up operation.
Saigo's War is often portrayed as a rag-tag band of traditional samurai armed only with swords taking on a modern army armed with machine guns, the Tom Cruise blockbuster The Last Samurai being the latest incarnation of the myth, but whereas the very last engagement of the Battle at Shiroyama may fit this romantic ideal, the war itself was, in fact, fought between two large, modern armies.
Actually the opening event of the war was when Kagoshima samurai raided the government arsenal and made off with thousands of rifles as well as more than 50 pieces of artillery including field guns, mountain guns and mortars. At its peak Saigo's army also had somewhere between 20 and 30 thousand men.
Of course the government could call upon much larger reserves, but their main advantage was in having a navy which could quickly move large amounts of men and material.
Following the unsuccessful siege of Kumamoto Castle, Saigo's army was forced across Kyushu, first to Hitoyoshi, then Miyakonojo and eventually Nobeoka.
At each stage he left behind groups of men to conduct a guerrilla rear-guard defence and so slowly lost men and weapons. By 17th August, Saigo with his last 3,000 men and without any artillery and only a few rifles, was caught in a pincer movement on the slopes of Mount Enodake north of Nobeoka.
Surrounded by 50,000 well armed government troops it seemed that the final showdown had arrived. Saigo set up a field hospital and his headquarters in a farmhouse near the banks of the Kitagawa River, called together his trusted lieutenants and declared the war over.
He told his soldiers to surrender, which many did, though some chose to commit seppuku. On the 19th he burned his official military uniform along with his papers. The government forces under Aritomo Yamagata fully expected to capture Saigo as there was seemingly no possible escape route, but somehow along with a few hundred of his closest followers he managed to slip through the enemy lines and make his way over the top of the more than 700 meter high Mount Enodake and eventually make his way back to Kagoshima for his final date with destiny.
The site of his final headquarters is now a small museum, and though a little out of the way, is a must see destination for Saigo fans and history buffs. Various items including weapons and uniforms from both sides are on display, and outside at the spot where Saigo burned his government uniform and papers is fenced off almost like a shrine. There are also numerous documents including some poems attributed to Saigo, however the biggest display is a tableau of mannequins representing Saigo meeting with his followers.
Saigo Takamori Headquarters Museum
6727 Kitagawamachi Nagai
Nobeoka, Miyazaki 889-0102
Tel: 0982 46 2960
Hours: Open from 9am to 5pm and closed on Mondays (or Tuesday if the Monday is a national holiday) and over the New Year. Entry 200 yen for adults.
Less than 100 meters from the museum is another historic site though this one dates back to the time and myths of the founding of Japan. It is claimed to be the burial site of Ninigi no Mikoto, the grandson of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, who sent him from the High Plain of Heaven down to earth to pacify Japan. Ninigi's great grandson was Jimmu, the mythical first emperor of Japan.