I have always had immense respect for Takamori Saigo (1827-77), a key figure in the transition from the Tokugawa regime to the Meiji era in the nineteenth century. In particular, I am impressed by the profundity and scale of his saying "Revere heaven, love people," which has become my own personal motto.
I come from a mountainous area in Kyushu, where all you can see around you are mountains upon mountains and glittering clear rivers. Actually, however, this peaceful landscape was a battleground during the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877, which pitted the Meiji government army against the rebellious Saigo army. Since the task is so meaningless, I have never bothered to find out which side won the battle, but the custom is for the people of Kyushu to back Saigo's army.
Why did Saigo start the Satsuma Rebellion, which led to the deaths of so many young people? In our history lessons at school, we learned how Saigo had wanted to conquer the Korean Peninsula and left the government out of frustration when his plans were rejected, eventually launching the Satsuma Rebellion. I cannot believe, however, that Saigo would have wanted to conquer the Korean Peninsula by force. It seems quite impossible.
In my understanding, the real reason why Saigo launched the Satsuma Rebellion was his concern that, following the inauguration of the Meiji government and rejection of their bushido values, the descendants of samurai would instigate rebellions around the country and weaken the state body. He also felt sympathy with the samurai descendants themselves. Although there were several other disturbances after the Satsuma Rebellion ended, the Meiji government began moving steadily on the road toward building a modern state. The great Saigo had had the existence of the state in mind.
Kaishu Katsu (1823-99), another late-nineteenth-century statesman, wrote a wonderful autobiography, titled Hikawa seiwa, in which he described the thoughts and decisions he had made during his life. The book is also a critic of historical figures. Interestingly, in the section on Saigo the writing suddenly becomes florid. Katsu writes:
"The reason why Saigo is so peerless lies in his great audacity and sincerity. Believing me, he entered Edo Castle alone. Because I also responded with sincerity, the handover of Edo Castle was completed through negotiations. Thanks to Saigo, we managed to save the lives and property of the one million residents of Edo, and the Tokugawa shogun escaped with his life as well. . . .
"Anyhow, it would take a man of Saigo's scale to appreciate a man like Saigo. He was far beyond the comprehension of ordinary folk. He was neither politician nor bureaucrat. He was a man of great virtue. . . . If Saigo were alive today, I would have somebody to talk to―'Talk with Saigo's widow, or dream of bygone days.'"
Katsu refers to Saigo frequently in his autobiography, and his conclusion is that the Satsuma Rebellion was "suicidal." He also reveals that Tomomi Iwakura asked him to go to Kagoshima. "If you dismiss [Toshimichi] Okubo and [Takayoshi] Kido, I will go to visit Saigo," replied Katsu. "That cannot be done," said Iwakura. "Then I won't go to Kagoshima," responded Katsu. But he does not mention the Satsuma Rebellion much more beyond that, instead referring to Saigo's greatness at every opportunity.
Later, when Japan went on to invade the continent, the argument for conquest of the Korean Peninsula was rekindled and the historical position of Saigo became distorted. I believe, though, that nowadays in particular corporate management and state management need to recall the grand principle of "Revere heaven, love people." What do you think?