Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Satsuma Rebellion Illustrated Japanese History

Japan Book Review: Satsuma Rebellion Illustrated Japanese History - The Last Stand of the Samurai

Satsuma Rebellion Illustrated Japanese History - The Last Stand of the Samurai

by Sean Michael Wilson

ISBN: 978-1-62317-167-4
North Atlantic Books, 2018
104pp; paperback

Satsuma Rebellion Illustrated Japanese History.
Satsuma Rebellion Illustrated Japanese History

Two of the most momentous events in Japanese history were the ending of the 265-year rule of the Tokugawa regime at the end of the Edo Period and the subsequent beginning of the Meiji Restoration in 1868. These events, of course, did not happen smoothly.

A major incident of this time was called the Satsuma Rebellion which occurred when a group of disaffected ex-samurai, who had lost power and influence at the start of the Meiji Restoration, started to rise up. In all, some two million samurai had been downgraded and were struggling while attempting to join the ranks of everyday businessmen and farmers.

The Satsuma Rebellion was the most famous of the more than 30 rebellions that the new government had to quash. Saigo Takamori, a noted and influential samurai in the Edo Period, assembled a group of these former samurai to take on the new government. Saigo had fallen out of favor with the new government when his plan to invade and conquer Korea was rejected.

While the basic story is well-known - not just by Japanese school students who are still taught this history but by people with more than a passing knowledge of Japanese history - readers of this graphic novel will deepen their knowledge of the important people and events of this pivotal period of time. 

For example, Emperor Komei's "Expel the Barbarians" order led to many deaths including, possibly, his own. His passing, under suspicious circumstances, led immediately to his 14-year-old son, Emperor Meiji, ascending the throne.

There are actually a number of interesting, tangential characters in the book such as: Edward and Henry Schnell, Dutch-German brothers who were arms dealers and brought two of the first Gatling guns to Japan; Thomas Glover, a Scot who brought the first steam locomotive to Japan and who established companies that later became Mitsubishi and Kirin; and British merchant Charles Richardson whose rudeness towards powerful Japanese caused a major political crisis.

Despite being outnumbered six to one by government forces, and despite being on the losing end of the battle, Saigo is today greatly revered by many Japanese. There is a famous bronze statue of Saigo in Tokyo's Ueno Park. It has been standing there since 1898.

As with "Black Ships," Wilson's first Japan-related graphic novel, the art work in this book (done by Akiko Shimojima) is sufficient but not spectacular. There are no editing gaffs as seen in the first book.

If graphic novels pique readers' interest and inspire them to do more research on the main subject, then probably they are well-written. This book will do those things for many readers.

Review by Marshall Hughes.

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