The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori

By Mark Ravina | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
“A MAN OF EXCEPTIONAL FIDELITY”
Saigō and National Politics*

A New Daimyo

In early 1854 Saigō was promoted from assistant clerk to lord’s attendant (chū gokoshō) and was selected to accompany the daimyo, Shimazu Nariakira, on his biennial journey to the shogun’s capital of Edo (now Tokyo). Upon the party’s arrival in Edo in 1854/3, Nariakira appointed Saigō as his Edo gardener, an innocuous but important post. As gardener Saigō could travel freely around the city, relaying messages from Nariakira to other daimyo without arousing the suspicion of the shogun’s spies. Saigō became the daimyo’s confidant and adviser, and emerged as a rising figure in national politics.1

The process by which Saigō, a minor clerk in the domain tax office, became his lord’s most trusted adviser is among the great mysteries of Saigō’s life. None of Saigō’s many biographers has found any evidence linking Saigō and Nariakira prior to 1854. No papers, no letters, and no contemporaneous accounts connect Saigō to his lord prior to the sudden promotion in

*This quote is from a description of Saigō by Nagaoka Kenmotsu, a house elder in Kumamoto domain. See DSZ 1:70–72.

-43-

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