On September 24, 1877, Saigõ Takamori, one of Japan's most loyal and honored samurai, died in the bloodiest conflict Japan had seen in over two hundred years, a battle led by Saigõ and his band of loyal students. Now, more than 125 years after his death, Saigõ still remains a legendary yet enigmatic figure in Japan. Why would Japan's greatest warrior, whose sole purpose was to serve his country, set in motion a civil war and lead a group of rebel soldiers to overthrow the government that he had personally helped to restore? The Last Samurai sets forth to demystify Saigõ 's life, his machinations, and the dramatic historical events that shaped the life and death of Japan's favorite samurai.
Exiled for misconduct, Saigõ was pardoned in 1864 and called back to the mainland to train a group of Satsuma warriors. Their mission was to seize control of the imperial palace and restore the imperial house to its former glory. Saigõ 's coup was successful, and 1867 he led the drive to destroy the shogunate and to create a powerful new state. But with Saigõ 's victory came a crushing defeat: in his drive to modernize Japan, the Meiji emperor, whom Saigõ had helped bring to power, abolished all samurai privileges, including their ancient right to carry swords.
Now an acting member of a modernizing Meiji government, Saigõ was given command of the new Imperial Guard, Japan's first national army in nearly a millennium. Saigõ supported many of the government's Western-style reforms, but he was torn by the sense that he was betraying his most stalwart supporters. Deeply ambivalent about the government he had