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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

And finally the Satsuma samurai took the field


indemnity amounted to 500,000 dollars (Mexican).


The Formosan expedition took place in 1874, and, in the fall of 1875, a Korean fort opened fire on a Japanese warship which was engaged in surveying the coast. Such an insult could not be tamely endured. Japan marshalled an imposing number of warships and transports, but, following the example set in her own case by Commodore Perry, she employed this flotilla to intimidate Korea into signing a treaty of amity and commerce and opening certain ports to foreign trade. Thus, Korea was drawn from her hereditary isolation, and to Japan fell the credit of having become an instrument for extending the principle of universal intercourse which she had herself so stoutly opposed during two and a half centuries. It was a clever coup, but it earned little credit with the samurai. They regarded such a settlement as derogatory to their country.


It was at this stage that the Tokyo Government felt itself strong enough to resort to conclusive measures in the cases of the samurai. Three years had now passed since the wearing of swords had been declared optional and since a scheme for the voluntary commutation of the samurai's pensions had been elaborated. The leaders of progress felt that the time had now come to make these measures compulsory, and, accordingly,

two edicts were issued in that sense. The edicts, especially their financial provisions, imposed a heavy sacrifice. But it is very noticeable that the momentary question evoked no protests. It was to the loss of their swords that a number of samurai objected strenuously. Some scores of them, wearing old-fashioned armour and equipped with hereditary weapons, attacked a castle, killed or wounded three hundred of the garrison, and then died by their own hands. Here and there throughout the empire a few equally vain protests were raised, and finally the Satsuma samurai took the field.


This insurrection in the south severely taxed the resources of the Central Government. The Satsuma samurai were led by Saigo Takamori, but it has always been claimed for him that he undertook the command, not for the purpose of overthrowing the Meiji Government, but in the hope of restraining his followers. Ultimately, however, he seems to have been swept away by the tide of their enthusiasm. The insurgents numbered some forty thousand; they all belonged to the samurai class, were fully trained in Occidental tactics, and were equipped with rifles and field-guns. Their avowed purpose was to restore the military class to its old position, and to insure to it all the posts in the army and the navy.

Fighting began on January 29, 1877, and ended on September 24th of the same year. All the rebel leaders fell in battle or died by their own hands. During these eight months of warfare, the Government put sixty-six thousand men into the field, and the casualties on both sides totalled thirty-five thousand, or thirty-three per cent, of the whole. Apart from the great issue directly at stake, namely, whether Japan should have a permanent military class, a secondary problem of much interest found a solution in the result. It was the problem whether an army of conscripts, supposed to be lacking in the fighting instinct and believed to be incapable of standing up to do battle with the samurai, could hold its own against the flower of the bushi, as the Satsuma men undoubtedly were. There really never was any substantial reason for doubt about such a subject. The samurai were not racially distinct from the bulk of the nation. They had originally been mere farmers, possessing no special military aptitude. Nevertheless, among all the reforms introduced during the Meiji era, none was counted so hazardous as the substitution of a conscript army for the nation's traditional soldiers. The Satsuma rebellion disposed finally of the question.

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