The samurai - with their elaborate armour, formidable swords and fierce sense of honour – are the ultimate warriors. Novels, videos, martial artists, manga and films have made them legendary. But the truth is just as astonishing as any legend.
I portray these warriors through the life of the real ‘last samurai’, Saigo Takamori. Saigo lived when samurai ways were about to vanish. In the mid-19th century, after 250 years of isolation, the arrival of American ships forced Japan into frantic modernization. Dedicated to bushido, ‘the way of the warrior’ – death defying bravado and loyalty to the Emperor – Saigo led several thousand samurai in a desperate rebellion against imperial troops. His extraordinary life and dramatic death – beheaded by his closest aide - turned him into one of Japan’s most revered heroes.
This was a new challenge, proposed by my publisher. Samurais are a joy to market. But this vast subject needed a focus. Saigo was a gift: idealist, poet, minister, prisoner, martyr. His final days involved a snowy death-march by under-dressed teenagers, impossible demands, a last stand, overwhelming odds. I went in his footsteps, walking through Kyushu’s glorious landscapes, and tracking the emergence of the modern nation.
A well-written piece of history with an easy storyteller’s rhythm and plenty of intrigue…. Smooth, sophisticated history writing
John Man has visited the locations of the key events in his subject’s life and is adept at describing them. With a relaxed and honest prose style he slashes through the thicket of 19th-century Japanese politics with the keenness of a samurai’s tempered steel blade