“To judge from the examples Morris gives us in The Nobility of Failure, more than one Japanese hero has been widely believed to have escaped death and gone into hiding in some distant land, there to bide his time until the right moment comes for him to return to Japan and finish whatever heroic work his enemies had interrupted.
“According to Ikai Takaaki, one of Saigo’s recent biographers, the rumor that Saigo had been transformed into a heavenly body began circulating within days of his death, helped in no small part by the presence of Mars in the night sky at the time. Ikai also reports that within a year after the defeat of the Satsuma forces, newspaper stories convinced many people that Saigo had escaped abroad and was hiding somewhere.”
– Saigo Takamori: The Man Behind the Myth, by Charles L. Yates, 1995
From the wiki: “Saigo Takamori was one of the most influential samurai in Japanese history, living during the late Edo Period and early Meiji Era. He has been dubbed the last true samurai. During the Boshin War, Saigō led the Imperial forces at the Battle of Toba-Fushimi, and then led the Imperial army toward Edo, where he accepted the surrender of Edo Castle from Katsu Kaishu.
“A decade after the Restoration, it was Saigo who would reluctantly lead an unsuccessful insurrection — the Satsuma Rebellion — against the very same Imperial government he had previously championed. The Satsuma rebels numbered around 40,000, dwindling to about 400 at their final stand at the Battle of Shiroyama in September, 1877. Saigo died of injuries suffered in battle.
“A statue of Saigo was, nonetheless, commissioned in 1893 by the Meiji government and cast in bronze for this populist figure in modern Japanese history. However, the government chose to clothe him as a commoner, not as a military figure, a decision that irked his wife and family to no end.”
Note: I had the great fortune, during my April, 2007 visit to Tokyo, to happen upon the dedication of a new bronze Saigo statue at Ueno Park that was attended by a few of his descendents.