“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.”
“General Saigo is a man of handsome appearance, and stately bearing, of about thirty-seven years of age; like many southerners [Saigo is a native of Satsuma province], he is by no means small of stature. His house, which we soon reach, is a wooden building in the English style. The floor of the room in which I am received is covered with a ‘tapestry’ carpet, and in it stands an American stove, which can scarcely be regarded as beautiful, though it is probably useful.
“The furniture is of European character, but surely of American make, and in pattern resembles English furniture prior to 1862. As we sat on European chairs, tea was served in native style.
“It had been arranged that I should visit Mr. Sano – one of the ministers; but Japanese etiquette demands that a note be sent immediately before the visit, to ask if all things are ready for the reception; General Saigo therefore writes the first Japanese letter which I have seen written.”
– Japan: Its Architecture, Art, and Art Manufactures, by Christopher Dresser, Ph.D, 1882
Note: I had the great fortune, during an April, 2007 visit to Tokyo, to happen upon the re-dedication of Saigo’s statue at Ueno Park that was attended by a few of his descendants.