If you love samurai movies then any visit to Japan will obviously be epic (it’s epic anyway), but a trip to Kyushu island in South-West Japan will be a must to visit where the last stand of the samurai took place.
When it comes to watching Japanese samurai movies, the best are from Akira Kurosawa (in my opinion), with old classics from the 50,s and 60,s such as the Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, and Throne of Blood.
These will put you in a great mood to visit some of these samurai places.
There are many castles all over Japan and Kumamoto Castle is one of the best. This is where the samurai held out for 50 days against the imperial forces.
The Satsuma Rebellion
In 1877 nine years into the new imperial government the samurai on Kyushu island (in the south-west of Japan) rebelled.
This was known as the Satsuma Rebellion due to it being started in the Satsuma region of Kyushu, in Kagoshima city. It was lead by the last great samurai warrior, Saigo.
They rebelled due to unhappiness at the new imperial governments ways of embracing the outside world, and abandoning some of their traditions.
The samurai were facing 30,000 Imperial Army troops with modern weapons, while they only 500 samurai armed with swords and old muskets.
It was a desperate rebellion but was in keeping with the samurai tradition of bushido (honour and courage).
Kumamoto castle was one of the last great sieges of the samurai. Heavily outnumbered by Imperial forces of the Meiji government they put up a good fight before retreating into the mountains.
The castle was mostly burned to the ground, but a replica has been built, and is a good one at that.
**Update. Kumamoto Castle suffered extensive damage in an earthquake in 2016 and could remain closed for a long time for repairs.**
Entering into the grounds of Kumamoto castle it has massive wall defences and turret towers, with moats out front.
You can spend at least two hours wandering around the grounds.
There is one original turret left that was not burned down in the siege.
Going inside you can just imagine all the samurai battling with the enemy out front.
At the top of the turret you get a great view onto the main castle itself.
Getting into the castle you will see it’s full of old weapons and clothes from the samurai, as well as details on the restoration works.
Going to Kumamoto Castle is really a great experience to see where the samurai made one of their last great stands.
After heading into the mountains to Mount Enodake when Kumamoto Castle fell, Saigo eventually lead the samurai to the east but became surrounded by a vastly superior force, and most of the remaining samurai either surrendered or committed seppuku (ritual suicide).
But Saigo as well as 500 hundred of his men escaped to Kagoshima and took refuge at Mount Shiroyama. It was here that the final battle took place.
With Saigo and his men surrounded they were bombarded by artillery and could only afflict minimal casualties on the imperial troops with their muskets.
Eventually with limited options Saigo and his samurai charged into the imperial lines and managed to reach them and with their famous samurai swords started cutting apart the unskilled in close combat imperial troops.
The samurai were doing well as this was the combat they were used to, but Saigo was injured by a bullet and taken away, eventually dying from the wound or by seppuku (no-one really knows).
The rest of the samurai fought until the last man. All were dead by the end of the day. They had no real chance as they were outnumbered 60 to 1 !
The last great samurai faded into history.
Kagoshima is worth a visit for the samurai history, but is also great to see for Sakurajima volcano, where you can bathe in soothing onsen’s (hot springs).
Japan is such a great country to travel around and the history of the samurai and castles which they have left behind are one of the best things about the place.
So grab a bowl of ramen and watch a good samurai movie and get inspired to visit Japan and its castles.
As were on the subject these are some samurai movies you should watch. I love Japan and samurai movies (if you couldn’t tell) and have seen them all.
I mentioned in the beginning Akira Kurosawa’s movies are my favourite and if you were to see just one samurai movie then make it the Seven Samurai. It’s such a masterful piece of cinema.
Kumamoto and Kyushu Island are a highlight of traveling in Japan. I hope someday you will visit!