This content is Subscriber-Exclusive
You must have a National Geographic subscription to explore this article.
The stuff of legends and Hollywood movies, Japan's samurai are known for tradition and swordsmanship. But their last defender came to symbolize a conflict over modernization.
Standing six feet tall, Saigo Takamori—seen here in a statue from 1898 in Ueno Park, Tokyo—would not be considered an especially tall man now. But he was a giant compared with the Japanese average at that time, an effect heightened by his broad neck, square shoulders, and large, penetrating eyes with bristly eyebrows.