Posted on 07/23/2010

Photo taken on June 19, 2010

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Japan 2010
Civil War

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Tabaruzaka Battlefield Park, Kumamoto 田原坂 熊本

Tabaruzaka Battlefield Park, Kumamoto 田原坂 熊本
Tabaruzaka was the site of the last major battle of the Seinan Civil War, when Saigo Takamori of Kagoshima thought that too many of the rights of the samurai were taken away and picked up the mantle after other failed samurai rebellions in Kumamoto, Saga, Fukuoka, and Hagi, and took his turn in revolting against the new Meiji government.

Tabaruzaka was a narrow valley on the only access road at that time to Kumamoto Castle by which artillery could be transported. Saigo had laid siege to Kumamoto Castle and had to prevent Meiji reinforcements from reaching the city and getting on his rear, and at the end of February 1877 placed a large part of his army (15,000) on these hills to prevent Imperial troops getting to Kumamoto and lifting the siege. Imperial troops arrived in March and a 17-day long battle began on 4 March. Temperatures were below freezing and it rained incessantly, turning the entire area into deep mud. Neither side could mount effective attacks and it became a battle of attrition until the Satsuma troops lost morale and retreated back to Kumamoto, effectively losing the war even though several more defeats were in their future (Hitoyoshi, Miyakonojo, Nobeoka & lastly Shiroyama in Kagoshima, where the last 500 of his men charged into 30,000 troops and surrendered).

The imperial troops knew that they had to win here no matter the cost, and put everything into attempting to dislodge the Satsuma troops and lift the siege at the castle. The siege of one of the strongest castles in Japan proved to be poor tactics by Saigo, as the time spent outside the walls gave the Meiji government time to bring more troops and warships to Kyushu, landing troops in Kagoshima to cut off Saigo's base of supply, and in Yatsushiro to put troops on his rear. When the troops from Miyanohara (Yatsushiro) began approaching Saigo's rear in April, he pulled the rest of his troops from the castle back to Hitoyoshi City, and as a result of the retreat, the 2-month siege of Kumamoto Castle was lifted. Losses of equipment and artillery at Tabaruzaka led to a fighting retreat all the way back to Kagoshima, where the last samurai were only left with swords, as all modern equipment had been lost or abandoned along the way.

Many villagers in the area became collateral damage as artillery from both sides missed military targets and hit farm houses and towns.

A small part of the battlefield is now set up as a park, with markers and monuments placed along the road where events took place. At the park, a monument with a list of all casualties on both sides is next to the museum as well as a grave with the first 20 Meiji troops killed. Both the Satsuma line and the Meiji line on different dates passed through the area of this photo.