Is there any understanding a man like Saigo Takamori? His spirit seems as vast as his bulk, and his bulk was that of a sumo wrestler. He is "the quintessential hero of modern Japanese history," said historian Ivan Morris.

"Sincerity" was the quality Saigo valued above all others. The sincere man, he wrote, "cares neither about his life, nor his fame, nor about rank or money." Many people profess sincerity insincerely. Not Saigo. Bitterly he contemplated his own shortcomings. He committed them to poetry:

"I sit and study far into the night./ My face is cold, my stomach empty./ One's selfish thoughts should melt away like snow before a lighted lamp./ Yet, when I gaze deep within my heart/ I am humbled by abundant shame."