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Woodblock Print of the Disembarkation of the Russian Crown Prince

Object ID: 1988.002.003
Object: Woodblock Print of the Disembarkation of the Russian Crown Prince (Rokoku Kotaishi Jo Zu), diptych, colors on paper
Place of Origin: Japan
Date: Meiji Period, late 19th century
Credit: Gift of Martha McCormack

The Russian crown prince, later Czar Nicholas II, visited Japan in 1891. Many Japanese anticipated his visit because of a widespread rumor given palpable form by this print. Standing at left beside the crown prince is Takamori Saigō, a much beloved national hero who had committed suicide nearly 15 years before!

Saigō had participated in the struggle to oust the shōgun from power which resulted in the change in government known as the Meiji Restoration. After several years of service in the new government, he quit over issues relating to the treatment of former samurai. Returning home to Kagoshima in southwest Japan, he was quickly surrounded by malcontents who persuaded him to lead a revolt against the new government in 1877. The rebellion failed and Saigō took his own life.
Saigō was regarded as the embodiment of the samurai spirit, an attitude that remains current today.

So popular was the rumor that he escaped death and fled the country that in 1877 it gained widespread credibility, especially after the announcement of the crown prince’s visit. Many believed that Saigō had fled to Russia and was returning to Japan with the crown prince to assume leadership of the nation.