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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Count Nogi Maresuke

What we have here is a Japan issued first-day cover stamp (May 10, 1937) of Count Nogi Maresuke (surname first, 乃木 希典), born December 25, 1848 in Edo-shi (now Tokyo), dying September 13, 1912 in Tokyo.

I saw the image on an e-mail sent to me from a ephemera dealer down in New Zealand... I figured it would make for an easy blog to write... but dammit, or yay, no such luck.

Despite the typed message on the envelope, Nogi (surname) was not a General.

He was a lieutenant general...

He was, however, a Count. ah-ah-ah. All you Sesame Street fans will appreciate that... all one-two-three-ah-ah-ah of you.

Nogi is considered to be a hero of the Japanese people for his bravery shown in battle.

However, Nogi is also a No One.

Count Nogi Maresuke
Born the son of a samurai in the Chōfu clan from Chōshū (now known as Yamaguchi Prefecture), he was given the name of Mujin, which means "no one" in some bizarre effort to prevent evil spirits from coming to harm him.

When he turned 18, he was given the new name of Nogi Bunzō... so I'm unsure just where the given name of Maresuke came from. Just wait.

I'm going to skip the in-depth stuff here, because I'd just be copying everything from Wikipedia and other sources, and I don't see the point, ne?

Okay... here's something cool... when Nogi was born, his actual birth date was November 11, 1849... but that was by the old Japanese calendar based on the luni-solar system... with the modern calendar, it becomes Christmas, December 25.

For added learning, you can read my multi epic series of blogs on time-calendars-automatons-robots-and nuclear reactors starting HERE, and then looking in October of 2012 for the other articles with a # in the title. I didn't intend for it to be related, but it turned out it needed to be related.

Back to No One.

In November of 1869, he enlisted in the Fushimi Goshin Heisha (Fushimi Loyal Guard Barrack) to be trained in the French-style for the domain military.

By 1871, he was made a major in the then-new Imperial Japanese Army, and it is believed that around now, he changed his name to Nogi Maresuke... after his father.

In 1876, Nogi was given command of the 1st Infantry Regiment.

Because of his work during the Satsuma Rebellion (a revolt of disaffected samurai against the new imperial government in 1877), he was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

Even still, on April 22, 1877, during a battle he lost the 14th Infantry Regiment’s regimental banner to the enemy, which was considered to be the property of the Emperor.

Losing the regimental banner is considered to be a big disgrace, and plays a part much later on.

The man must have had connections, because despite the disgrace, in 1896 he was named the third Japanese Governor-General of Taiwan until February 1898. He actually moved his family to Taiwan during this period.

After his mother died there of malaria, Nogi attempted to make significant improvements to the country's healthcare infrastructure.

He had a much more significant role during the Russian-Japanese War of 1904–05, as commander of the forces which captured Port Arthur (in China) from the Russians in a single day of combat.... which tells you enough about Nogi's skills or 19th century Russian ineptitude.

General Nogi is seated in the center next to Russian general Anatoly Stessel after Russian forces surrendered at Port Arthur on January 2, 1905. I don't know which side looks more depressed.. the Russians for losing or the Japanese because the war is over.
Still, because Nogi felt that he had sacrificed too many of his soldiers under him--56,000--Nogi asked the Emperor for permission to commit seppuku (切腹), a ritualistic suicide involving cutting open his belly while his second cuts his head off.

The Emperor refused.

Anyhow, thanks to his ability to take Port Arthur, when the war ended, he was named a Count, and he was given the Order of the Golden Kite, 1st class.

Now, technically, Nogi is an aristocrat.

Between 1908-1912, Nogi was the headmaster of the Gakushūin (学習院) or Peers School (Gakushūin School Corporation), which was a school set up to educate the children of Japanese nobility.

At that school, Nogi was apparently a mentor to a young Hirohito, and was the most important influence on the life of the future emperor of Japan. You know... the Japanese Emperor who ruled Japan from December 25, 1926 through his death on January 7, 1989... the guy who ruled the country during Japan's most war-like international phase... Imperial Japan.

Where did Hirohito ever get such wild ideas... oh yeah... Nogi... that's where.

Because Nogi felt such guilt over the huge loss of life suffered under his command in the war with Russia, he spent a large portion of his personal money on hospitals for wounded soldiers and on memorial monuments erected around the country in commemoration of those killed during that war.

He even got the Japanese government to erect a Russian-style memorial monument in Port Arthur to the Russian dead of that campaign.

What a guy. All's fair in love and war... and Nogi sure did love his war.

Still... you know what's weird? Nogi is the guy who brought the Boys Scouts to Japan.

In 1911 after going along with Prince Yorihito's attendance of King George V of Great Britain, he met Boy Scout founder General Robert Baden-Powell. 

But nothing else mattered to Nogi, but suicide, after his master Emperor Meiji died on July 30, 1912.

Along with not wanting to outlive his master (junshi) - which was his Emperor Meiji, when the Emperor died, Nogi committed suicide on the day of his funeral, more than one month after the Emperor actually died, by the way... which is pretty stupid considering he already outlived the Emperor.

Nogi was one of those military guys who oozed that whole death before dishonor stuff that the Bushido samurai code (the way of the warrior) insisted on. And this was even though the Emperor Meiji had essentially disbanded the samurai class after he came to power.

That, by the way, was one of the reasons why the Emperor refused to allow Nogi to commit suicide after the Port Arthur victory.

That attempt, which included a loss of too many of his soldiers, along with the shame he felt in losing his regimental banner back in 1877 was why he felt comfortable in committing suicide after his master (Emperor died).

It all sounds quite idealistic, but it is, I am sorry to say, a waste. I just don't get that whole fervor of giving one's life for one's Emperor... but perhaps if I recall that back then (before the end of WWII), the Emperor was considered to be akin to God.

I suppose that killing oneself for the Emperor is a way for the warrior to achieve martyrdom, and to show the ultimate respect to one's God-like Emperor.

Anyhow, Nogi's seppuku suicide in 1912 helped re-popularize the samurai tradition that had been all but eliminated 40 years previous.

By the way, Nogi's wife also committed suicide alongside her husband... but no one seems to think she was a brave warrior.

Actually, according to samurai tradition, he (the samurai and not the samurai's wife) was supposed to FOLLOW the master after death... but truly that code only existed if the master was to die during a battle... or if the samurai had failed to protect him during an attack.

This was just a guy who died at the age of 60... sortta, kindda old age, which had nothing to do with an enemy killing him.

As such, Nogi's suicide was all bullcrap... it really wasn't him following Japanese bushido... it was Nogi following his own version of bushido.

Okay... that's it for now... I just wanted to show off the pretty 1st Day stamp cover. Still, after learning all this, I woudn't have given him his own stamp. But I guess back then, May 10, 1937... Japan was looking for as many hawkish heroes it could dig up for its Imperial Japan-loving populace.

Andrew Joseph

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