My friend William Baerg is a contributor for the Kumamoto International Facebook page and has nicely agreed for me to post an article on my blog.
Tani Tateki (谷干城) was a military leader during the Meiji Restoration who was for a crucial period in charge of the defense of Kumamoto. Even under mustache standards of the time (which were rigorous), he rocked world-class (see photo below). Born into a military family in 1837 in then Tosa, Shikoku – today, Kochi – and presumably to a father with an equally impressive ‘stache, though photos are sadly unavailable – Tateki was one of four sons, but as a result of his three siblings finding themselves at the wrong end of pointy objects, Tateki ended up an only child. His father decided sending him to school in Tokyo might lead to better results than the pointy-object thing, where Tateki of course then devoted himself to becoming skilled at wielding pointy objects.
Upon returning south, he took up acquaintance with several other young men skilled at wielding pointy objects in Shikoku and Kyushu (including, notably, Sakamoto Ryouma 坂本 龍馬). In May,1867, he met with the military leader of then-Satsuma (now Kagoshima), Saigo Takamori (西郷隆盛) to form an agreement called the Satto Miyaku (薩土密約, named after their respective domains), in order to overthrow the Shogunate. They then formed a mustachless band called the Jinsyoutai (迅衝隊, second photo – Tateki’s the guy with the sword, and look closely at that photo: is that like a seven-year old kid holding a pistol?!) and subsequently succeeded at that during what is now called the Boshin War (戊辰戦争, 1868).
Sadly for their friendship, the paths of Tateki and Takamori soon parted. Tateki was given a stipend and became a general under the Meiji government responsible for the Kumamoto area, while Takamori sat stewing in Kagoshima over how disrespectful all the young kids had become. So in 1877, when Takamori decided to march on Tokyo and set things in a way he thought right, he found himself facing a now fully mustached Tateki in his path – and he lost. That was the Seinan War (西南戦争).
Tateki continued his military career under Japan’s newly-founded navy, but his efforts to bring Taiwan under Japanese control were marred by chaos, and he was effectively dismissed in 1887 (Taiwan eventually became a Japanese colony in 1895). He became a military instructor, spent time perfecting his mustache, died in 1911. Though his remains (including, presumably, the mustache) are interred in his native Tosa, a peak-mustache statue of him exists near Kumamoto Castle, where he defeated Takamori in a 58-day siege.
To mark the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration, there is an exhibition regarding Tani Takeki at the Tabaruzaka Seinan War Museum (田原坂西南戦争資料館).
Tateki during his defence of Kumamoto castle. Also his statue to the south of present day Kumamoto castle.
How Kumamoto castle looked just before most of it was destroyed during the Seinan War.