Saigō’s Magnanimity and Ryōma’s Underwear

Amid the current toxic political climate in the United States, I remember the following anecdote (cited from Samurai Assassins, Chapter 16, without footnotes) involving Saigō Takamori and Sakamoto Ryōma, which provides insight into the magnanimity of the former:

Hirao relays an anecdote that goes a long way to illustrate Saigō’s affection and even reverence for Ryōma. In Keiō 1/5 (1865) Ryōma traveled to Saigō’s native Kagoshima to lay the groundwork for the Satsuma-Chōshū Alliance, during which time Ryōma stayed at Saigō’s home. According to the story, which Hirao heard directly from Saigō’s sister-in-law, one day Ryōma asked Saigō’s wife, Itoko, if he could borrow Saigō’s “oldest loincloth,” i.e., underwear. As Hirao interjects, Ryōma, a rōnin without a source of income, probably didn’t have the money to buy such things. So Itoko gave Ryōma exactly what he asked for; and when her husband returned home and she told him about it, he was angered: “Don’t you know that he’s ready to die for the country?” he said, and instructed her to change the “old loincloth for the newest one” he had. Recalling the story years later, Itoko said that it was the only time she had ever seen her husband so angry.