Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Episode 244 – The Summer of Rage, Part 1

This week, we look at the contentious summer of 1960, in which the disputes of postwar Japan boiled over into some of the most intense protests in the country’s history. How do these conflicts shape modern Japanese society?


MIT’s Visualizing Cultures program has a great section on Anpo.

Kishi Nobusuke’s obituary in the NYT, from 1987.

Williams, Andrew. Dissenting Japan.

Sasaki-Uemura, Wesley. Organizing the Spontaneous: Citizen Protest in Postwar Japan.

The Pacific Century has an excellent documentary on this subject (though a bit dated) called Inside Japan Inc


Kishi being booked into Sugamo Prison for trial as a war criminal. He would eventually be released without trial.

Kishi and Eisenhower golfing during Kishi’s first US visit in 1957.

This shot really gives you a sense of the scale of the protests.

Protestors from all walks of life (in this case, a teacher’s union) joined the protests.

These protesters came from Shizuoka, clean on the other end of Japan.

Protesters storm the south gate of the Diet on June 15. This is the day Kanba Michiko would die.

Kanba Michiko became a rallying cry for the protests after her death. The banner behind her photo here states the resolve of the protesters to fight harder in the wake of her death.

The Speaker of the House being muscled to the rostrum for a vote on the treaty. Confrontations between socialists and LDP members got VERY violent over the course of the treaty debates.

A Chinese political cartoon from the People’s Daily. The Japanese protester at left holds a sign saying, “Oppose the security treaty, down with Kishi, dissolve the Diet.” The Chinese protester’s sign says, “Oppose the US-Japan Security Treaty, support the struggle of the Japanese people.”

Episode 243 – Heavyweights

This week, the origins and history of Sumo.


Hall, Mina. The Big Book of Sumo.

An article from The Guardian on match fixing in sumo.

A BBC story on life in a sumo stable.

An NYT story on the incident from this April with the female doctors.


Yokozuna Hakuho performing his special dohyo-iri (ring entering ceremony).

The Yokozuna monument at Tomioka Hachiman Shrine. New Yokozuna are formally recognized here, and on the grounds there are two stones that list the names of every yokozuna.

Tochinoshin Tsuyoshi (Levan Gorgadze), a Georgian-born sumo wrestler who made the rank of ozeki this month. He may well become the first white yokozuna — who knows?

A late Tokugawa woodblock promoting sonno joi (honor the emperor, expel the barbarian) ideology. The sumo wrestler here acts as a stand in for all Japan, casting out the Westerners.

A traditional dohyo iri to mark the start of a series of bouts.

A dohyo iri shot that provides a fuller view of the dohyo, including the yakata above.09

Episode 242 – Castaway

This week, the story of Nakahama Manjiro, the castaway turned American whaler turned gold miner turned samurai turned English professor.



Kawada, Ikaku, et al. Drifting Towards the Southeast.

Preus, Margi. Heart of a Samurai.

A Japan Times feature on the life of Nakahama Manjiro.


Torishima, the island upon which Manjiro and company were shipwrecked.

The map included in Manjiro’s description of his voyages, made for the Tokugawa bakufu in 1853.

William Whitfield, the captain who rescued Manjiro from Torishima.

Manjiro as an older samurai.

The reception of Japanese diplomats by the Mayor of New York City in 1860. Manjiro was a part of the 1860 delegation sent by the shogun to the US, though he is not clearly marked out in this image.

Whitfield’s old house is today the home of a museum dedicated to the Manjiro story.

Episode 241 – All in the Family, Part 3

This week, we conclude our up close look at the Shimazu family and Satsuma domain with a consideration of how the domain fit into Edo society, and its position in modern Japan.


Sansom, George. A History of Japan, vol 3

Beasley, W.G. The Collected Writings of W.G. Beasley

Hall, John Witney, et al., editors. An Institutional History of Early Modern Japan.

Jansen, Marius B. The Making of Modern Japan.


Sekisho (checkpoints) like this one dotted Tokugawa Japan. This particular example is from Honshu, but the basic principle is the same — the gate allows for controlled access, giving samurai officials a chance to inspect traveler’s documentation.

A marker for one of the old sekisho in Kagoshima itself.

Today it’s a trendy tourist area, but in the early Edo Period, Bonotsu, just a short distance northwest of Kagoshima, was home to a Chinatown from which an illicit smuggling operation of Chinese goods into Kagoshima was operated.

Zusho Hirosato (Shouzaemon), who rescued the Shimazu clan’s finances from near disaster.

The Japanese government and the Kagoshima prefectural government run a museum dedicated to the history of Satsuma and the Shimazu — the Shokoshuseikan, shown here.

Kagoshima today — a modern city with a very distinct regional identity.

Episode 240 – All in the Family, Part 2

This week, we cover the sengoku era history of the Shimazu clan, and their meteoric ascent from  minor lords to major ones in the span of a few decades. Plus, the Tokugawa and the Shimazu, the role of sugar in the Shimazu clan’s fortunes, and the invasion of the Ryukyu islands. It’s a packed episode!


Sansom, George B. A History of Japan, Vol 2. 1334-1615

Turnbull, Stephen. The Samurai Capture a King: Okinawa, 1609.

Turnbull, Stephen. The Samurai: A Military History.

Also, while researching the grounds of some of the castles mentioned in this episode, I came across this fascinating blog that is worth a look.


Shimazu Yoshihiro, the 17th Shimazu family head. Under his generalship, and then his leadership as daimyo, the Shimazu became a major force in Japanese politics.

The Battle of Mimigawa (1578). The crushing defeat of the Otomo clan signaled the rise of the Shimazu as major contenders to rule Kyushu.

Part of the remnants of the earthworks of Kakuto castle.

An armor set which belonged to Shimazu Yoshihiro.

The old provinces of Japan. Satsuma province is at the very bottom (no. 63). Neighboring Osumi (64) was occasionally under Shimazu control as well prior to the Sengoku period.

Compare this map to the locations of Satsuma and Osumi in the previous one and you can see how far the Shimazu came by 1584.

The remnants of Nakijin castle, wiped out in the one major engagement of the Okinawan campaign.

The gravestone of Jana Ueekata, the onl Okinawan to refuse to sign the final treaty of subordination.

Episode 239 – All in the Family, Part 1

This week, we start a short series on the history of one of the most influential fiefdoms in Japanese history (Satsuma) and the family who ruled it (the Shimazu). How did this little chunk of land on the edge of Japan grow to national importance?


A History of Japan to 1334 AND A History of Japan, 1334-1600. 

Turnbull, Stephen. War in Japan, 1467-1615


Toufukuji castle, the first permanent military garrison on Kagoshima. It predates Shimazu clan arrival in the area by about a century.

The site of the meeting between Shimazu Takahisa and Francis Xavier. Working with missionaries was a requirement of obtaining Western style weapons.

Japanese arquebuses. The first islands where the Portuguese arrived (Tanegashima) was within the bounds of Satsuma domain, and Satsuma was one of the first domains to adopt the new weapon.

Shimazu Tadahisa as a monk. At the end of his long tenure as family head and daimyo, the Shimazu were in a far better position than they had been previously.

The old provinces of Japan. Satsuma province is at the very bottom (no. 63). Neighboring Osumi (64) was occasionally under Shimazu control as well prior to the Sengoku period.

Episode 238 – Hell is Empty

This week, we tackle the evils of Unit 731 — its history, its experiments, and its ultimate escape from any real justice.


A New York Times article from the 1990s on Unit 731.

Japan Times article on the trial of Yutaka Mio.

Gold, Hal. Unit 731 Testimony.

Tanaka, Yuki. Hidden Horrors


Note: There will be no images of human experiments here. They are out there if you want to find them. 

The Unit 731 compound in Pingfang.

Ishii Shiro.

Otozo Yamada, a Kwantung Army commander and defendant at the Khabarovsk trials in 1949.

Episode 237 – Princess, Lover, Soldier, Spy

This week, we take on the scintillating story of the Manchurian princess Kawashima Yoshiko, who grew up in Japan before becoming an agent for Japanese intelligence.



Birnbaum, Phyllis. Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy.

Cheung, Ester, et al. A Companion to Hong Kong Cinema.

Fogel, Joshua. Late Qing China and Meiji Japan.


Kawashima Yoshiko in high school with her beloved horse.

Kawashima Yoshiko at the time of her wedding to the Mongol general Jengjuurab. The marriage was a political convenience that would end up going nowhere.

Kawashima Yoshiko in her Manchukuo military uniform.

Kawashima Yoshiko in a recording studio in Manchukuo, c. 1930s.

From left: Kawashima Yoshiko, Kawashima Naniwa, and Gen. Tanaka Ryukichi. Though she would never cut contact, Yoshiko’s relationship with her adoptive father would always be fraught.

Kawashima’s political orbit would naturally take her close to some major figures in the Japanese hard right, including the ultrarightist leader Toyama Mitsuru (shown here).

Hong Kong singer and actress Anita Mui as Kawashima Yoshiko in 1990.

Episode 236 – Never Look Away

This week, we discuss the career of Japan’s most legendary director, Kurosawa Akira. From humble, middle class beginnings, our story will take us through some of his most notable films, and include detours into the lives of Mifune Toshiro, George Lucas, and even Francis Ford Coppola!


Kurosawa, Akira. Something like an Autobiography.

“Rashomon” and “The Seven Samurai” in Film Analysis: A Norton Reader.

The videos below are from the fine folks at Every Frame a Painting (now sadly defunct), and do a good job introducing the Kurosawa style.


The poster for The Most Beautiful (1944).

Yaguchi Yoko as Watanabe Tsuru in Ichiban Utsukushiku (The Most Beautiful), 1944. Yoko would end up marrying Kurosawa; the two had two children, and were very happy together by all accounts.

Kurosawa and Mifune in Venice for the Venice Film Festival in 1950, where Rashomon won the Golden Lion for Best Film.

Kurosawa on set with Mifune Toshiro for The Seven Samurai (1954).

Mifune Toshiro as Rokurota Makabe in The Hidden Fortress (1958), and Alec Guinness as Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars (1977). The Kenobi character was based on Rokurota, and Lucas supposedly approached Mifune to play the part originally.

Produced in conjunction with Francis Ford Coppola on the recommendation of George Lucas, Kagemusha ended up reviving the legend of Kurosawa.

Ran (1985) is loosely based on the story of King Lear, a Shakespearean drama of kingship and unreliable children.

The poster for Madadayo (Not Yet), 1993 — Kurosawa’s last full film.

Episode 235 – Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

This week: the story of a relatively unimportant man who appears briefly and dies spectacularly, and the long chain of events that led to those moments. Politics, betrayal, war, and a dog — what’s not to love?


Morris, Ivan. The Nobility of Failure. 

The relevant section of the Nihongi for reference.

Como, Michael I. Shotoku: Ethnicity, Ritual and Violence in the Japanese Buddhist Tradition.


The main entrance of Shitennoji (Temple of the Four Heavenly Kings), founded in 593 on the slopes of Mt. Shigi by Prince Shotoku to commemorate victory over the Mononobe.

In this woodcut scene, anti-Buddhist Mononobe supporters try (and fail) to shatter a Buddhist holy relic.

In this 19th century woodcut, it is Prince Shotoku himself, not a lowly Soga soldier, who slays Mononobe no Moriya and ends the battle between the Soga and Mononobe.


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