Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Month: June 2014

On Errors, Corrections, History Podcasts, and Academia

Recently, I received a comment from a listener pointing out some corrections to errors or unclear points in previous shows. First, I’d like to state my appreciation for people who take the time to point it out when I’m unclear or incorrect about something. Here’s a list of the corrections:

 

  • I mistakenly stated in a previous episode that Tokugawa Ieyasu’s home province was Mino. It was, in fact, Mikawa.
  • If it was unclear, the story about Takeda Shingen being shot by a sniper is a popular but unverified and likely untrue one.
  • The Japanese armies which invaded Korea in fact made it farther north than Seoul before stalling out in the face of Korean/Ming Chinese opposition.
  • The Satsuma Man referenced in the story of the 47 Ronin was a fictional character later added to the story. The 47 Ronin episode itself is intended to be an introduction to the legend as it is understood, not a blow-by-blow of the truth of what really happened; the latter would be both enormously time consuming and frankly pointless, since the tale is important for how it is remembered and not the literal truth of what it was.
  • Mimizuka, the name by which the mound of war trophies built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in Kyoto is known, in fact contained noses and not ears. Mimizuka is a misnomer; the original name is Hanazuka.
  • In a previous episode I mispronounced a daimyo’s name: the correct pronunciation is Imagata Yoshimoto (not Yoshitomo).

I regret these errors, and appreciate corrections. That being said, this provides me with an opportune moment to discuss something important for the future of the podcast.

This is, lest we forget, a free podcast that I work on in my spare time. I do not have an unlimited amount of time to devote to polishing episodes; part of the reason I stick to such a rapid schedule is because if I waited until I felt each episode was perfect, I likely would not have even broken the 10 episode mark yet. This is especially true for periods outside my own often stated specialty of modern Japanese history. I do my best to ensure that what I produce is accurate, but the simple fact is that like everyone else who studies history I know certain periods and aspects better than others, and that will inevitably be reflected in what I produce for the podcast. Mistakes will happen, and while I will do my best to minimize them I will never be able to guarantee their absence.

I say this because professional historians with years to polish their work make mistakes as well. I have read countless texts with mistaken citations, typos, or plain factual errors; these things simply happen by virtue of the fact that there is so much to keep track of, and inevitably some of it slips through the cracks — I’ve even seen books that get things as elementary as the year of the Meiji Restoration wrong. This despite editing and pre-press review; the checks in place against errors at academic publishing houses are far more substantial than any I can provide for this podcast, and yet mistakes still get by. There is a limit to what even the best in my field can do, and my limits are considerably greater than theirs. This is particularly true in a field like history, where new research is being produced all the time, and it’s all most of us can do to stay on top of what’s coming out in our own limited fields of specialization.

All this is why it will always be important to cross reference and get information from multiple sources. In case it’s still unclear – and I sincerely hope it is not, since I have made statements to this effect several times on the show – my word is not law regarding Japanese history. You should not take the things I say as gospel, though I hope my track record at this point is good enough that you have confidence in the accuracy of my general frameworks at this point. Indeed, there is literally no way I can provide you with a completely perfect knowledge – or even a totally solid grounding – on any topic with 20-30 minutes of time. This podcast is not a substitution for, say, reading some of the many excellent works on Japanese history out there in print, or taking college courses on the subject. It can act as a supplement or an introduction, and if you are only interested in a subject in passing it can give you some idea of how things fit together. However, if you are really passionate on a topic, then you should engage beyond what I offer; in the age of the internet, doing so is easier than it has ever been in human history.

Get out there and read books on the subjects from the show that interest you. If you’re in university – or even if you’re not – email professors who are experts in subjects you care about with questions (after all, the worst they can do is not respond). Be passionate about history. Engage with it. That’s the entire point of why I’m doing this, and why I enjoy it. To a certain degree, even the history itself is tangential to that goal.

And if you spot any factual errors, please do point them out; you’ll be doing your fellow listeners and me personally a service.

Episode 58 – Motoori Norinaga

This week, we’ll be discussing the most important premodern Japanese philosopher that no one has ever heard of: Motoori Norinaga, the leading light of Kokugaku (National Studies) in Edo-period Japan. We’ll be covering his life, a bare-bones overview of his philosophy, and his impact on Japan.

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Lorish, Fred C. Motoori Norinaga: An Intellectual Portrait.

Burns, Susan L. Before the Nation.

Plus a series of articles providing translations in whole or part of some of Norinaga’s published works. You can google around a bit if you’re interested in these.

Images 

A self-portrait by Motoori Norinaga.

A self-portrait by Motoori Norinaga.

220px-Naiku_01

Norinaga's home in Matsusaka, now a museum dedicated to his life.

Norinaga’s home in Matsusaka, now a museum dedicated to his life.

Episode 57 – The 47 Ronin

This week we’re covering one of the great tales of Japanese history: 47 warriors without a master who engaged in a bloody act of vengeance in the name of their former lord. In doing so, they catapulted themselves into the pages of history and legend, and remain some of Japan’s most treasured historical figures to this day.

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Allyn, John. The 47 Ronin Story.

Sansom, George B. A History of Japan, Vol 3 1615-1867.

Takeda, Izumo, Shoraku Namishi and Namiki Senryu. Kanadehon Chushingura. Trans. Donald Keene.

A print depicting Asano's attack on Kira, triggering the whole cycle of revenge around which the 47 ronin tale revolves.

A print depicting Asano’s attack on Kira, triggering the whole cycle of revenge around which the 47 ronin tale revolves.

A print of Oishi Yoshio, the samurai who led the 47 Ronin.

A print of Oishi Yoshio, the samurai who led the 47 Ronin.

The final assault on Kira's mansion, by Hokusai Katsushika.

The final assault on Kira’s mansion, by Hokusai Katsushika.

A print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi showing the final assault of the 47 ronin on Kira's mansion.

A print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi showing the final assault of the 47 ronin on Kira’s mansion.

Oishi's ceremonial suicide (seppuku).

Oishi’s ceremonial suicide (seppuku).

The graves of the 47 Ronin at Sengakuji.

The graves of the 47 Ronin at Sengakuji.

A statue of Oishi Yoshio at Sengakuji in Tokyo, where he, his followers, and his lord are all interred.

A statue of Oishi Yoshio at Sengakuji in Tokyo, where he, his followers, and his lord are all interred.

Totman, Conrad. A History of Japan.

Images (Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation

Episode 56 – The Tea Master

This week, we’ll be talking about Japan’s great tea master Sen no Rikyu. We’ll discuss his life, his rapid rise to cultural ascendancy, his even more rapid fall, and his legacy for modern Japan.

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

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

Totman, Conrad. A History of Japan.

Images

A somewhat modern photograph of the Chanoyu, or tea ceremony.

A somewhat modern photograph of the Chanoyu, or tea ceremony.

Momoyama Castle, the headquarters of Hideyoshi.

Momoyama Castle, the headquarters of Hideyoshi.

Sen no Rikyu, Japan's greatest Tea Master.

Sen no Rikyu, Japan’s greatest Tea Master.

This is a period image of Oda Nobunaga, the first of the three unifiers.

This is a period image of Oda Nobunaga, the first of the three unifiers.

This image of Toyotomi Hideyoshi dates from 1601, three years after his death.

This image of Toyotomi Hideyoshi dates from 1601, three years after his death.

 

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