Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Episode 138 – The Fall of the Samurai, Part 21

Aaand we’re done. This week, some final thoughts on the period and its key players before we put the Meiji Restoration to bed for good!

Listen to the episode here.


Beasley, W.G. The Meiji Restoration.

Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan.

Morris, Ivan. The Nobility of Defeat.



Because I know you didn’t believe me about the shogun coffee thing.


Matsudaira Yoshiko in the 1920s. It would not be until she married into the imperial family in 1928 that the stigma of Aizu ‘treason’ began to die out.


Ishiwara Kanji, who expressed the notion of the West as Japan’s antagonist in his time in the docket at the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. Ishiwara’s view was far from unique among Japan’s wartime leaders; most saw a clash between the US and Japan as the inevitable fulfillment of the Meiji Restoration.


After WWII, local pride movements in Japan began to emphasize unique local heritages. Valorizing people who had fought against the restoration was no longer taboo. This was nowhere more evident than Aizu; these high schoolers from Aizu are performing a local folk dance (complete with a giant “Aizu” flag) as part of an exchange program in Chicago.


To me, one of the most interesting questions of the restoration is the notion of revolution. I keep coming back to notions of political violence in the restoration, like the assassination of Ii Naosuke shown here. In almost any other context this would be pretty easy to label a revolutionary act. I certainly think it was one. What about you?


I forgot I still had this photo from my time in Hokkaido. It shows a bunch of my classmates dressed in the uniforms of the countries that participated in “opening” Japan — though the German flag used there is the post-WWI Weimar/modern German one, not the flag of Imperial Germany. Anyway, I think it’s an interesting example of how “domesticated” the Meiji experience is now by a generation who live with the benefits of openness to the West but who did not experience its worst dislocations.


Episode 137 – The Fall of the Samurai, Part 20


Episode 139 – The Soldiers of the Sun


  1. Robert NIven

    Hey Isaac! Long time listener, first time commenter!

    I loved the format for this series! I didn’t mind that it was so long and thoroughly enjoyed being able to dive so deep into the subject of the Meiji Restoration. Keep up the good work! I love listening to your show every week!


    I am another long time listener who really enjoyed this series. It explained so many aspects of modern Japan that were more than puzzling to me. It was also very well told and, while making it clear how complex the situation was, kept things simple enough to follow. Thanks much.

  3. Hi Isaac! I’ve listened to every episode, but its been so long I don’t remember my favorites. This series has to be among them though! It did remind me of Duncan’s “Revolutions” and I really felt like it was a “revolution”, even though you can debate these definitions. I learned so much band really grasped at how complicated the time period was, but also all the intricate interconnections. I like how you explain the intellectual teachers whose students became part of the violent action, and all the well-pronounced japanese names, but I can’t always follow it all- If it were written i might be better at it. I would recommend for some characters a nickname to make it easier? but that seems so much less academic… Still… “The one who aped westernism” or some such nomenclature would help me follow all the intricacies better in some cases, sorry to gripe!

    P.S. Show ideas – have you done the Ainu? I think you may have already. How about childrearing in modern japan and the birthrate? I have heard that fathers legally have paternity leave but are pressured not to take it and that the government supposedly provides free day care and has excellent child education, but many parents can’t get their kids into the subsidized or free programs? Have you done one on Japanese Rule in Taiwan? or the Ryukyu Pirates?

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