Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Month: March 2016

Episode 142 – Nanjing, Part 1

NOTE: Though there is substantial photographic evidence of the massacre, I am not going to post it directly on the site. If you want to see what things looked like on the ground, you can do so via websites like this one, curated by Yale University. However, I know not everybody wants to see those images, so I will not post those images directly.

On a related note, this episode contains graphic discussion of murder and rape. Listener discretion is advised.



This week, we look at the events of the Nanjing Massacre. Just what happened in China’s capital city in December, 1937?


Listen to the episode here.


Yoshida, Takashi. The Making of the Rape of Nanking.

Lu, Suping. They Were In Nanjing: The Nanjing Massacre as Witnessed by American and British Nationals.

Fogel, Joshua. The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography.



Chinese defenders of the National Revolutionary Army (Chiang Kaishek’s elite forces) defending Shanghai, 1937. The Battle of Shanghai was supposed to be a Japanese walkover, but ended up lasting more than a month.


General Matsui Iwane, commander of the forces which entered Nanjing. Ironically, he was chosen for his position because of his supposed Pan-Asianist views and rapport with the Chinese.


Matsui entering Nanjing, December 13, 1937.


Prince Asaka Yasuhiko, the nominal commander of the Central China Area Army. A fascist to the core, Asaka was sent to China to get him out of the way.


The rough area of the Nanjing Safety Zone about 2 sq. miles total.


Refugees waiting for aid in the Nanjing Safety Zone. Courtesy of Yale University.


Chinese children huddled in the safety zone. Courtesy of Yale University.


John Rabe, the Nazi Party member who led the Safety Zone committee. Rabe was chosen because of the close relations between Germany and Japan, which might facilitate Japanese respect for the zone.


Minnie Vautrin, an American who taught at Ginling College and who tried to protect Chinese women on its campus.


Vautrin with her students, c. 1934. She is sitting in the second row, ninth from the right.

Episode 141 – Fukushima


Today we’re going to talk about Japan’s relationship with nuclear power and the catastrophic events of March, 2011. Why did Japan become so reliant on nuclear energy? Why did all the safeguards in place fail so badly in 2011? And where on earth do we go from here?


Listen to the episode here.


Samuels, Richard. 3/11: Disaster and Change in Japan.

A solid NYT article on the recent indictments at TEPCO.

A great PBS Newshour feature on the heroes of Fukushima, the TEPCO workers who stayed on site to stabilize the plant.

Owing to the recent nature of the events at Fukushima, there are very few books on the subject. Most of the research for this episode came from Samuels’ book or googling around for news articles.



Tokyo smog during the 1960s. The environmental cost of industrialization was one of the driving factors of the nuclearization of Japanese energy infrastructure.


Fukushima’s number one (Dai’ichi) reactor undergoing construction in 1971.


An overhead view of the pre-tsunami Fukushima plant. Courtesy of


The tsunami waves coming towards Fukushima as captured by a staff worker on March 11, 2011.


Fukushima’s number three reactor explosion, caused by a release of hydrogen owing to a chemical interaction with tsunami seawater, March 14, 2011.


Firefighting efforts to contain the damage to the numbers 1,2, and 3 reactors.

Episode 140 – The Stars Our Destination


This week, we’ll talk about the birth of the Japanese space program. From its origins as the brainchild of a former weapons designer and a borderline pyromaniac, the programs now incorporated into JAXA (the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) have accomplished some of the most amazing technical feats of the 20th and 21st century. How did they do it, and why? And what’s changing now with the rise of China?


Listen to the episode here.


Molt, Clay. Asia’s Space Race

Pekkanen, Saadia, and Paul Kalendar-Umezu, In Defense of Japan: From the Market to the Military in Space Policy.

JAXA’s own archivists on Itokawa Hideo and the pencil rocket.



Itokawa Hideo, the former weapons engineer turned father of the space program. Behind him is a model of the Baby Rocket, his second successful design.


Itokawa running the countdown clock for his first rocket launch, August 1955.


Itokawa Hideo occasionally engaged in self sabotage by way of excessive self promotion, as in this interview where he suggested that a rocket-boosted plane could make it across the Pacific Ocean in 20 minutes.


The successful launch of the Pencil Rocket.


A JAXA mockup of Hayabusa 2, which launched in 2014. The Hayabusa series, named in honor of Itokawa Hideo’s fighter design from 1943, performs sample return missions from extraterrestrial bodies.


IKAROS (the Inter-Planetary Kite Craft Accelerated by the Radiation of the Sun), the first successful craft to be powered by a solar sail.


A JAXA concept for Akatsuki, its Venus probe. Akatsuki went off course in 2010 but has been redirected and is now only a few weeks out from beginning its mission around Venus.

Episode 139 – The Soldiers of the Sun

This week: conscription in Japan. What’s it like to be conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army? How are conscripts treated, and what are the goals of the conscription system?

Listen to the episode here.


Drea, Edward. “Trained in the Hardest School” in In the Service of the Emperor: Essays on the Imperial Japanese Army.

Drea, Edward. “The Japanese Army at the Start of the War” in The Battle for China: Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War.

Ichinose, Toshiya. Kogun Heishi no Nichijo Seikatsu [Daily Lives of Soldiers in the Imperial Army]

Harries, Mairion, and Susan Harries, Soldiers of the Sun: The Rise and Fall of the Imperial Japanese Army.



Conscription physicals like this one were extremely demeaning for the conscriptee; the exams were extremely thorough, designed to carefully grade each potential recruit on a sliding scale. Some did attempt to cheat the system and draft dodge, but their numbers were surprisingly low.


Inspections like this one were the dread of conscripts; anything out of place would result in a severe beating.


As Japan became more militarized, aspects of army life began to bleed into civilian culture. These students from Keio University are taking part in a reserve training program designed to prepare them for potential callup.


One of the most widely taught army skills was bayonet fighting; matches between recruits could be punishingly difficult, but were also opportunities for gambling.

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