Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Month: April 2016

Episode 146 – The Birth of the Samurai, Part 1

This week, we’ll be starting a short series about the advent of the samurai class. First, what came before the samurai, and why did Japan’s emperors decide to devolve more and more power to provincial warriors?

Listen to the episode here.


Friday, Karl. Hired Swords: The Rise of Private Warrior Power in Early Japan.

Lu, David. Japan: A Documentary History, Vol 1.

Sansom, George. A History of Japan to 1334.



Though now a rarefied pursuit for those with the money to enjoy it, in early Heian Japan horseback archery was the pinnacle of weapons technology. Able to swiftly move about the battlefield and alternate between harassing arrow fire and charges, horse-mounted archers were supremely deadly and generally more effective than traditional Heian foot soldiers.


Another depiction of a horseback warrior — this image, of the warrior Nasu no Yoichi, is from a later date than the point discussed in this episode, but still depicts the key aspects of the provincial warrior’s kit: the bow, a sword for defense, armor, and a horse. Only provincial aristocrats had the money and training for these weapons.


Taira no Masakado, the rebel who tried to make himself an emperor in the 900s. His destruction is a good example of the Heian system functioning effectively to curb warrior ambitions.

Episode 145 – An Offer You Can’t Refuse, Part 2


What does organized crime look like in modern Japan, and why does anybody put up with it? Also, how many rocket launchers can you buy with 50 pounds of amphetamines?

All that and more, this week.
Listen to the episode here.


Kaplan, David and Alec Dubro. Yakuza: Japan’s Criminal Underworld, 2nd Edition.

Adelstein, Jake. Tokyo Vice.

Saga, Junichi. Confessions of a Yakuza.

Eiko, Siniawer. Ruffians, Yakuza, Natinoalists.



Taoka Kazuo, boss of the influential Yamaguchi-gumi.


Taoka in the mode of a traditional yakuza boss. The modern yakuza rely heavily on symbolic links with the Japanese past to legitimate themselves.


Kodama Yoshio in 1984, as part of the trials surrounding the Lockheed Scandal.


Yamaguchi gumi members attending a funeral during the internal fighting following the death fo Taoka Kazuo. The fighting was deeply embarassing to the yakuza due to the intensity of combat between the two sides.


Police prepare to raid the HQ of the Yamaguchi-gumi in Kobe.


Modern Japanese governments have tried to take a harder line with the yakuza; this particular image is part of an anti-yakuza campaign instituted by the city government of Sendai.


Episode 144 – An Offer You Can’t Refuse, Part 1


Someday, and that day may never come, I’ll call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, accept this episode as a gift on my podcast’s release day.

Pull off your shirt to reveal your gang tattoos, it’s time for the yakuza!

Listen to the episode here.



Kaplan, David and Alec Dubro. Yakuza: Japan’s Criminal Underworld, 2nd Edition.

Adelstein, Jake. Tokyo Vice.

Saga, Junichi. Confessions of a Yakuza.

Eiko, Siniawer. Ruffians, Yakuza, Natinoalists.



Banzui’in Chobei, a machiyakko (proto-yakuza) figure whose romantic life story was the grist of yakuza PR mills. Here he’s depicted shortly before his death, after his enemies ambushed him in a bath.


Yakuza leader Toyama Mitsuru (left) alongside future PM of Japan Inukai Tsuyoshi (center) and President of the Republic of China Chiang Kai-shek (right).


Kodama Yoshio’s mugshot from Sugamo prison. While in Sugamo, Kodama would make contacts with other rightists which would propel his rise to the top.


Taoka Kazuo, the boss who carried the Yamaguchi-gumi from a minor dockside gang to the largest crime family in Japan.

Episode 143 – Nanjing, Part 2


This week, we talk about how views of Nanjing have shifted since WWII, and where the modern right-wing revisionists came from.  Why are we still talking about a massacre from 80 years ago?


Listen to the episode here.


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

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

Tadashi, Bob Wakabayashi. The Nanjing Attrocity, 1937-38: Complicating the Picture.


Iwane Matsui

Matsui Iwane receiving his death sentence from the IMTFE. His commander, Prince Asaka Yasuhiko, would be far luckier than him, and would retire to a life of golf.


An exterior view of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum, completed in 1985.


The 300000 victims number is a deeply controversial one that the Chinese government has embraced wholeheartedly. To my mind, it’s fundamentally the wrong thing to be talking about.


This picture really encapsulates the whole Chinese view of Nanjing for me. The massacre is a warning of what could happen if the strength of the communist party — here depicted as three People’s Liberation Army soldiers — is not there to protect the Chinese people.


Xia Shuqin, a Chinese witness to the massacre, in Japan. Xia won a libel case before the Japanese supreme court, suing Nanjing denier Higashikano Shudo for 4 million yen.

kdenounces brainwashing in the name of peacemuseums

Kobayashi Yoshinori’s Sensoron is an attempt to take the reivisionist message and repackage it for a younger generation. This panel shows Japanese youth being “brainwashed” (i.e. confronting historical reality) at one of Japan’s many “leftie” museums.

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