Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Month: July 2017

Episode 203 – The Old Man and the Sea

This week: one of Japan’s most famous Buddhist masters, Kukai, takes center stage!

Listen to the episode here.


Winfield, Pamela. Icons and Iconoclasm in Japanese Buddhism

Bowring, Richard. The Religious Teachings of Japan, 500-1600.

Totman, Conrad. A History of Japan.



A painting of Kukai from the medieval period.


The Mandala of the Two Realms, used as a visual pattern for Mt. Koya and central to Kukai’s Shingon Buddhism.


A letter from Kukai to Saicho.


The main hall of the Mt. Koya complex.


Monks bringing food and clothes to Kukai’s body.

Episode 202 – The Old Man Mad About Art

Today we discuss Japan’s greatest artistic genius, Katsushika Hokusai!

Listen to the episode here.
Katsushika Hokusai – The complete works

Some Hokusai content from the Met Museum

Strange, Edward F. Hokusai: The Old Man Mad About Painting



Fireworks over Ryogoku Bridge, one of Hokusai’s earliest landscapes.


Hokusai painting the great Daruma in Nagoya. Though the original is lost, promotional materials survive that give us a sense of the scale involved.


The Great Wave off Kanagawa


An earlier attempt at a wave drawing from 1804. You can see substantial technical improvements in the Great Wave.


The Hokusai Manga.


Another image from the Hokusai Manga.


Hokusai’s self portrait as an old man.


Ducks in a Stream, completed by Hokusai at the age of 87.

Episode 201 – The Green Archipelago

This week: Japan’s a pretty verdant place, but how did it stay that way when so many other places were ravaged by human development?

Listen to the episode here.


Totman, Conrad. The Green Archipelago.

Totman, Conrad. A History of Japan.

Basically everything Conrad Totman ever did.


Adding to the strain on Japan’s environment was the need to rebuild major monuments after a set time — particularly Shinto shrines, since Shinto’s fierce taboos surrounding decay require sites to be continuously restored. Ise Shrine, shown here, is rebuilt every 20 years on alternating sites, and has been since the 600s.


The Todaiji Buddha, which required 160,000 cubic feet of charcoal to produce.


Stands of Japanese cypress, or hinoki, were among the most valuable timber sources in Japan — and the most heavily harvested.


Zojoji, one of two burial temples of the Tokugawa shoguns in Edo.


Nikko Toshogu, a shrine to the deified spirit of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Ieyasu’s building boom was the largest one in Japanese history before the Meiji Era.


Episode 200 – The 200th Episode

All you could ever want to know about podcast recording, UW’s graduate program, and why the Japanese definitely are not part of the 10 lost tribes of Israel! That and more!

Thank you all for 200 great episodes!

Listen to the episode here.

Check out Accessible Japan at its fantastic website here!


An NIH article on kampo.

Shillony, Ben-Ami. Jews & The Japanese: The Successful Outsidesr.

Goodman, David G. and Masanori Miyazawa. Jews in the Japanese Mind: The History and Uses of a Cultural Stereotype. 

Morikawa, Jun. Whaling in Japan.

A collection of articles and information on Japan’s territorial disputes assembled by the New York Times.



My “research assistants” and banes of my audio recording career, playing innocent after spending 20 minutes trying to get me to stop recording and play with them.

Japanese Tefilin

Proponents of the theory that the Japanese are part of the tribes of Israel point to Shinto customs like this one, which involves ritual headwrappings that superficially resemble the tefilin worn by Orthodox Jews during prayer, because there is nothing intrinsically important about the human head that might draw someone to place some kind of symbolic significance on it.


Under the pretense of research whaling, Japanese vessels continue to hunt whales for consumption. However, whale meat was never very popular before the 1950s.


A Korean street protest against Japan’s claim on the Liancourt Rocks. The issue is far more of a hot button in Korea than in Japan, where it is generally ignored by the public at large and used by the LDP as a cheap electoral strategy.

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