Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

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Episode 277 – The House of Cards, Part 5

This week, we arrive at the end of the Ashikaga. What were the final 100 years of Ashikaga “rule” like, and what can we take away from exploring their time as rulers of Japan?

Sources

Berry, Mary Elizabeth. The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto.

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

Grossberg, Kenneth A. Japan’s Renaissance: The Politics of the Muromachi Bakufu.

The Cambridge History of Japan, vol 3: Medieval Japan.

Images

A map of the major Sengoku Daimyo as of 1570. One of the major transitions of the late Ashikaga period was towards more centralized regional governments led by Sengoku warlords who presided over more centralized systems.

Ginkakuji, Ashikaga Yoshimasa’s retirement complex and personal buddhist temple. It is an example of wabi sabi aesthetics.

A map showing the territories of the Ouchi (red) and their march towards Kyoto in 1508. Though the Ouchi were successful in restoring Ashikaga Yoshitane to the post of shogun, in practice this reduced him to the position of puppet ruler.

The battle of Mikatagahara was a major defeat of Oda Nobunaga’s supporters (led by Tokugawa Ieyasu) by the Takeda. Defeats like this one convinced Ashikaga Yoshiaki to openly break with Nobunaga and attempt to defeat him on the battlefield. This did not work out for him.

Ashikaga Yoshiteru, the shogun who went down swinging. Despite his limited practical authority he was able to exercise substantial diplomatic influence in his time.

Ashikaga Yoshiaki, the final Ashikaga shogun, was deposed in 1573.

A 16th century wabi sabi tea bowl. Note the imperfections that prevent it from being perfectly round.

Episode 276 – The House of Cards, Part 4

This week, we do a deep dive on the life of Ashikaga Yoshimasa and the lead up to the Onin War, the conflict that traditionally marks the end of Ashikaga rule over Japan. But how fair is it to point to Onin as a break with the past?

Sources

Berry, Mary Elizabeth. The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto.

Keene, Donald. Yoshimasa and the Silver Pavillion: The Creation of the Soul of Japan. 

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

Grossberg, Kenneth A. Japan’s Renaissance: The Politics of the Muromachi Bakufu.

Images

Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the shogun who presided over the Onin conflict.

For long after the Onin War, the power politics surrounding it were a popular subject. Here, a kabuki play dramatizes the political cunning of Hosokawa Katsumoto, as he has a rival killed.

Hatakeyama Masanaga; his succession dispute with his adoptive brother will help spark the Onin War.

A marker showing the site of the first conflict between the two Hatakeyama brothers, which sparked the Onin war.

A rough breakdown of the sides of the Onin conflict as of 1467. Blue represents the Yamana-allied families, Yellow Hosokawa-allied ones, and Green families that switched sides. You can see that while not all of Japan got involved, the central third of the country was embroiled int he conflict.

One scene from the Onin War.

Another Onin War scene; note the foot soldiers (ashigaru), who were blamed for much of the destructive looting by kuge chroniclers.

Episode 275 – The House of Cards, Part 3

This week we turn away from politics to discuss religion, art, and the economy during the age of the Ashikaga. Why is this era such a moment of societal flourishing despite the constant warfare and instability of Ashikaga rule?

Sources

Collcutt, Martin. Five Mountains: The Rinzai Zen Monastic Institution in Medieval Japan. 

Adolphson, Michael S. The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha: Monastic Warriors and Sohei in Japan.

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

Parker, Joseph D. Zen Buddhist Landscape Arts of Early Muromachi Japan.

Lu, David J. Japan: A Documentary History, vol. 1. 

Grossberg, Kenneth A. Japan’s Renaissance: The Politics of the Muromachi Bakufu.

Images

A Noh performance. Note the mask, the musical performers behind the actor, and the fan in the actor’s hand — all hallmarks of Noh.

The gardens of Tenryuji.

A Noh stage; this should help you get a sense of the unusual layout of Noh performances.

Autumn landscape by Sesshu Toyo, c. 15th century.

Images of warrior monks were popularized during the Edo period, with depictions of historical figures like Musashibo Benkei (shown here with his friend Minamoto no Yoshitsune) becoming extremely common. In practice, few monks were actual warriors — instead, monastic armies consisted mostly of lay people hired to defend monasteries.

A mon (a type of coin) from the Muromachi period. The expansion of coinage helped grow the economy of the Muromachi era substantially.

Plum Tree Screen door by Kano Sanraku, c. 18th c. The Kano school emerged in the Muromachi period, and dominated the painting scene in Japan for the next several centuries.

 

Episode 274 – The House of Cards, Part 2

This week: war in the Ashikaga age. Plus; the reign of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu is generally considered the zenith of Ashikaga prestige, but why was his power built on such shaky foundations? Once the Ashikaga had seized control of Japan, how did they go about actually governing it?

Sources

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

Conlan, Thomas. State of War: The Violent Order of Fourteenth Century Japan

Conlan, Thomas. The Culture of Force and Farce: Fourteenth Century Japanese Warfare.

Grossberg, Kenneth. Japan’s Renaissance: The Politics of the Muromachi Bakufu.

Mass, Jeffrey. The Bakufu in Japanese History.

Images

Nasu no Yoichi from the Heike Monogatari. Attempts to live up to feats of heroes like Yoichi were the driving force behind Muromachi period battles.

A scene from the Taiheiki; note that each warrior is individually labeled. This print is from the Edo era, but the Taiheiki text it is lifted from mimics the Heike Monogatari in prizing individual accomplishment as the hallmark of the samurai.

Kinkakuji, the “retirement home” of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Built as a Buddhist temple in the style popular on the Chinese mainland.

Ashikaga Yoshinori; chosen by lot to be shogun, he was probably the last person of real competence to hold the post.

Episode 273 – The House of Cards, Part 1

This week we start a multipart series on the Muromachi period and the reign of the Ashikaga family. How did they come to power? Why is their government generally described as so weak? And how, despite that weak government, did they win a 60 year war for control of Japan?

Sources

Conlan, Thomas. State of War: The Violent Order of Fourteenth Century Japan

Conlan, Thomas. The Culture of Force and Farce: Fourteenth Century Japanese Warfare.

Sansom, George B. A History of Japan, 1333-1615.

Grossberg, Kenneth. Japan’s Renaissance: The Politics of the Muromachi Bakufu.

Mass, Jeffrey. The Bakufu in Japanese History.

Images

Ashikaga Takauji dressed in the style of his class for battle.

This map gives you an idea of the relative proximity of the two courts. Despite this, Yoshino’s mountainous location made it hard for the Ashikaga to take militarily.

The Yoshino palace. Even this photo gives you an idea of the difficulty of the terrain.

The Hana no Gosho, or palace of flowers on Muromachi Ave in Kyoto. This was the center of Ashikaga power, and the place from which we get the name “Muromachi Period.”

Kusunoki Masatsura (son of Masashige) defeating the armies of Ashikaga Takauji. Woodcut from the Edo period by Kuniyoshi.

The death of Kusunoki Masatsura at the Battle of Shijo Nawate. After decades of war, fewer and fewer samurai were willing to keep fighting for the south, and eventually Masatsura’s own brother would become a leading advocate for peace.

Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the third Ashikaga shogun and the one to end the war. Note the shaved head and Buddhist prayer beads; we’ll have more to say about his religion later.

Go Kameyama, the final emperor of the Southern Court. Today, the Imperial Household Agency and the Japanese government recognize the southern line as legitimate even though the current emperors are descendants of the northern branch.

Episode 272 – I am the Law!

This week we cover the life and career of the legendary judge Oka Tadasuke, who rose from minor samurai to the rank of daimyo and a major position in the bakufu — only to become a legendary figure. Who is he? How did he rise so high? And what can he tell us about the role of judges and bureaucrats in Japanese society more generally?

Sources

Dening, Walter. Japan in Days of Yore. 

Mansfield, Stephen. Tokyo: A Biography.

Nice, Richard W. Treasury of Law. 

Angles, Jeffrey, trans. “The Execution of Ten’ichibo.” Critical Asian Studies 37, no 2 (2005), 305-321.

Images

Ooka Tadasuke, from a woodcut illustrated version of the Ooka Seidan.

Ooka Tadasuke’s grave in Kanagawa.

A monument to the former site of the Minami Machibugyosho (the place of business for the Minami Machi bugyo). It’s located outside Yurakucho Station in Tokyo.

Tokugawa Yoshimune, Ooka Tadasuke’s patron.

Toyohara Kunisada print from the illustrated Ooka Seidan. This particular case is the story of a murder solved by Ooka.

Episode 242 – Castaway

This week, the story of Nakahama Manjiro, the castaway turned American whaler turned gold miner turned samurai turned English professor.

 

Sources

Kawada, Ikaku, et al. Drifting Towards the Southeast.

Preus, Margi. Heart of a Samurai.

A Japan Times feature on the life of Nakahama Manjiro.

Images

Torishima, the island upon which Manjiro and company were shipwrecked.

The map included in Manjiro’s description of his voyages, made for the Tokugawa bakufu in 1853.

William Whitfield, the captain who rescued Manjiro from Torishima.

Manjiro as an older samurai.

The reception of Japanese diplomats by the Mayor of New York City in 1860. Manjiro was a part of the 1860 delegation sent by the shogun to the US, though he is not clearly marked out in this image.

Whitfield’s old house is today the home of a museum dedicated to the Manjiro story.

Episode 131 – The Fall of the Samurai, Part 14

 

In early 1868, the armies of the loyalists and the Tokugawa bakufu will clash outside Kyoto. We’ll discuss the factors that led to the Battle of Toba-Fushimi, and why what was supposed to be a walk in the park for the Tokugawa turned into a complete disaster.

 

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Totman, Conrad. The Collapse of the Tokugawa Bakufu, 1862-1868.

Craig, Albert. Choshu in the Meiji Restoration.

Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan.

Images

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Omura Masujiro, the Choshu samurai next in the chain of command after the death of Takasugi Shinsaku. His lack of seniority, controversial views, and the need to bind Satsuma more fully to the alliance meant that he was not given command of the defenses of Kyoto.

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Saigo Takamori would lead the defense of Kyoto. Prior to 1868, his only field experience came from the First Choshu Expedition, when he led a contingent of Satsuma troops against his future ally Choshu.

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The Toba battlefield; loyalist forces held a bridge over the Uji river against Tokugawa assault.

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Another view of the Toba crossing.

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Yodo Castle. The decision of the lord of Yodo to defect rather than allow Tokugawa forces to enter his keep represented the first time a fudai daimyo defected from the Tokugawa cause. It would not be the last.

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Tokugawa Yoshinobu fleeing Osaka, which is shown burning behind him. Yoshinobu decided to flee to Edo rather than make a stand at Osaka.

Episode 130 – The Fall of the Samurai, Part 13

 

This week, we cover 1867: the final year of the Tokugawa shogunate (sort of). Caught between a loyalist rock and an imperial hard place, Tokugawa Yoshinobu will consider the unthinkable: resignation, and an end to 260 years of bakufu tradition.

 

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Totman, Conrad. The Collapse of the Tokugawa Bakufu, 1862-1868.

Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan.

Craig, Albert. Choshu in the Meiji Restoration.

Jansen, Marius. Sakamoto Ryoma and the Meiji Restoration.

Images

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The young emperor Meiji. This photo dates from 1871, four years after his enthronement.

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Another view of the Emperor Meiji, depicted early in his reign with a group of shishi loyalists. Meiji, unlike his father Komei, was not a consverative and had no attachment to the Tokugawa, and was thus willing to throw in with the shishi.

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Katsu Kaishu in the 1860s. Katsu was tapped to try to negotiate a settlement between the two sides in 1867, but failed — there was no common ground from which to even begin a negotiation, let alone conclude one.

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Nijo Castle, home of the shogunal presence in Kyoto. While staying here during negotiations, Tokugawa Yoshinobu made the fateful decision to agree to resign and return power to the emperor.

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A stylized depiction of Yoshinobu’s announcement of his resignation. The real ceremony, I suspect, was not this tranquil.

Episode 127 – The Fall of the Samurai, Part 10

1864 is probably the most important year in the Meiji Restoration that nobody really has heard of; the Tokugawa will come as close to winning their fight for control of Japan as they ever will, and the shishi movement will end up on the ropes. So, how did the Tokugawa stage such an effective comeback, and why did Tokugawa victories end up laying the groundwork for Tokugawa defeats down the line? All that and more, this week!

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Totman, Conrad. The Collapse of the Tokugawa Bakufu, 1862-1868.

Beasley, W.G. The Meiji Restoration.

Craig, Albert. Choshu in the Meiji Restoration.

Images

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This print depicts the early stages of the Mito Rebellion. On the right side are the rebels, with their leader holding a banner reading “Sonno Joi” (Honor the Emperor, Expel the Barbarian). The retreating forces of the Tokugawa are on the left.

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British troops pose with captured Choshu artillery during the attack on Shimonoseki. The allied British-French-American-Dutch force smashed the defenses of Choshu and easily destroyed its coastal forts.

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The site of the original Ikeda Inn was for a long time a pachinko parlor. A few years back, a new owner converted it into a Shinsengumi themed restaurant named after the original Ikeda Inn.

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A view of the Choshu attack on Hamaguri gate. The palace is on the upper side of the picture; Choshu forces are distinguished by their banner (the line with three dots under it).

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A second view of the Hamaguri attack showing the defeated Choshu attackers.

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