Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Author: ijmeyer Page 1 of 28

Episode 321 – The Regent

This week, take a deep dive with me into the life of one of the regents of the Heian Era, Fujiwara no Tadahira, as we try and figure out just what it looked like to try and rule over Heian Japan on a day to day level.


The translation and commentary I used for this episode all came from:

Piggott, Joan R. and Yoshida Sanae, Teishinkoki: What Did a Heian REgent Do? The Year 939 in the Journal of Regent Fujiwara no Tadahira


A Hyakunin Isshu card of Fujiwara no Tadahira (Teishin). His poem is number 26.

Taira no Masakado.

If you’re wondering where you’ve heard of Masakado before, he was the rebel whose severed head supposedly developed magic powers; we did an episode on him way back when the podcast began. Here’s an Utagawa Kuniyoshi print of him haunting fools as a giant skeleton.

A modern reprint of the Teishinkokisho. It’s only thanks to preservations like these that we have the document, and most Heian diaries were not so well preserved.

A sketch of Tadahira in his courtier outfit.

Episode 320 – Minamata, Part 2

As the 1950s become the 1960s, the truth of Chisso’s failure to address its problems comes out thanks to a new round of poisoning on the other side of Japan. The people of Minamata seek justice for themselves.

Don’t forget to check out Swords of Northshire!


Minamata Disease Museum – English Site, Japanese Site

George, Timothy S. Minamata: Pollution and the Struggle for Democracy in Postwar Japan. 

Almeida, Paul and Linda B. Stearns. Political Opportunities and Local Grassroots Environmental Movements: The Case of Minamata.” Social Problems 45, No 1. (February, 1998).

Harada, Masazumi. “Environmental Contamination and Human Rights — Case of Minamata.” Industrial and Environmental Crisis Quarterly 8, No 2 (1994).


Mutual Aid Society Protestors at the gates of a Chisso factory.

Participants in the 18 month sit in at Chisso HQ; so far as I know, this is the longest sit in in Japanese history.

Patients and family members of Minamata disease victims hold portraits of dead loved ones at a protest against Chisso.

The memorial at the Minamata Disease Museum today. The museum is run by the Mutual Aid Society and has excellent resources in Japanese and English.



Episode 319 – Minamata, Part 1

This week, we’re beginning a deep dive into the history of one of the most famous cases of environmental poisoning in Japanese history: Minamata disease. How did a chemical factory end up poisoning the people of a small town in rural Japan for years before anyone found out? And why, once it became clear that they were being poisoned, did it take so long for anything to come of it?


Tsuda, Toshihide et al. “Minamata Disease: Catastrophic Poisoning Due to a Failed Public Health Response.” Journal of Public Health Policy 30, No 1 (April, 2009).

Harada, Masazumi. “Environmental Contamination and Human Rights — CAse of Minamata Disease.” Industrial & Environmental Crisis Quarterly 8, No 2 (1994).

George, Timothy S. Minamata: Pollution and the Struggle for Democracy in Postwar Japan.


A chart from the Ministry of Health and Welfare showing how Minamata disease was passed to humans.

Another view of the factory complex.

The Chisso factory in Minamata in its heyday. At its peak, Chisso provided 1/2 of Minamata’s tax revenue.

A map of Minamata Bay and the surrounding area. Methylmercury contamination would eventually spread around the Shiranui Sea.

Noguchi Shitagau, whose Nichitsu zaibatsu was the progenitor of Chisso.



Episode 318 – Lone Wolf and Cub

This week, we’re talking about one of the greatest cheesy samurai film franchises of all time. Just how did a series of films about one man and his baby mowing down legions of opponents become a pop culture legend? The story of how Lone Wolf and Cub became one of the greatest samurai film franchises ever is our final episode of 2019.


Here Patrick Macias’s excellent essay on the films for the Criterion Collection (which does a bunch of absolutely fantastic film essays).

Klein, Thomas. “Bounty Hunters, Yakuza, and Ronins: Intercultural Transformations between the Italian Western and Japanese Swordfight Film in the 1960s.” From Spaghetti Westerns at the Crossroads: Studies in Relocation, Transition and Appropriation.

Berndt, Jacqueline and Steffi Richter. Reading Manga: Local and Global Perceptions of Japanese Comics.

Images and Media

Here’s the trailer for Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (the first film). You can get a sense of what the film looks like from what you see here.

Below is one scene from the Western recut of the first two films (Shogun Assassin). You can get a sense of the stylistic difference between the two — personally, I prefer the originals, but maybe that just makes me a hipster snob.

A close up from the original manga of Ogami Itto and Daigoro.

Wakayama Tomisaburo as Ogami Itto. In addition to shooting all six Lone Wolf and Cub movies (and producing the last three) he would also appear in 10 other Toei films in the same time frame.

Another shot of Wakayama in character as Ogami, this one with Tomikawa Akihiro as Daigoro.

Wakayama Tomisaburo in his regular style.

The poster for Shogun Assassin.

Episode 317 – Separate Ways

This week, we explore the career of the first woman to make a big splash in modern Japanese literature: Higuchi Ichiyo. We’ll talk about her story, her writing, her legacy, and her tragically short career — and I’ll spend a lot of time talking about how much I hate Mori Ogai!


Omori, Kyoko, “Higuchi Ichiyo” The Modern Murasaki. Ed., Copeland, Rebecca and Melek Ortabasi.

Tanaka, Hisako. “Higuchi Ichiyo. Monumenta Nipponica 12, no. 3/4 (October 1956-January, 1957)

Mitsutani, Margaret. “Higuchi Ichiyo: A Literature of Her Own.” Comparative Literature Studies 22, No. 1. (Spring, 1985)


Higuchi Ichiyo during the height of her career.

If you’re wondering where Higuchi Ichiyo looks familiar from, it’s because her face is on the 5000 Yen note!

The manuscript of Takekurabe.

To the best of my knowledge, only one of her stories (Takekurabe) has made the jump to film. This is the poster from the 1955 film version.


Episode 316 – The Entrepreneur

This week, it’s time to talk backroom deals and business trickery, because we’re chronicling the rise of Mitsubishi and the rags to riches story of its founder Iwasaki Yataro.


Yamamura, Kozo. “The Founding of Mitsubishi: A Case Study in Japanese Business History”  The Business History Review, Vol. 41, No. 2 (Summer, 1967), pp. 141-160

Wray, Willard. Mitsubishi and the N.Y.K, 1870-1914: Business Strategy in the Japanese Shipping Industry.

Shimizu, Hiroshi, and Seiichiro Yonekura, “Entrepreneurship in Pre-World War II Japan: The Role and Logic of the Zaibatsu.” in The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times.


Iwasaki Yataro in his prime. He was, by all accounts, built like a judo champion — solid and thick.

The Mitsubishi Logo, derived from a combination of Iwasaki’s family crest with the old Tosa Domain crest.

The Iwasaki family mansions; you can go visit them now. Iwasaki built this mansion in the 1870s; his successors would run Mitsubishi out of it until 1945.

Kiyosumi Gardens in Tokyo are well worth going to; they were also built by Iwasaki for his personal use, and for public access as a PR move.

An advertisement from the Cooperative Shipping Company (Kyodo Unyu Kaisha), the last competitor Iwasaki vanished during his time at Mitsubishi.

“Destroying the Big Bears and Sea Monsters”, a political cartoon from the 1870s (which actually comes from Mitsubishi’s own website). The sea monster is in the upper left corner. Note the branding on it!

Episode 315 – The World Cast Aside

This week, we trace the evolution of Noh theater over the course of the careers of its famous founders: the father-son acting duo Kan’ami and Zeami.


Varley, Paul H. “Cultural Life in Medieval Japan” in The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol 3: Medieval Japan

Fenollosa, Ernest, and Ezra Pound. The Noh Theater of Japan.

Kuritz, Paul. The Making of Theater History.

A Japan Times article on women in Noh theater.


The video below gives you some sense of what a performance looks like, and what kusemai dance in particular is. The whole channel has some good stuff too.

A noh stage in Tenjin Shrine inside Miyajima Shrine on Itsukushima. The stage dates back to the mid-1500s and was constructed by the patronage of a warlord of the Mori clan.

A modern Noh stage.

The pre-performance dedication ceremony for a Noh play being performed at Kasuga Shrine in Nara.

A performance of the play Atsumori at the University of British Columbia. I believe the character on stage is Kumagai Naozane (the shite role).

Three pictures of one mask (of a young woman). This gives you an idea of how expressive the mask is when viewed from different angles.

Episode 314 – Responsibility, Accountability, and the Imperial Throne

Since Japan just got itself a new emperor, this is a good time to go back and look at an incident from the enthronement of the last emperor — and at a time where one local politician’s comment at a council meeting ignited a national firestorm which ended with him being shot.


Fields, Norma. In the Realm of a Dying Emperor

A Japan Times article on Naruhito’s coronation and the relative lack of protest compared to the last one

New York Times coverage of Motoshima’s shooting from 1990.


Motoshima Hitoshi during his political prime.

The Crysanthemum Throne (Takamikura) normally is in Kyoto but is brought to Tokyo for coronations.

Emperor Akihito (center left, in white) during his daijosai (enthronement). This event was greeted with massive protests in Tokyo.

Motoshima Hitoshi continued to speak publicly about his views on the emperor system and Hirohito until his death in 2014.


Episode 313 – The Doctor is In

This week, we’re going to zoom in on the kind of life that doesn’t usually make the big picture history of Japan. It’s time to look at the story of a single medical student during the final years of the Tokugawa era and explore everything from his education to his drinking habit, and to ask ourselves just what we can learn from such a focused examination of the past.


The fully accessible article on Shibata Shuzo that gave me this idea here. This is an unusual episode in that it’s only really driven by this source; the other work on Shibata that has been done is all in Japanese.

Images (Note: all images except the Kaitai Shinsho are from the Moriyama article)

An example of the kind of drinking establishment Shibata Shuzo would have frequented.

Shibata Shuzo’s world map.

The Ihou Taiseiron, a Chinese medical text from the 1300s that Shibata Shuzo learned traditional Chinese Medicine from.

Detail image from Kaigai Shinwa, a book of information about western imperialism produced in the late 1840s.

Kaitai Shinsho, one of the major works on Dutch medicine in the Edo Era.Japan

Episode 312 – Freedom and People’s Rights, Part 3

This week, we look at the violent incidents that eventually undermined the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement, and the legacies of the movement for Japan today.


Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan

Bowen, Rodger. Rebellion and Democracy in Meiji Japan

Botsman, Dan. Punishment and Power in the Making of Modern Japan


Okuma Shigenobu later in life. His devotion to democratic politics would eventually see him take a turn as Prime Minister in exchange for his party’s support of government policies.

Election returns for the 1890 election in Japan, the first one ever. The light red is the revived Jiyuto, led by Itagaki. The dark red is Okuma. The blue is the pro-government Taiseikai. Grey is unaligned. You can see the Freedom and People’s Rights Parties did extremely well despite the highly restricted suffrage of the time.

The graves of the Kabasan rebels.

The Demon Governor Mishima Michitsune.

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