Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Author: ijmeyer (Page 2 of 22)

Episode 250 – Today is the Victory

This week, we take on the legend of Miyamoto Musashi. How is it that a person we know very little about came to be a legend? Could it be, perhaps, that the very fact that we know so little about him for sure is part of the allure of his legend?


Tokitsu, Kenji. Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings.

Kane, Lawrence. Musashi’s Dokkodo. 

Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan


Musashi wielding two weapons, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

A self-portrait attributed to Musashi.

A monument to the Musashi-Sasaki Kojiro duel on Ganryujima.

The entrance to Reigando, the cave Musashi retired to at the end of his life.

Musashi’s grave in Kumamoto.

Musashi fighting the whale, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Mifune Toshiro as Miyamoto Musashi in the samurai trilogy. Note the two swords.

Ichioji, Kyoto. This temple, supposedly where the final battle between Musashi and the Yoshioka school took place, now has a monument to the fight.

Episode 249 – Every Day is a Journey

This week, we delve into the life, legacy, and style of Matsuo Basho, Japan’s most famous poet. Who was he? How did he develop his unique style? How did Japan’s most famous haiku poet end up writing before the invention of the word “haiku”? All that and more!


Ueda, Makoto. Basho and His Interpreters.

Carter, Steven D. Haiku Before Haiku: From the Renga Masters to Basho.

Carter, Steven D. “On a Bare Branch: Basho and the Haikai Profession.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 117, No 1 (Jan-March, 1997)


Matsuo Basho, as depicted by Hokusai.

Bronze equestrian Basho statue in Nasu, Tochigi.

Basho meeting with two farmers celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival. From Yoshitoshi’s 100 Aspects of the Moon series, early Meiji.

A painting of Basho on horseback by one of Basho’s students (Sugiyama Sanpu).

An example of Basho’s propensity for mixing images with poetry. The Hokku/Haiku here reads:
Yellow rose petals
a waterfall

Basho in the garden of his hut. His banana tree (the original Basho) is to the right.

A bronze statue of Basho in Otsu city, Shiga Prefecture.

Episode 248 – Family Matters

This week we take on the history of the von Siebold family — father Philip Franz, son Alexander, and daughter Kusumoto Ine. How does the story of this unusual family fit in to the story of 19th century Japan?


Nakamura, Ellen. “Working the Siebold Network: Kusumoto Ine and Western Learning in Nineteenth-Century Japan.” Japanese Studies 28, No. 2

Ravina, Mark. To Stand with the Nations of the World.

Walthall, Anne. The Female as Subject: Women and Writing in Early Modern Japan.

Nakamura, Ellen. “Ogino Ginko’s Vision: “The Past and Future of Women Doctors in Japan” U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal, no. 34 (2008)


Philip Franz von Siebold during his time in Nagasaki. The painting was done by Kawahara Keiga, a Japanese painter who was friends with von Siebold.

A landscape by Kawahara Keiga showing Dutchmen observing Nagasaki’s harbor. The woman and child shown here are Taki and Ine.

Philip Franz and Alexander von Siebold around the time of Philip’s second trip to Japan in 1859.

Mise Shuzo and Kusumoto Takako.

Kusumoto Ine posing at the height of her career. She became a very well respected practitioner of Western medicine.

Alexander von Siebold did well out of his work in Japan, netting a minor Barony in Austria-Hungary as well as a steady and respectable job.

Kusumoto Ine and her daughter Takako late in Ine’s life.

The Siebold Memorial in Nagasaki, c. early 20th c. Siebold is still remembered fondly in Japan (especially in Nagasaki) as an early booster of Japan around the world.

Episode 247 – Edokko

This week, we’re very lucky to have a chance to speak with Mr. Isaac Shapiro. Mr. Shapiro grew up in wartime Japan, and shares his experiences here with us today. You can check out his book, Edokko: Growing Up a Foreigner in Wartime Japan on Amazon!


The Shapiro family in Japan. Standing, left to right are the Shapiro siblings: Isaac, Jacob, Ariel, and Joseph. Sitting, left to right, are: Lydia (his mother), Michael, Constantine (his father), and Ms. Vaisman, their caretaker.

Isaac Shapiro in 1950. By this point, he had already emigrated to the United States.

Isaac Shapiro today.

Episode 246 – There and Back Again

This week, we cover the story of Engelbert Kaempfer, who wrote one of the most thorough and best known accounts of Japan for Western consumption before the Meiji era. How did this random German dude end up in Japan? What did he write about it? What did he think of it? And why do we care?


Roberts, J.A.G. “Not the Least Deserving:The Philosophes and the Religions of Japan.” Monumenta Nipponica 44, No. 2 (Summer, 1989), 151-169.

Michel, Wolfgang. “His Story of Japan: Engelbert Kaempfer’s Manuscript in a New Translation.” Monumenta Nipponica 55, No 1 (2000), 109-120.

A fascinating academic piece on prostitution and the Dutch in Nagasaki.

A complete version of the Kaempfer text from

Haberland, Detlef. Engelbert Kaempfer: A Biography


Kaempfer included several diagrams and images in his notes, including this one where he broke down the components of the Japanese phoenetic alphabet. In addition to being a helpful historical tool, it’s impressive because it means that unlike many Europeans of his day, he cared enough to try to learn the basics of the language.

Kaempfer got his start as a documentarian in Persia; this sketch is his work on the ruins of the old Achaemenid Persian capital at Persepolis.

Kaempfer’s sketch of a sankin kotai retinue — a lord and his followers on their way to attend to the shogun in Edo.

A part of Kaempfer’s original manuscript from the British museum.

Kaempfer’s sketch of an audience with the shogun. Note the careful attention to the detail of the clothes, rather than simply drawing all the outfits the same or in a more European fashion.

Kaempfer’s map of Japan, using the original 60 provinces of Japan as its basis. A century and a half later, another German, Franz Philip von Siebold, would be kicked out of the country for having something like this, but Kaempfer was able to just acquire it no questions asked.

Episode 245 – The Summer of Rage, Part 2

This week, we cover the Miike coal mine strike of 1960. As labor and management do battle over the future of the mines, how will the future of the country be shaped by their clash?


Gerteis, Christopher. Gender Struggles: Wage-earning Women and Male-dominated Unions in Postwar Japan

Hyde, Sarah. The Transformation of the Japanese Left.

Golden, Miriam. Heroic Defeats: The Politics of Job Loss. 

Kawanishi, Hirosuke. The Human Face of Industrial Conflict in Postwar Japan. 


Miners in protective gear sitting in during the protests.

Housewives in Miike meet in support of the strike.

Strikebreakers like the ones here were deployed by Mitsui to attack the workers. Some were affiliated with the yakuza, and one of the strikers was killed during these confrontations.

The entrance to the main Miike mineshaft as of 2016. The mine was shuttered in the 1990s.

The death of Asanuma Inejiro, broadcast live on NHK, became a sort of symbolic stand in for the death of the old Japanese Left.

Episode 244 – The Summer of Rage, Part 1

This week, we look at the contentious summer of 1960, in which the disputes of postwar Japan boiled over into some of the most intense protests in the country’s history. How do these conflicts shape modern Japanese society?


MIT’s Visualizing Cultures program has a great section on Anpo.

Kishi Nobusuke’s obituary in the NYT, from 1987.

Williams, Andrew. Dissenting Japan.

Sasaki-Uemura, Wesley. Organizing the Spontaneous: Citizen Protest in Postwar Japan.

The Pacific Century has an excellent documentary on this subject (though a bit dated) called Inside Japan Inc


Kishi being booked into Sugamo Prison for trial as a war criminal. He would eventually be released without trial.

Kishi and Eisenhower golfing during Kishi’s first US visit in 1957.

This shot really gives you a sense of the scale of the protests.

Protestors from all walks of life (in this case, a teacher’s union) joined the protests.

These protesters came from Shizuoka, clean on the other end of Japan.

Protesters storm the south gate of the Diet on June 15. This is the day Kanba Michiko would die.

Kanba Michiko became a rallying cry for the protests after her death. The banner behind her photo here states the resolve of the protesters to fight harder in the wake of her death.

The Speaker of the House being muscled to the rostrum for a vote on the treaty. Confrontations between socialists and LDP members got VERY violent over the course of the treaty debates.

A Chinese political cartoon from the People’s Daily. The Japanese protester at left holds a sign saying, “Oppose the security treaty, down with Kishi, dissolve the Diet.” The Chinese protester’s sign says, “Oppose the US-Japan Security Treaty, support the struggle of the Japanese people.”

Episode 243 – Heavyweights

This week, the origins and history of Sumo.


Hall, Mina. The Big Book of Sumo.

An article from The Guardian on match fixing in sumo.

A BBC story on life in a sumo stable.

An NYT story on the incident from this April with the female doctors.


Yokozuna Hakuho performing his special dohyo-iri (ring entering ceremony).

The Yokozuna monument at Tomioka Hachiman Shrine. New Yokozuna are formally recognized here, and on the grounds there are two stones that list the names of every yokozuna.

Tochinoshin Tsuyoshi (Levan Gorgadze), a Georgian-born sumo wrestler who made the rank of ozeki this month. He may well become the first white yokozuna — who knows?

A late Tokugawa woodblock promoting sonno joi (honor the emperor, expel the barbarian) ideology. The sumo wrestler here acts as a stand in for all Japan, casting out the Westerners.

A traditional dohyo iri to mark the start of a series of bouts.

A dohyo iri shot that provides a fuller view of the dohyo, including the yakata above.09

Episode 242 – Castaway

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



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

Preus, Margi. Heart of a Samurai.

A Japan Times feature on the life of Nakahama Manjiro.


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 241 – All in the Family, Part 3

This week, we conclude our up close look at the Shimazu family and Satsuma domain with a consideration of how the domain fit into Edo society, and its position in modern Japan.


Sansom, George. A History of Japan, vol 3

Beasley, W.G. The Collected Writings of W.G. Beasley

Hall, John Witney, et al., editors. An Institutional History of Early Modern Japan.

Jansen, Marius B. The Making of Modern Japan.


Sekisho (checkpoints) like this one dotted Tokugawa Japan. This particular example is from Honshu, but the basic principle is the same — the gate allows for controlled access, giving samurai officials a chance to inspect traveler’s documentation.

A marker for one of the old sekisho in Kagoshima itself.

Today it’s a trendy tourist area, but in the early Edo Period, Bonotsu, just a short distance northwest of Kagoshima, was home to a Chinatown from which an illicit smuggling operation of Chinese goods into Kagoshima was operated.

Zusho Hirosato (Shouzaemon), who rescued the Shimazu clan’s finances from near disaster.

The Japanese government and the Kagoshima prefectural government run a museum dedicated to the history of Satsuma and the Shimazu — the Shokoshuseikan, shown here.

Kagoshima today — a modern city with a very distinct regional identity.

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