Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Category: History of Japan Podcast (Page 1 of 19)

Episode 236 – Never Look Away

This week, we discuss the career of Japan’s most legendary director, Kurosawa Akira. From humble, middle class beginnings, our story will take us through some of his most notable films, and include detours into the lives of Mifune Toshiro, George Lucas, and even Francis Ford Coppola!

Sources

Kurosawa, Akira. Something like an Autobiography.

“Rashomon” and “The Seven Samurai” in Film Analysis: A Norton Reader.

The videos below are from the fine folks at Every Frame a Painting (now sadly defunct), and do a good job introducing the Kurosawa style.

Images

The poster for The Most Beautiful (1944).

Yaguchi Yoko as Watanabe Tsuru in Ichiban Utsukushiku (The Most Beautiful), 1944. Yoko would end up marrying Kurosawa; the two had two children, and were very happy together by all accounts.

Kurosawa and Mifune in Venice for the Venice Film Festival in 1950, where Rashomon won the Golden Lion for Best Film.

Kurosawa on set with Mifune Toshiro for The Seven Samurai (1954).

Mifune Toshiro as Rokurota Makabe in The Hidden Fortress (1958), and Alec Guinness as Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars (1977). The Kenobi character was based on Rokurota, and Lucas supposedly approached Mifune to play the part originally.

Produced in conjunction with Francis Ford Coppola on the recommendation of George Lucas, Kagemusha ended up reviving the legend of Kurosawa.

Ran (1985) is loosely based on the story of King Lear, a Shakespearean drama of kingship and unreliable children.

The poster for Madadayo (Not Yet), 1993 — Kurosawa’s last full film.

Episode 235 – Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

This week: the story of a relatively unimportant man who appears briefly and dies spectacularly, and the long chain of events that led to those moments. Politics, betrayal, war, and a dog — what’s not to love?

Sources

Morris, Ivan. The Nobility of Failure. 

The relevant section of the Nihongi for reference.

Como, Michael I. Shotoku: Ethnicity, Ritual and Violence in the Japanese Buddhist Tradition.

Images

The main entrance of Shitennoji (Temple of the Four Heavenly Kings), founded in 593 on the slopes of Mt. Shigi by Prince Shotoku to commemorate victory over the Mononobe.

In this woodcut scene, anti-Buddhist Mononobe supporters try (and fail) to shatter a Buddhist holy relic.

In this 19th century woodcut, it is Prince Shotoku himself, not a lowly Soga soldier, who slays Mononobe no Moriya and ends the battle between the Soga and Mononobe.

 

Episode 234 – The Oldest Profession

Note: Since this week we’re talking about the sex trade, I’ve taken the precaution of giving this episode an explicit tag. However, it does not include any more language than usual; it’s just a precaution because iTunes can get pretty finicky about this stuff.

So with that in mind, let’s get down and dirty into the world of prostitution!

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Stanley, Amy. Selling Women: Prostitution, Markets, and the Household in Early Modern Japan.

Garon, Sheldon. Molding Japanese Minds

A solid Japan Times article on the subject.

Images

A print of a beautiful courtesan from the mid Tokugawa era (approx 1660-1680). Prostitutes became Japan’s first sex symbols, as women who lacked formal ties to a specific man.

A harimise in the old Yoshiwara. Photo is colorized from the mid Meiji era.

Probably the most harrowing image of imperial era prostitution is the harimise, the caged screen behind which prostitutes were displayed. When campaigners railed against the barbarity of the institution, images like this one (which was later colorized) were their most common touchstones.

Postwar Japan saw a big boom in prostitution as women had many other paths of economic advancement closed to them. Here, a woman solicits clients on the streets of Tokyo.

Even before the anti-prostitution law, relations with the authorities could be contentious. Here, police crack down on an unregistered brothel in 1954.

Kabukicho, Tokyo’s modern red light district (the old one, the Yoshiwara, is now part of the upscale Nihonbashi and Ginza neighborhoods). Prostitution continues semi-openly thanks to loopholes in the anti-prostitution law.

Episode 233 – A People Apart

This week, we tackle the history of the Burakumin. Where did this outcast group come from? Why does discrimination against them remain an issue? What steps has the government taken to protect them, and what steps have they taken to get organized and push back?

AMA link here.

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Hane, Mikiso. Peasants, Rebels, Women, and Outcastes: The Underside of Modern Japan.

Neary, Ian. The Buraku Issue and Modern Japan.

Neary, Ian. Political Protest and Social Control in Pre-War Japan. 

Images

This map, of Tokugawa Era Kobe, touched off a bit of a storm when the Kobe city government tried to sell it off. The map — redone here by the fine folks at Japan Focus with English translations — includes a label locating Kobe’s “Eta Town”, which caused the Buraku Liberation League to protest its sale.

Suiheisha members, c. 1924.

The 4th congress of the Asakura branch of the Suiheisha, c. late 1920s.

Matsumoto Jiichiro, who started his career in the Suiheisha before going on to be a founding member of the Buraku Liberation League. He’s probably the most famous activist in Buraku history.

A Buraku Liberation League rally.

The flag of the Buraku Liberation League, and (minus the red field) of the Suiheisha before it. The design is supposed to be reminiscent of the crown of thorns worn by Jesus, an outcast who developed something of a following himself. The design was done by Saito Mankichi, a Burakumin activist before World War II.

Episode 232 – A Thief in the Night

This week, we spend an entire history podcast talking about someone who may not even have actually existed — the legendary thief Ishikawa Goemon.

Listen to the episode here.

The link to submit questions for the AMA is here.

Sources

Brandon, James R. Kabuki Plays On-Stage: Villainy and Vengeance, 1773-1799

Morris, Ivan. The Nobility of Failure.

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

Images

An Utagawa Kunisada print of Ishikawa infiltrating “Mashiba’s” palace from Sanmon no Kiri.

A Toyokuni print of Goemon’s death from the late Edo period.

An Utagawa Kunisada print of the final scene of Sanmon no Kiri, showing the death scene.

A modern Goemonburo, made of ceramic instead of metal.

Nanzenji temple, which, to be fair, does appear to be a fairly pretty place to be boiled alive.

Episode 231 – The Measure of an Emperor, Part 6

This week, we wrap up the life of Japan’s 124th Emperor. What, in the end, did it all mean?

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Bix, Herbert. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan.

Wetzler, Peter. Hirohito and War: Imperial Tradition and Military Decision Making in World War II Japan.

Large, Stephen. Emperor Hirohito and Showa Japan: A Political Biography.

Images10

Hirohito and Elizabeth Vining together.

As a part of his education, Elizabeth Gray Vining arranged for Akihito to visit Haverford College in Pennsylvania, where this photo was taken.

Akihito and Princess Michiko (center) flanked by Hirohito and Empress Nagako.

Royal Box in National Stadium, Tokyo, Oct. 10, 1964, during the opening ceremony of the 1964 Summer Olympic Games. (AP Photo)

The Emperor enters the House of Mouse.

Hirohito during his 1975 state visit, accompanied by the empress, President Gerald Ford, and the First Lady.

Motoshima Hitoshi, former mayor of Nagasaki. For criticizing Hirohito in the leadup to the emperor’s death, he was shot in the back and nearly expelled from the LDP.

Episode 230 – The Measure of an Emperor, Part 5

How does a man raised to be a military autocrat become a democratic emperor in just a few short years? Or is that even possible?

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Bix, Herbert. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan.

Wetzler, Peter. Hirohito and War: Imperial Tradition and Military Decision Making in World War II Japan.

Large, Stephen. Emperor Hirohito and Showa Japan: A Political Biography.

Miller, Ian Jared. The Nature of the Beasts: Empire and Exhibition at the Tokyo Imperial Zoo. 

The Shirayuki War Bond advertisement, from Time in June, 1945.

Images and Video

All media on the US Occupation must by law have this picture of Hirohito and MacArthur from late 1945, in which the emperor is literally and figuratively overshadowed by the bombastic American.

Hirohito atop Shirayuki. Preventing William Halsey from riding his horse was Hirohito’s one solid win during the Occupation.

Hirohito did not support the new constitution stripping so much of his power, but felt that he had little choice but to publicly endorse it — as he is doing here in 1947 before the Imperial Diet.

Hirohito on tour (location unknown), 1946.

Hirohito tours Yokohama, 1946.

Episode 229 – The Measure of an Emperor, Part 4

This week: Hirohito goes to war. What did he know, how much did he direct things himself, and ultimately, how much responsibility does he bear for the greatest cataclysm in the history of East Asia?

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Bix, Herbert. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan.

Wetzler, Peter. Hirohito and War: Imperial Tradition and Military Decision Making in World War II Japan.

Large, Stephen. Emperor Hirohito and Showa Japan: A Political Biography.

Images

 

The emperor’s monologue on the war, written after the fact to defend him against war crimes charges. Far from a reliable source, it’s still an interesting read.

In 2007, a version of Hirohito’s monologue went up for auction. It sold for just over a quarter million dollars.

Togo Shigenori’s resignation as foreign minister in September, 1942, nearly triggered a political crisis over Guadalcanal that Hirohito helped avert.

Japanese POWs on Guadalcanal. The Guadalcanal campaign was the first major Japanese reversal of the war.

Hirohito’s contributions to the war were occasionally limited to propaganda, such as this image of him reviewing the troops from atop his white horse Shirayuki. The extent to which he was actually involved in planning and execution of the war remains hotly debated.

The January 1, 1945 Imperial Conference. Formal conferences like these ratified government decisions, but they were not hubs for genuine debate. Instead, they ratified previously made decisions.

Episode 228 – The Measure of an Emperor, Part 3

This week, we take a look at Hirohito’s life before World War II. What kind of ruler was Japan’s new emperor when the chips came down?

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Bix, Herbert. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan.

Wetzler, Peter. Hirohito and War: Imperial Tradition and Military Decision Making in World War II Japan.

Large, Stephen. Emperor Hirohito and Showa Japan: A Political Biography.

Images

Prime Minister Tanaka Giichi. Hirohito seized on his failure to catch the assassins of Zhang Zuolin as a chance to assert his own authority. The result was the implosion of Tanaka’s promising political career.

Emperor Hirohito during a military parade in Yoyogi Park, 1933. Hirohito enjoyed a close relationship with the military and tended to leave military leaders to their own as a result.

This is a photo of an Imperial Conference of the emperor’s ministers from 1943. Though it comes from a later time than what this episode focuses on, it gives you an idea of the venue in which government decisions were presented to the emperor.

Kawashima Yoshiyuki, the Army Minister who likely was in on the 2-26 Incident, and who was flabbergasted by Hirohito’s refusal to support a coup.

The Imperial Rescript on the Declaration of War, December 8, 1941.

Episode 227 – The Measure of an Emperor, Part 2

Young Hirohito goes on trips, serves his first turns in politics, and gets married! Join us as we look at the future emperor’s first steps into the life that he never really had a chance to choose for himself.

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Bix, Herbert. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan.

Wetzler, Peter. Hirohito and War: Imperial Tradition and Military Decision Making in World War II Japan.

Large, Stephen. Emperor Hirohito and Showa Japan: A Political Biography.

Images

A postcard commemorating Hirohito’s trip to Europe with a map of his route.

Hirohito being met at Victoria Station upon his arrival in London.

Hirohito and King George V in the royal carriage.

Hirohito during his time in England.

Hirohito with the members of the British government. To his left is PM David Lloyd George.

Hirohito and his distant cousin/wife, Crown Princess Nagako.

Hirohito at the time of his enthronement in sokutai (traditional court clothes).

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