Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Category: History of Japan Podcast Page 1 of 28

Episode 325 – The Teijin Scandal, Part 2

This week, tensions within Japanese society explode as a simple stock purchase turns into a knock-down, drag out fight over corruption in the Japanese state.


Mitchell, Richard H. Political Bribery in Japan

Mitchell, Richard H. Justice in Japan: The Notorious Teijin Scandal

Johnson, Chalmers. MITI and the Japanese Miracle

Szpilman, Christopher W.A. “Conservatism and its Enemies in Prewar Japan: The Case of Hiranuma Kiichiro and the Kokuhonsha.” Hitotsubashi Journal of Social Studies 30, No. 2 (December, 1998)


The trial was big news even as it dragged on; this is front page coverage in the Asahi Shinbun of the acquittal of all defendants on all charges.

The only photo I could find of some members of the Banchokai together. I sourced it from this website, though I took no other research from there. It was hard to track down; there aren’t a lot of photos of Banchokai members together. Go Seinosuke is 2; of the men here the one charged in the Teijin Scandal was 4 (Nagano Mamoru).

Muto Sanji’s brand of fiery journalism helped drive the Teijin Scandal into the spotlight. His death helped propel it further.

Mitsuchi Chuzo, the railway minister who was indicted in the Teijin Scandal.

Episode 324 – The Teijin Scandal, Part 1

This week, we tackle a political scandal from 1930s Japan to dig deeper into the question: just why did Japan’s system of parliamentary government and liberal democracy, which seemed to be flourishing in the 1920s, fall apart so quickly in the 1930s?



Mitchell, Richard H. Political Bribery in Japan

Mitchell, Richard H. Justice in Japan: The Notorious Teijin Scandal

Johnson, Chalmers. MITI and the Japanese Miracle

Szpilman, Christopher W.A. “Conservatism and its Enemies in Prewar Japan: The Case of Hiranuma Kiichiro and the Kokuhonsha.” Hitotsubashi Journal of Social Studies 30, No. 2 (December, 1998)


Suzuki Shoten HQ (originally the Mikado Hotel) in Kobe, Japan. Suzuki did quite well for itself before its shocking collapse in 1927.

Suzuki Shoten HQ was burned down by a mob during the 1918 rice riots.

Scandals like the one that blew up around Souma Hanji (shown here circa 1938) and Meiji Sugar undermined public confidence in Japan’s govenrment.

Nakajima Kumakichi, one of the ministers whose public humiliation helped make politics even more toxic.

The infamous article Kumakichi wrote in the 20s, which would cost him his


Episode 323 – Musui’s Story

This week, we’re discussing the autobiography of a troublemaking, low-ranking samurai whose life didn’t reshape Japan, but whose tale can tell us a lot about how our image of the samurai class matched up with reality.


This episode was rare in that I only relied on one source, Teruko Craig’s excellent translation of the Musui Dokugen known as Musui’s Story  — plus all my notes from college.


Teruko Craig’s translation is highly readable, though there are points where outside research is definitely helpful.

The Yushima Seido, the school Kokichi failed out of.

The saucy ladies of the Yoshiwara, who so bewitched Katsu Kokichi that he stole from his own brother to have more money to purchase their time with.

Episode 322 – The Heist

This week, we cover one of Japan’s great unsolved crimes: the 300 million yen robbery. How did one man steal so much cash? Why couldn’t the police find him? And why are we still talking about it today?


Guarne, Blai et al. Persistently Postwar: Media and the Politics of Memory in Japan.

Johnson, David T. “Crime and Punishment in Contemporary Japan.” Crime and Justice 36, No 1. (2007)

Some modern coverage of the event by the South China Morning Post and


The infamous composite photo of the perp.

Fuchu Prison from the air. The robbery took place along the northern border (the road running left-right on the top part of this photo).

Police investigating the abandoned bike after the robbery on December 10. From

The scene of the crime from the air. From Asahi Shinbun.

Police investigate the abandoned Nissan Cedric. From Asahi Shinbun.


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!

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