Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Category: History of Japan Podcast Page 1 of 25

Episode 296 – As I crossed a Bridge of Dreams, Part 1

This week: the start of a two-part series on women in Heian Japan. What makes the social position of women in the Heian Era so distinct from later points of Japanese history, and from the East Asian cultural sphere more generally? How do we know what we know about the lives of women? And what can we learn from the story of one particularly badass woman: the poet and “femme fatale” Izumi Shikibu?


A complete translation of the Diary of Izumi Shikibu.

A writeup on Women in Traditional China by Patricia Ebrey, one of the best scholars on premodern China out there.

Mulhern, Chieko Irie. Japanese Women Writers: A Bio-critical Source Book

Keene, Donald. Travelers of a Hundred Ages.

Yoshie, Akiko. “Family, Marriage and the Law in Classical Japan – An Analysis of Ritsuryo Codes on Residence Units.


A print of Izumi Shikibu by Utagawa Kuniyoshi from the mid-Edo period.

A transcription of one section of the Izumi Shikibu Diary. Note the flowing nature of the cursive writing and the mixture of Chinese characters and kana — unusual for written work by women.

Another illustration of Izumi Shikibu with her Hyakunin Isshu poem.

An illustration of Izumi Shikibu with one of her poems from the Hyakunin Isshu (Collection of one hundred poems by one hundred poets), one of the most popular poetry collections in Japanese history.


Episode 295 – Into Thin Air

This week, we cover the true story of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese civilians. Who was taken, and why? What do we know about their lives in the north? And how does their disappearance still affect the relationship between Japan and North Korea today?


A Committee for Human Rights in North Korea report on the abduction issue.

Cummings, Bruce. North Korea: Another Country.


Hasuike Kaoru and Hasuike Yukiko on their return to Japan. Note the pins on their lapels; that pin is a marker of membership in the Korean Worker’s Party.

Yokota Sachie and Yokota Shigeru at a press conference with pictures of their daughter. From the Japan Times.

Yokota Megumi before her abduction and at some point in her life in North Korea. From the Japan Times.

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and US President Donald Trump with the families of abductees, 2017. From the Nikkei Asian Review.

Kim Hyon-hui, one of many North Korean operatives trained in Japanese by the abductees.


Episode 294 – What Goes Up, Part 5

This week, the effects of the collapsing asset bubble spread as the extent of the damage caused is revealed; Japan’s financial and political leaders scramble to respond, while refusing to admit the scale of the crisis. Plus, the legacies of the bubble era for Japan today.


This chapter by Dr. Ohno Kenichi of Japan’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies on the bubble and its effects

Nakaso Hiroshi’s paper on the financial crisis and its effects during his BOJ tenure

A New York Times article on nostalgia for the bubble era.

Tett, Gillian. Saving the Sun


The old Long Term Credit Bank of Japan; nationalizing the LTCB was the moment the Japanese government finally found a systemic response to its crisis of confidence.

Japan’s unemployment rate has spiked since the bubble; it still remains low compared to other industrialized countries, but the effects on Japanese society have been substantially disruptive.

Prime Minister Abe is now Japan’s third longest serving prime minister ever. Yet his policies of Abenomics have failed to substantially revive the economy.

A graph from Nakaso Hiroshi’s paper showing the fall in Japan’s economic growth rate after the bubble.

Initiatives like “Premium Friday” are attempts to revive the Japanese economy, but they don’t address the lack of confidence consumers have in their economic futures — which is what holds them back from spending money.


Episode 293 – What Goes Up, Part 4

This week, it all starts to come crumbling down. Japan is plagued by scandals that destroy public confidence at the system right as some begin to look around and say, “hey, does this all seem a bit unsustainable or is it just me?”

It’s not just them.


The quoted New York Times article from 1996.

Werner, Richard. Princes of the Yen

Kingston, Jeff. Japan in Transformation, 1945-2010.

Dubro, Alec and David Kaplan. Yakuza: Japan’s Criminal Underworld. 


Ezoe Hiromasa, the head of Recruit Corporation, whose illicit money laundering via the stock market touched off the first major 1980s scandal.

Sumita Satoshi, BOJ governor 1984-89. He is often blamed for the bubble, though responsibility is not solely his.

Kanemaru Shin giving an apologetic press conference as the scale of the Sagawa Kyubin scandal becomes clear. Kanemaru would die just a few years later, but the damage to public confidence would linger.

Recruit HQ via Google maps. The company still exists today, and surprisingly has not rebranded.

Land like this is prime target for yakuza jiageya, who would try to convince the home owners to sell so that the home could be bought up and developed.

Episode 292 – What Goes Up, Part 3

The Plaza Accord was supposed to fix the US-Japan relationship. How did that work out?


A partial translation of The Japan that Can Say No

Kennedy, Paul. The Rise and Fall of Great Powers


The Newsweek cover on the Columbia-Sony acquisition

Helen Bentley smashing a Japanese radio on the steps of Congress.

Episode 291 – What Goes Up, Part 2

This week, we’re going to talk about life in the bubble era by looking at three snapshots of that experience: a movie, a book, and a poem.


A partial translation of The Japan that Can Say No

Tanikawa’s “A Push of a Button” is available in Modern Japan: A History in Documents, edited by James Huffman


From Tampopo. The junior fellow who shows everyone up is at left; the man at right is kicking him under the table.

From Tampopo. I know this is my foremost concern when I eat spaghetti.

A scene from A Taxing Woman’s Return where the bad guys plot over a literal pile of money.

Sony founder Morita Akio.

Ishihara Shintaro today.

Tanikawa Shuntaro.

Episode 290 – What Goes Up, Part 1

This week, we turn our attention to the 1980s. Japan and the United States find their relationship wracked by increasing tensions over political and economic relations, and turn to the solution of an agreement designed to ease the pressure of Japan’s economic growth. The result? Japan’s infamous Bubble Era!


Pempel, T.J. Regime Shift

Anchordoguy, Marie. Reprogramming Japan

Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan.


The murder of Vincent Chin in 1982 was symptomatic of the level of tension (both economic and racial) in the US-Japan relationship by the 1980s.

The negotiators of the Plaza Accord. James Baker III (USA) is at center. Takeshita Noboru (Japan) is at right.

Ginza’s Yonchome in 1955.

Ginza Yonchome in the 1980s. You can see the incredible growth in just two decades and change.

Another shot of the Ginza in the 1980s. By the height of the bubble, one square meter of commercial real estate here cost $750,000.24

Episode 289 – The Right Tool for the Job, Part 2

This week, we’re going to talk about the impact that the gun had on Sengoku Era Japan, and the ways that it both reinforced and undermined the political trends of the time.


Lidin, Olof G. Tanegashima: The Arrival of Europe in Japan.

Conlan, Thomas. Weapons and Fighting Techniques of the Samurai Warrior


The Battle of Osaka at the start of the siege in late 1614. I’m including this so you can get a sense of the castle layout; the blue are the defenders, and they’re arrayed around that third outermost wall designed to defend the main keep from cannon fire.

The “Red Demon Armor” of Ii Naomasa. No wonder he got shot.

Negoroji today. The current temple dates to the Edo period, as the earlier one was burned by Hideyoshi to put a stop to their pernicious gunsmithing.

A bronze swivel mounted cannon manufactured at Nobunaga’s Kunitomo gunworks.

These bronze cannon are emblematic of the type of weapons you’d see at Osaka castle.

Today there’s a firearms museum at Kunitomo, and it’s well worth a look. Here are examples of the kind of arquebuses they have on hand.

Episode 288 – The Right Tool for the Job, Part 1

This week, we discuss the history of one of the most important technologies in Japan: the gun. How did it get to Japan and spread around the country so quickly?

Lidin, Olof G. Tanegashima: The Arrival of Europe in Japan.

Conlan, Thomas. Weapons and Fighting Techniques of the Samurai Warrior


A Yuan Dynasty (1200s-1300s) era hand cannon. Weapons like these existed in Japan prior to the arrival of Europeans, though European designs were substantially better by the 1500s.

A Japanese matchlock pistol. Weapons like these would spread very rapidly across Japan within a very short time span.

A set of Japanese style arquebuses from the Edo period. Though these are later than the Sengoku era models we are discussing, the general look would be similar.

Re-enactors firing arquebuses. Note that they are carrying the banner of the Toyotomi clan; this will be relevant next week!

A beautiful map for you all laboriously crafted in MS Paint showing the major gunsmithing centers in Sengoku Japan. Red is Negoroji, blue is Sakai, green is Kunitomo, and far in the south (and accidentally still green) is Tanegashima.

Episode 287 – The Drunken Demon

Sumiyoshi Hironao’s Shuten Doji decapitation scene. It’s…quite something.

Toriyama Sekien’s take on Shuten Doji.

A scene from the Oeyama Ekotoba, the original source of the Shuten Doji legend (or at least one version of it).

Utagawa Yoshitsuya’s take on the battle between Shuten Doji and Minamoto no Raiko and friends.

Raiko and friends bring back Shuten Doji’s head.

This week, we’re taking a look at a specific oni tale, and probably the most famous one; the story of the Demon King of Mt. Oe, Shuten Doji. What’s his story? How did he get punked by five of Japan’s most famous warriors? And why are we still talking about him so many years later?


Reider, Noriko. Japanese Demon Lore

Addis, Stephen. Japanese Ghosts and Demons: Art of the Supernatural

Reider, Noriko. Tales of the Supernatural in Early Modern Japan


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