Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Category: History of Japan Podcast Page 2 of 28

Episode 311 – Freedom and People’s Rights, Part 2

How do you talk about a movement without clear leaders? By breaking down its different levels. Plus, a look at how things came to a head between the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement and the government.


Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan

Ikegami, Eiko. Bonds of Civility

Irokawa, Daikichi. The Culture of the Meiji Period


A woodblock print showing the assassination attempt on Itagaki. The moment was highly sensationalized in the press, with the Jiyuto-aligned papers blaming the government and its supporters for incitement and the government claiming this was all just a renegade act. This particular print is pro-Itagaki; note the defiant pose as Aikawa is arrested.

Chiba Takusaburo, leader of the Itsukaichi discussion group.

One of Chiba’s writings. This one is called the “Odoron”, or “Treatise on the Way of Kings.” The idea of “Odo”, the way followed by a true king, is a big part of Confucian historiography; Chiba is showing his continued Confucian impulses here.

There’s now a statue in Gifu Park commemorating the assassination attempt.


Episode 310 – Freedom and People’s Rights, Part 1

This week, we’re starting a look at the Jiyu Minken Undo — the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement — by talking a bit about its ideological origins as well as some of the movement’s early leaders.


Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan

Ozaki, Yukio. The Autobiography of Ozaki Yukio

Bowen, Roger W. Rebellion and Democracy in Meiji Japan.


Eto Shinpei’s participation in the Aikoku Koto helped destroy that party almost as soon as it got off the ground — when he was beheaded for treason the party disbanded to avoid coming under scrutiny because of its association with him.

Nakae Chomin as a younger man.

Itagaki Taisuke as a young man (c. 1880).

The Toyo Jiyu Shinbun, or Eastern Free Press. It was suppressed after slightly more than a month of publication.

Okuma Shigenobu. Tragically I had a hard time finding pictures of him from the early Meiji Period, but the English style suit here definitely shows off his Anglophilia.

Episode 309 – Flying High

This week: the battle against the construction of a new international airport in Chiba prefecture. Who fought against the airport, why, and how did it all go so very wrong?


Bowen, Rodger Wilson. “The Narita Conflict.” Asian Survey 15, No 7 (July, 1975)

Apter, David E. When Parties Fail: Emerging Alternative Organizations

Apter, David E. Against the State: Politics and Social Protest in Japan.


The Shounen Kodotai (Middle School Action Corps) of the HD.

Tomura Issai, the leader of the HD.

Gear and weapons worn by those who fought against the airport.

Anti-airport protestors clash with police.

It’s not great but this was the best shot I could find of the land clearing battles of 1971.

Opposition against Narita remains; the HD actually still has a website (though it’s very out of date) and you occasionally see signs like this billboard (which says something like “don’t throw us out”).


Episode 308 – The Prisoners of Nanbu, Part 3

This week, the crew of the Breskens is freed at last. Plus some final thoughts on Tokugawa diplomacy.


Hesselink, Reiner. Prisoners from Nambu: Reality and Make-Believe in 17th-Century Japanese Diplomacy.

Matsukata, Fuyuko. The Dutch and English East India Companies: Diplomacy, Trade, adn Violence in Early Modern Asia. 


The bell presented by Elserack in 1643. It now resides at the shrine devoted to Tokugawa Ieyasu (Nikko Tosho-gu) and is still there to see.


Van Elserack wrote a book describing his time in Japan, the Dutch name of which I will not attempt to replicate (in English: Memorable Embassies of the Dutch East India Company to the Emperors of Japan). Here is the front cover.

Ultimately, the Tokugawa bakufu was able to thread the needle of asserting its authority over the Dutch while avoiding driving them off. Dutch embassies kept coming to Edo to reaffirm the shogun’s power, as depicted in prints like this one.

Episode 307 – The Prisoners of Nanbu, Part 2

The Breskens crew arrive in Edo, with the question of how they are to be treated looming over them. At the same time, another group of very different Europeans arrive there as well. This week, we’ll talk about the interwoven fates of both groups, and what they tell us about the concerns of the shogunate and Tokugawa Iemitsu.


Hesselink, Reiner. Prisoners from Nambu: Reality and Make-Believe in 17th-Century Japanese Diplomacy.

Matsukata, Fuyuko. The Dutch and English East India Companies: Diplomacy, Trade, adn Violence in Early Modern Asia. 

Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third Tokugawa Shogun.

Whenever the Dutch arrived at the Nagasakiya, the inn where they were kept while in Edo, it was always an event. This Hokusai lithograph shows the kind of reception they would get.

A lithograph from a Dutch publication describing Schaep’s experiences. This is one of the interrogation scenes.

While Inoue Masashige was not important enough to have any paintings of him made, he was important enough to be the villain of Endo Shusaku’s novel Silence, which is all about the interrogation of a captured Jesuit priest. That means he was also in the movie adaptation; he’s played here by famous character actor Ogata Issei.

An example of tsurushi, or suspension torture. This or worse awaited captured Jesuits and other Catholics under Iemitsu’s reign.

Episode 306 – The Prisoners of Nanbu, Part 1

This week, we’re taking a look at the foreign policy of Edo Japan by starting a deep dive into a complex case study: the tale of the 10 prisoners of Nanbu domain!


Hesselink, Reiner. Prisoners from Nambu: Reality and Make-Believe in 17th-Century Japanese Diplomacy.

Matsukata, Fuyuko. The Dutch and English East India Companies: Diplomacy, Trade, adn Violence in Early Modern Asia. 


Anthony van Diemen, the man behind the voyage of the Castricom and Breskens to Japan.

Abel Tasman’s voyage of 1642-43 is in red. His voyage was planned by van Diemen at the same time as the Breskens/Castricom one.

A map of northern Honshu showing Morioka/Nanbu domain in mustard yellow. The red is Hachinohe domain; at the time of our story, it would have been a part of Nanbu, as it was broken off into a separate domain later during a succession dispute.

Nanbu Shigenao, 28th family head of the Nanbu and lord of Morioka domain.

A partial view of Yamada bay.

A map of the voyage of the Castricom, assembled about half a century after the fact. This map shows something that I got wrong; I had speculated that the island the Castricom discovered was Sakhalin, but this makes it clear that the island was Kunashir (which Vries named Staten Island, though that name didn’t take surprisingly). For reference, the Japanese mainland appears on the bottom of this map.

An Italian map later put together from notes taken from the Castricom. Voyages like these were essential to European mapmakers expanding their understanding of the world’s geography. Note that Tartary is still on this map (more or less on the Russian Pacific Coast.)

Episode 305 – The American Interlude, Part 2

This week, we’ll cover the end of USCAR and the legacies of 27 years of foreign rule over Okinawa Prefecture.


Aldous, Christopher. “Achieving Reversion: Protest and Authority in Okinawa, 1952-70.” Modern Asian Studies 37, no. 2 (2003)

Inoue, Masamichi. Okinawa and the US Military: Identity Making in the Age of Globalization

Kerr, George. Okinawa: The History of an Island People

Higa, Mikio. “The Reversion Theme in Current Okinawan Politics.” Asian Survey 7, No 3 (March, 1967).


The B-yen note. Introduced to try and stabilize the Okinawan economy, it instead helped keep Okinawa economically dependent on the USA.

Yara Chobyo’s career as a politician was defined by his successful opposition to USCAR.

The site of the 1968 Kadena B-52 crash.

Wreckage of the Koza riot. Note the bombed out car.

More Koza riot wreckage.

The 1972 reversion ceremony. Note the familiar faces in the background.

Episode 304 – The American Outpost, Part 1

This week, we start off some coverage of the period of American rule over the Ryukyus, and the entwined histories of USCAR – the US Civil Administration for the Ryukyu Islands — and the GRI, the Government of the Ryukyu Islands. How did this arrangement work? What were the issues between them? And why did so many Okinawans come to despise American rule?


The CIA Reading Room has a bunch of declassified documents on USCAR and the Ryukyus. Here’s one of them.

Aldous, Christopher. “Achieving Reversion: Protest and Authority in Okinawa, 1952-70.” Modern Asian Studies 37, no. 2 (2003)

Inoue, Masamichi. Okinawa and the US Military: Identity Making in the Age of Globalization

Kerr, George. Okinawa: The History of an Island People


US military stockades on Okinawa after the battle. The need to house a large number of troops for a potential invasion of Japan led to the earliest American base infrastructure; those bases, in turn, were so valuable the Americans decided to keep the area under their control.

The USCAR HQ building in Naha, 1950.

Okinawa island. Land in red is in use today by the US military for bases. This is less than the amount of land used by USCAR; there has been substantial base consolidation since.

Yaejima street in Koza, a town outside the major American base at Kadena, c. 1955.

A meeting of a pro-reversion association in 1954.

The front cover of the special passports needed for Okinawans to travel to Japan under USCAR rule.




Episode 303 – A History of the Geisha

Finally, a long overdue look at one of the most romanticized and exocitized parts of traditional Japanese culture. What are geisha? Where do they come from? Aren’t they basically fancy prostitutes? And haven’t I learned everything I need to know about them from reading Memoirs of a Geisha?


Dahlby, Liza Crihfield. Geisha

Iwasaki, Mineko. Geisha: A Life

Masuda, Sayo. Autobiography of a Geisha.

Yamamura, Kozo, ed. The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol. 3: Medieval Japan. 



An Edo period print of the shirabyoshi Shizuka.

A maiko named Fumino.

Geisha entertaining clients, c. mid-Taisho period.

Miehina, a maiko of Miyagawacho.

The geisha Kimiha from the Miyagawacho hanamachi, dressed in traditional style.

The maiko Katsumi and Mameteru practicing a traditionald ance.

Episode 302 – Stand Up For Your Rights, Part 2

This week, we take a look at the peasant uprisings in Aizu domain in 1868 to continue our exploration of the question: where were all the peasants in the Meiji Restoration?


Vlastos, Stephen. Peasant Protests and Uprisings in Tokugawa Japan

Pratt, Edward. Japan’s Protoindustrial Elite: The Economic Foundations of the Gounou

Bowen, Rodger. Rebellion and Democracy in Meiji Japan

Magagna, Victor V. Communities of Grain: Rural Rebellion in Comparative Perspective


Wakamatsu Castle, the fortress of the lords of Aizu.

The siege of Wakamatsu castle saw the fall of Aizu domain, but the peasants of Aizu did little to defend their former masters.

Yonaoshi uprisings were not just confined to Aizu. Many, like the one depicted here, began with the destruction of the property of the wealthy and powerful, especially wealthy peasants.



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