Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

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Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HistoryOfJapanPodcast

Twitter: @JapanPod

Email: isaac.joseph.meyer@gmail.com

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51 Comments

  1. Stefan Koch

    Hello Isaac, I’ve been in Japan for about a week now and have been relying on your podcast to educate me during my three week stay. I’ve listened to about the first 27 episodes. I think a great podcast topic would be Japanese beliefs about death and the afterlife, and about the cemeteries. I have found the cemeteries to be fascinating and I plan to visit as many as possible while I am here. I’d like to know more about burial practices and about the big bell you see in every cemetery and the thin slabs of wood with characters on them, incense, vessels for liquid that I see on many stones, etc. I think the handling of death and burial practices is a very important window into any culture, and based on the podcast titles of the episodes that I haven’t heard yet, I dont’ think you have covered this yet.

    Thank you for a very educational podcast, and please keep up the good work,

    Sincerely, Stefan Koch

  2. Stefan Koch

    Hey Isaac, Here’s a second comment. I’ve been in Japan now for almost 4 weeks and have listened to almost all of your podcasts, except for the last 2 or 3. They have provided a valuable commentary on the things I have been seeing and reading in the newspaper. Just today I was on Ueno hill and saw the statue of Saigo and where the last battle happened in the final defeat of the Tokugawa clan. Also saw the Tokugawa family tombs in Yanaka cemetery.

    While I’ve been here I’ve thought of a couple more topics for podcasts: sumo wrestling for one. I went to a match earlier in the month and it was fascinating. It involves history, religion, sport, etc. I think it would be a great podcast. For that matter, you might want to cover baseball as well. There is a definitely historical angle there.

    Since you did such a great job of the timeline in the early episodes, you might also think if there’s a way to cover regional history and the differences of the histories of the different islands, or of east and west Honshu.

    Anyway, I’m here till Feb. 1st and if there’s anything I can do for you while I am here, it would be small payback for the great pleasure that you have given me through your work.

    Sincerely, Stefan Koch

    • I actually have some ideas about doing regional histories for Choshu and Aizu, but I might be folding them into a larger history of the Meiji Restoration. Sumo would be fun, but I know almost nothing about it — I’ll have to find the time to read up. I’m grateful for the offer, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the show.

  3. Stefan Koch

    Hey Isaac, One last comment: I have now learned enough Japanese history from you and from the last month spent in Japan that I have a humble correction to offer. In Episode 6 you say that the last of the Hojo committed suicide in Toshoji Temple in modern Kanagawa. I’m sure it was just a slip of the tongue, because I know you know that Toshoji Temple is in Kamakura. I only know this because I was in Kamakura and walked right past the former site of this temple. The plaque on site reminded me that you had covered this incident and I went back and listened to Episode 6 again.

    Even though I am leaving Japan tomorrow, I’m going to keep listening to your podcast and keep learning more about this amazing country. Thank you again for enriching my time here with your knowledge and passion for Japan.

    Sincerely, Stefan Koch

    • Whups! I’m not even sure how I ended up saying Kanagawa; obviously the Hojo would build their temples in Kamakura. My mistake!

      • Robert DeYeso

        Ijmeyer,
        I have lived in Japan for 9 of the last 10 years, (2006-2011 Zama, Kanagawa; 2014-2016 Gotemba, Shizuoka; and 2016-2018 Yamato, Kanagawa) and I want to tell you that you were correct. Yes the temples were built in Kamakura but that city is a part of Kanagawa prefecture. I started listening to your podcasts 3 weeks ago and am on # 96 right now. I enjoy them while I jog daily.

  4. Jon

    Dear Isaac,

    I would be interested to hear content regarding the Japanese penal system: I’ve heard that it’s more harsh than the American system, but the results are more effective. I’ve got no data to verify these claims though. Very much enjoying the show and I look forward to more!

    Regards,
    J

  5. Dear Isaac,

    First off, I love the show! I first discovered your podcast a couple of years back and ever since I moved to Japan a few months ago, I’ve been rediscovering it. You do a really good job of laying out a preliminary framework for understanding the scale of events from the “beginning” of Japanese history to the present, which as a novice of learning history I greatly appreciated.

    Second, I am a big fan of anime and manga, and have swallowed a large volume of both. I bring this up because I have more than a few times been reminded of scenes, stories, characters and ideas from anime and manga after hearing you mention something on the podcast. Probably the most prominent examples I can think of right now are Gintama and Rurouni Kenshin, both of which borrow, in varying degrees, from the periods of history prior to and during the Meiji Restoration.

    I am not sure if you had any intention of doing episodes on these or any other anime or manga and their portrayals of historical events or figures, but I would be interested to hear your take on something like this. I would do it myself, but I’m afraid I know far more about these pieces of media than the history I would have to reference and I don’t think I would be able to do it justice.

    If you ever do want to do a discussion on anime or manga or any other popular media in the future, feel free to contact me and I would be more than happy to chat, offer my opinion or help out in any way. Thanks for everything you do and I can’t wait to hear more podcasts in the future!

    P.S. I’m a bit handy with code and I’m working on a project that you might find handy for organizing interconnected historical events 😉

    -Vish

  6. Matt

    Dear Isaac,

    I wanted to thank you for this wonderful podcast. While my passion is the Sengoku Jidai (it seems yours is the Meiji period but I could be wrong) I have nonetheless enjoyed every episode (yes, I have listened to them all) and your keen insight relating to a number of topics.

    Needless to say, I would love to hear your take on the Sengoku more closely (especially in relation to some of the big names that get forgotten in the shadow of Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Tokugawa – for example, Hojo Soun or Maeda Toshiie) but largely just wanted to stop by to thank you for all the time and effort you have put into this podcast.

    -Matt

  7. Carlo

    Good job! I really like the style of your podcast and the way you covered all the basic course of japanese history in the first part and then moved to thematic episodes right after. Greetings from Italy 🙂

    • ijmeyer

      Grazie! I hope those old episodes still hold up. I knew so little about audio editing back then…
      I hope you continue to enjoy the series!

  8. Vicky

    Hi Isaac, I started to listen to your podcast recently in preparation for a trip to Kyoto and really enjoyed your work. I didn’t find it in your list of episodes but have you thought about discussing the relationship of Japan and Taiwan? I grew up in Taiwan but moved to the US during high school. My grandparents’ generation grew up during the Japanese occupation in Taiwan. The Japanese influence is found in the culture, cuisine, aesthetics, language and many more ways. There were also several uprising/rebellions that are worth mentioning. Keep up the good work and I look forward to hearing many more episodes from you!

    • ijmeyer

      I’d definitely like to do something on Japan and Taiwan. I got into it a bit in the Japan-China series, but I do think the Taiwan relationship is unique enough to probably merit something at some point — I just need to think a bit more about what exactly that will be.
      Enjoy Kyoto, and thank you for the kind words.

  9. Hans

    Dear Isaac,
    Love hearing your podcast. Can hear you put a lot of effort into it. Thanks for your service. I have suggestion for a topic. How about doing a session about Japan ‘s relation to Sakhalin and the Northern Territories?

  10. Joshua

    Hi Isaac, I hope you are well!

    I recently finished listening to your podcast from the beginning.

    I really enjoyed the series about Japan’s relationship with Russia and the series on Japan and the USA. I wonder if you are working on a similar series regarding Japan’s relationship with Germany.

    I’m watching Oliver Stone’s history program on Netflix and he says that had Japan and Germany better coordinated during WWII they could have finished off the USSR. Do you agree with this?

    Thanks for reading! I’ll be listening to your show for years to come.

  11. Issa

    Hey, Isaac. First off, thanks so much for cranking out these informative podcasts week after week. Keep up the good work! 🙂

    Secondly, I was wondering if you’ve ever considered doing an episode(s) on the Ainu of Hokkaido? I’ve been reading up on them ever since I came across this manga called “Golden Kamuy,” and I’d love to hear your take on the subject, which IIRC is still a delicate subject in Japan even today.

    • ijmeyer

      I actually have an Ainu episode! It’s not as detailed as I’d like so I may revisit it at some point, but there is something. Episode 97, I think.

  12. Zach

    Recently found this podcast and have plowed through about 70 episodes in a couple weeks. I lived in japan for a couple years and listening to this podcast makes me wish I had know about this stuff before I went.
    I have a couple suggestions on themes that I’d be interested to hear about. How about doing a small multi-part series on the Yakuza in Japan? I know I haven’t listened to all of the episodes so you might have an episode dedicated to this that I didn’t notice by briefly looking at the titles of all of them. Also when I was in Japan a hot topic seemed to be the rapid decline of population and its effects on the society. Maybe an episode on that would be interesting. Also an episode on the linguistic history of Japanese might be interesting. Anyway just some topics to consider. Thanks for your podcast, keep up the good work!

    • ijmeyer

      I actually did a two parter on the Yakuza! I’ve been batting around an episode on the birth rate issue in my head, I’ve just never settled on an approach I like. Doing it as a sort of comparative episode (most 1st world countries have this problem to some extent, but why is it such an issue in Japan) could be interesting, but also less directly Japan-oriented. Focusing specifically on Japan’s case gives more detail, but possibly too much. It’s a hard call!

  13. Ross

    Hi Issac, I’m a HUGE fan of the podcast. Now trying to convince my wife to visit Japan. Do you know anything about Keirin cycling? Worth an episode? Cheers. Ross.

    • ijmeyer

      I know a bit about it, and I’ve thought on and off about doing something on the history of gambling in Japan (my understanding is that keirin originated specifically as a vehicle to facilitate sports gambling).
      Good luck! I’m sure you can find something to sell her with.

  14. Kai

    Hello Isaac,

    Thank you for producing such an insightful and enjoyable podcast to listen to, listening to your podcast has quickly become a staple in my daily routine. I’d like to suggest a thematic episode on LGBT+ people in Japanese History if that’s possible?

  15. Very informative podcast, interesting delivery, but I have one gripe: The audio quality is damn near unlistenable. It sounds like you’re inside a giant tin can speaking in to your laptop’s in-built microphone. Maybe I’m just too picky because I work in pro audio, but I’d be glad to help you out improving the quality of your recordings or doing some editing for you. Get in touch via my email if you’d like.

  16. Kai Alexander Francis

    Hello Isaac!

    I’m a huge fan of the show, listening to your podcast has become a fixture in my daily routine. Thank you for the insightful and enjoyable work!
    I was wondering if you could make an episode on LGBT+ people in Japan?

  17. Andrew

    Thanks so much for making this podcast, Isaac! As someone who has been 一年間ぐらい勉強している, your episodes have been excellent for contextualizing things I’ve been learning and to take a break from grammar and vocab exercises. As it happens, an upcoming outdoors trip will be keeping me away from your podcast for a few weeks, and I was wondering if you might have any recommendation on a solidly comprehensive and engaging book on Japanese cultural history–a sort of basic primer for understanding today’s Japan vis-a-vis its past? Thanks for taking the time to read and answer my question, Isaac!

    • ijmeyer

      Tragically, the only comprehensive one I know off the top of my head is George Sansom’s, which is now extremely out of date. There are more modern cultural histories, but they tend to be confined to a specific topic rather than general reference works. Sorry!

    • Hi Andrew, I came across your comment, and I’m not sure if this is what you might be looking for, but I would recommend these two books. They’re a comprehensive look at Japanese history from Japanese sources translated into English. If anything, I’ve found them to be really good starting points for learning more.

      Volume One: Sources of Japanese Tradition: From Earliest Times to 1600 Compiled by WM. Theodore de Bary, Donald Keene, George Tanabe, and Paul Varley

      Volume Two: Sources of Japanese Tradition: 1600 to 2000 Compiled by WM Theodore de Bary, Carol Gluck, and Arthur E. Tiedemann

  18. Michael H.

    Hi Isaac,

    I really liked episode Episode 248 – Family Matters particularly the part about Kusumoto Ine and hearing about her career. You see, my other main interest besides Japan is medicine. I was thinking it would be fascinating if you could do an episode or two on the history of medicine in Japan. From how Chinese medicine was brought over to Japan from China, up to how western medicine came to Japan and how these factors influence medicine in Japan today.

    Anyway, it’s just a suggestion, but it would be awesome if you could do that!

    Thanks,

    Michael

  19. Ruiji

    Hi Isaac,
    first I want to really thank you for all the effort you put into this podcast! I study Japanology myself (for some 3 years now) and I got a lot of fertile insights from all the history you were telling me 😀 I guess, I would believe myself to be a long-time listener of your podcast, just (until now!) missing the most recent ones. Unfortunately, as time goes by, I just remember you said something, but I don’t know exactly, which source I can cite (need it for a paper actually): within the long story of “The Fall of the Samurai” you stated, that the Japanese people didn’t think of themselves as “Japanese” until after the Meiji Restauration, but rather, if asked, they would say “I am from Satsuma” or “I am from Hizen” or whatever. Do you know which source you got that argument from? This would be great!
    Thanks a lot!
    Ruiji

  20. Kai

    Hello again Isaac! I hope that you are well. I was wondering if it would be possible to make an episode on professional wrestling in Japan?

  21. Brendan Kenny

    Hello Isaac. Greetings from Ireland. Thanks for a wonderful compendium of podcasts. I have listened to every episode from the beginning. I had the pleasure this May of being able to listen to episodes concerning the Satsuma Domain, while touring Kyushu. Likewise I listened to your episode on Takeda Shingen when visiting Yamanashi.

    If you have not already completed a podcast on the author Lafcadio Hearn ( Koizumi Yakumo), it would make for a poignant episode for me. If not, consider an episode on the sacred mountains of Japan, ( Koya, or Heizan) and how nature and society is comingled within Japanese culture.

  22. JoeP

    Hi Issac, I live in Japan and have really enjoyed your podcasts on the way to the office. I’d love an episode on the history of the addressing system in Japan. Blew my mind when I first moved here. Thanks

  23. Dashiell Renaud

    Hi Isaac!
    Love the series. It’s terrifically entertaining and informative, and it has been an invaluable travel resource.

    Two ideas for future episodes for you:
    1) a review of Know Your Enemy: Japan to evaluate how Japan was demonized by the US during the war. You could also/alternatively use such an episode to characterize your own perspective (and potential biases) in your approach to describing Japan and some of the more controversial historical events you have covered (such as the war with China).

    2) expanding from the brief article you published here a while back about the sites you were visiting in Japan at the time, an episode, or series of episodes, recommending historic sites to visit in Japan, and important things to know about events that had transpired there, would be awesome.

    Thank you for your phenomenal work!

  24. Bj

    Hi Issac,

    My wife got me into your podcast over two years ago before our honeymoon in Japan, I’ve recently been catching up after a break.

    I was wondering if you could do an episode on the history of mining in Japan, you often mention wealth through agriculture which is a confucian way of looking at economics. How does mining and metal production relate to the pre-modern economy? Were there certain domains that were more wealthy in this regard? Was metal production and finishing (smithing) focused on centers like Edo/Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka or more defuse through the country?

    Regards, and thanks for the many hours of podcasts,

  25. Adam J Suslak

    Hi Isaac,
    I live in Japan and recently discovered your podcast. I have become addicted! I listen to it while cycling (I use a speaker mounted to my bike, so I don’t endanger myself). Anyhoo, while I have not listened to every episode (yet), I was thinking that I might offer you a few suggestions for possible future episodes. Here they are! 1. The Shinsengumi, 2. Mito Koumon: the myth and the man. 3. Why people think that Ibaraki-ken sucks. I know that last one isn’t necessarily history, but a few years ago it was the number one place in Japan that people didn’t want to visit. I happen to live there and love it, but it gets a bad wrap. Why is that?
    Anyways, Thank you for the show.
    Cheers!

  26. Andrew Kavros

    Hi Isaac,

    I have been a big fan of your podcast for years, and I love all the episodes you put out there for all of us to listen, and from which I learn on a weekly basis. Your dedication is remarkable and much appreciated by me and so many others. By any chance, do you recommend any documentaries (on amazon, hulu, netflix, or other platform) about Japanese history? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for all your hard work through the years, and good luck in the future. I look forward to hopefully many more years of your outstanding podcast. -Andrew Kavros

  27. Tom Roche

    Something in which you and your audience might be interested: this week’s BBC Radio 3 Documentary is “Jazz Japan”[1], both about the (mostly postwar) history of the music in Japan but also Japanese players and things like jazz kissaten. Like most r3docs, it’s somewhat impressionistic /unfocused (the production values are of course very BBC, i.e. excellent), so I was thinking you could possibly due a more historically- or sociologically-focused interview with the producer[2] on this topic.

    [1]: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0736ldb
    [2]: https://www.kwhatley.net/

  28. Spaced Out

    Hi Isaac, thanks for filling in my workday with all the good content.

    I’m about to visit Japan and it’s got me wondering about the history of tourism there. When did it start and how did foreigners handle transport and accommodation? Was traveling to a foreign country to wander around taking pictures a strange idea to the Japanese? I’d be really interested to hear a pod on the subject.

    • ijmeyer

      Ooh I’d love to do something on the history of tourism in Japan (and maybe also on Japanese tourism abroad). Thank you!

  29. Andy C

    Isaac,
    Love the podcast, I started listening about six months ago and binged all the episodes till that date. Since then l’ve been an avid listener. sitting here drinking Suntory and thinking about the drunken oni episode, have you thought about doing some episodes on the history of booze in Japan. I can’t seem to remember an episode on the subject.
    Thanks for the entertaining and educating content.
    Andy

    • ijmeyer

      I haven’t done one yet! I do want to at some point, though. I’m just debating a) whether I want to have a drink on air while doing it and b) how to divide up the topic (or if I should just do it all in one go). Thanks for the kind words!

  30. まっと Gregor

    Howdy Isaac and thank you for the podcast. My wife is from Fukuoka so my baseline for Japanese history and culture tends to come with a Kyushu bin. I’m working my way through all of your episodes so you may have already covered some of these ideas, but have you thought about doing episodes on the below topics:

    Tachibana clan / Yanagawa

    Shimabara – “take your pick “ Christian revolt/ persecution/underground Christians during Edo era , Volcanic eruptions, tsunami 300 years ago.

    History on Ramen….tonkotsu and why the Fukuoka folks like their hard noodles.

    Thank you again for your podcast!

  31. Bridget

    Hello, Isaac! I love this podcast, and tell anyone I meet who likes Japan to listen to it. Congratulations on (almost) 300 episodes!

    For episode 300, I was wondering if you could talk about Japanese music. (If you need something more specific, how about traditional music — for Noh, Kabuki, the kouta that geisha sing (which I am currently dying to get info on), etc.)

    Thanks and keep up the great work!

  32. Æthelstan

    Isaac,

    Thank you for producing an amazing podcast. While generally I stick to chronological histories, you have an uncanny ability to pick topics that always grab my attention despite the “time-jumps” and I am thoroughly please and satisfied with each episode. I look forward to many years of relishing your work.

    That being said, I hope at some time in the future you will do a episode (or more) dedicated to the Shinsengumi. They seem to be a continuous presence in Japanese media (anime, manga, tv & film) and I would like here the full story of the organization presented with same detail you gave to the yakuza.

    Again, amazing work and will continue to listen for as long as the podcast exists

    • ijmeyer

      Thank you for the kind words! I promise I’ll get some more Shinsengumi content in there for sure!

  33. Marek

    Hello Isaac,
    Thanks for the podcast. I’ve been wondering – is there some way to access the pages for episodes 67-123? I can’t find them on the site.

    • ijmeyer

      Unfortunately, a lot of them got lost in the transition to the new site. I’ve been trying to recover them but no luck so far. Sorry.

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