Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

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Episode 216 – The Scourge of the Gods, Part 7

This week: why is a military failure worth 7 episodes of our time? The legacy of the Mongol invasions of Japan, explained.

Listen to the episode here.


Sansom, George. A History of Japan to 1334.

Conlan, Thomas. In Little Need of Divine Intervention.

Rossabi, Morris. Kublai Khan: His Life and Times.

Turnbull, Stephen. The Mongol Invasions of Japan of 1274-1281.

Adams, Ryon. Outfought and Outthought: Reassessing the Mongol Invasions of Japan.


Temur Khan, successor of Kubilai. His hair is done in Mongolian fashion for this portrait, but Temur was a Confucianizer just like his grandfather.

A printing plate (left) and example of paper currency (right) from the Yuan dynasty. Paper money was an attempt to fund the dynasty’s wars, but overprinting led to destructive levels of inflation.

The Hongwu Emperor, the founder of the Ming Dynasty who would displace the Mongols only a few generations after Kublai’s death.

One of these days I’ll watch the taiga about Hojo Tokimune.

Younger folks might know Tokimune as the face of Japan in Civilization VI. Incidentally, the “triforce” actually was the Hojo family mon, or crest — it was the symbol of the Hojo family.

Episode 211 – The Scourge of the Gods, Part 2

This week: why did Kublai go to Japan? A quick overview of the tensions that led to the first invasion, and a look at the armies of Mongols and Chinese that would fight it.

Listen to the episode here.


Turnbull, Stephen. The Mongol Invasions of 1274 – 1281.

May, Timothy. The Mongol Conquests in World History.

Conlan, Thomas. In Little Need of Divine Intervention.


The reconstructed walls of Xiangyang. Though these walls are from a later time than the Mongol invasions, they give some sense of how imposing the original works were.

A Song dynasty river warship with a traction catapult attached to it. Warships like this one kept the Mongols out of south China for decades.

A basic schematic for a counterweight trebuchet. This design helped the Mongols break through the walls of the Chinese fortress of Xiangyang.

A reconstruction Mongol bow unstrung, strung, and at full draw. The bent horn tips add extra power by enabling the bow to flex more.

Lamellar armor from one of the predecessors of the Yuan (the Jin Dynasty). You can see how the loose arrangement of scales provides protection but also keeps the armor relatively light.

Episode 210 – The Scourge of the Gods, Part 1

This week: where did the Mongol Empire come from, and who was in charge when they decided to come after Japan? Also, why is the Kamakura shogunate the most convoluted form of government in a history of convoluted governments?

Listen to the episode here.


May, Timothy. The Mongol Conquests in World History.

Turnbull, Stephen. The Mongol Invasions of Japan in 1274-1281.


The Mongol Empire as of 1260, when Kublai ascended to the title of Khagan (Great Khan). The Empire had, by this point, already begun fragmenting into its constituent pieces, each ruled by a branch of Genghis Khan’s descendants.

The war between Kublai and his brother Ariq raged across a huge chunk of Eurasia. This Persian image depicts one of Ariq’s early victories.

Kublai Khan, the charismatic and talented ruler of the Mongols during the invasions of Japan.

Kenchoji, a Buddhist temple in Kamakura, was built by Hojo Tokimune’s father. Zen Buddhism proved to be a major influence on Tokimune.

Hojo Tokimune in his prime. Note the shaved head, a symbol of Buddhist monastic observance.

Episode 209 – Across the Sea, Part 5

Today, we wrap our look at immigrants from Japan with a brief discussion of Nikkei communities in the Philippines and China, and with a look at Japan’s own attempts to have Nikkei return “home.”

Listen to the episode here.


Young, Louise. Japan’s Total Empire.

Goodman, Grant K. “Davao: A Case Study in Japanese-Philippine Relations.” International Studies East Asian Series Research Publication Number 1, University of Kansas Press.

Ward, Rowena. “Japanese Government Policy and the Reality of the Lives of the Zanryu Fujin.”

Watt, Lori. When Empire Comes Home.

A great article on the experiences of a single dekasegi participant.



Furukawa Yoshizo, mastermind behind one of the firms to set up shop in Davao.

The Japanese presence in Davao was such that dedicated Japanese businesses like the Osaka Bazaar began to crop up to serve the needs of the community.

Kurihara Sadako, one of the zanryu fujin.

Dekasegi workers in Tokyo.

One of the more interesting outgrowths of dekasegi has been the arrival of some Brazilian customs in Japan, such as this Carnival parade in Asakusa (the gate of Sensoji is visible in the background).

Episode 208 – Across the Sea, Part 4

This week: why did the American government think it was necessary to round up Nikkei on the West Coast? And what did that policy mean for the people who actually lived it?

Listen to the episode here.
Reeves, Richard. Infamy.
Himel, Yoshinori. “Americans’ Misuse of ‘Internment‘”
The entries for Executive Order 9066’s fine collection of sources on the subject.

I feel like this one speaks for itself in terms of wartime attitudes towards fellow American citizens.

By late spring, 1942, notices like this one from the San Francisco area began to crop up all over the US West Coast.

Photos like this one disturb me quite deeply because of both the imagery of the camp itself, and because of the number of people who are actually smiling.

The Tule Lake “War Relocation Center” as seen from the air.

Isamu Noguchi chose to be incarcerated in a camp even though he did not have to be, and spent the war years trying to make conditions better for the people inside.

The color guard of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated military unit in American history.

Daniel Inouye sans right arm, receiving an incredibly well-deserved Medal of Honor from Bill Clinton.

Episode 207 – Across the Sea, Part 3

This week, we’re headed south to take a look at Nikkei communities in Brazil and Peru.

Listen to the episode here.


Masterson, Daniel et al. The Japanese in Latin America.

Dresner, Jonathan. Japanese Diasporas: Unsung Pasts, Conflicting Presents, and Uncertain Futures.

An article from NACLA on Nikkeijin and the legacy of Alberto Fujimori.

A Reuters article on Brazilian Nikkeijin.



Children waving Japanese and Brazilian flags at a 2008 celebration of 100 years of Japanese immigration to Brazil.


A Japanese-Brazilian family outside of Sao Paolo.


Japanese immigration companies used posters like this one (which reads “Let’s move to South America with our families”) to encourage people to sign up for immigration companies.


A Japanese-Brazilian run business in Sao Paolo.


Japanese-Brazilian laborers on a coffee plantation. Though not as arduous as sugar harvesting, coffee is not an easy plant to work with.


Japanese-Peruvians were in some cases forcibly interned in the United States during World War II. This baseball team from Crystal Lake is entirely Japanese-Peruvian, excepting one man in the bottom row second from left.


Alberto Fujimori, the first Nikkei president of Peru. Initially quite popular, his corruption and lack of regard for the law led to his impeachment in 2000. He now resides in a Peruvian prison.


Alberto Fujimori’s daughter Keiko, a Peruvian Senator and head of the Popular Force right-wing party.

Episode 206 – Across the Sea, Part 2

This week, we take a closer look at early communities of Nikkeijin — people of Japanese descent — in the United States and Hawaii.

Listen to the episode here.


Asakawa, Gil. Being Japanese-American.

Spicard, Paul. Japanese Americans: The Formation and Transformation of an Ethnic Group

Odo, Franklin. No Sword to Bury.


4thStBusinesses_ca1950s 3x4

San Francisco’s Japantown in the 1930s.


Frenzied and racist attacks on Japanese labor led to the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907. Papers like the Seattle Star were instrumental in drumming up pressure for both the 1907 agreement and the 1924 immigration act.


The bill itself may not have specified the Japanese, but at the time nobody was under any illusions as to who the 1924 Immigration Act targeted.


Japanese workers on a sugarcane plantation, c. 1915. Courtesy of the University of Hawaii.


A Honganji (Jodo Shinshu) temple in Oahu. Note the Japanese-inspired detailing on the roof; that kind of thing was far less common on the continent.


Shashin hanayome (picture bridges) arriving on Angel Island in Los Angeles, 1910. Courtesy of

Episode 205 – Across the Sea, Part 5

This week, we begin a new series on the history of the Japanese diaspora!

Listen to the episode here.


Masterson, Daniel et al. The Japanese in Latin America.

The excellent resources of the Japanese American National Museum.

Dresner, Jonathan. Japanese Diasporas: Unsung Pasts, Conflicting Presents, and Uncertain Futures.



The grave of Otokichi in Singapore; he was never allowed to return to Japan after being blown away in a storm.


Nakahama Manjiro, the castaway who became a samurai — and one of very few to leave Japan during the Edo Period.


Seattle’s Japantown c.1909, in what is now the International District.


Seattle Japanese-American fishermen participating in a public parade.


Japanese immigrants arriving in Victoria, British Columbia.


Japanese laborers on a pineapple plantation in Hawaii, c.1900.

Episode 204 – No Peace Without War

This week we tackle the question of Japanese fascism by looking at one of Japan’s foremost fascists, the authoritarian scholar Kita Ikki.

Listen to the episode here.


Maruyama, Masao. Thought and Behavior in Japanese Politics (if you’re interested in the topic this is the one must-read book)

Tansman, Alan. The Culture of Japanese Fascism.

Kita, Ikki. Outline Plan for the Reorganization of Japan.



Kita Ikki as a young man.


Yoshino Sakuzo was the target of a failed political smear campaign by Kita Ikki and the Yuzonsha — a failure indicative of the wider political fortunes of the Yuzonsha organization.


Officers sympathetic to Kita, shown here occupying the Imperial Hotel, were a big part of the 2-26 incident — and as a result of the coup attempt, Kita was arrested and shot.


Episode 203 – The Old Man and the Sea

This week: one of Japan’s most famous Buddhist masters, Kukai, takes center stage!

Listen to the episode here.


Winfield, Pamela. Icons and Iconoclasm in Japanese Buddhism

Bowring, Richard. The Religious Teachings of Japan, 500-1600.

Totman, Conrad. A History of Japan.



A painting of Kukai from the medieval period.


The Mandala of the Two Realms, used as a visual pattern for Mt. Koya and central to Kukai’s Shingon Buddhism.


A letter from Kukai to Saicho.


The main hall of the Mt. Koya complex.


Monks bringing food and clothes to Kukai’s body.

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