Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

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Episode 248 – Family Matters

This week we take on the history of the von Siebold family — father Philip Franz, son Alexander, and daughter Kusumoto Ine. How does the story of this unusual family fit in to the story of 19th century Japan?


Nakamura, Ellen. “Working the Siebold Network: Kusumoto Ine and Western Learning in Nineteenth-Century Japan.” Japanese Studies 28, No. 2

Ravina, Mark. To Stand with the Nations of the World.

Walthall, Anne. The Female as Subject: Women and Writing in Early Modern Japan.

Nakamura, Ellen. “Ogino Ginko’s Vision: “The Past and Future of Women Doctors in Japan” U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal, no. 34 (2008)


Philip Franz von Siebold during his time in Nagasaki. The painting was done by Kawahara Keiga, a Japanese painter who was friends with von Siebold.

A landscape by Kawahara Keiga showing Dutchmen observing Nagasaki’s harbor. The woman and child shown here are Taki and Ine.

Philip Franz and Alexander von Siebold around the time of Philip’s second trip to Japan in 1859.

Mise Shuzo and Kusumoto Takako.

Kusumoto Ine posing at the height of her career. She became a very well respected practitioner of Western medicine.

Alexander von Siebold did well out of his work in Japan, netting a minor Barony in Austria-Hungary as well as a steady and respectable job.

Kusumoto Ine and her daughter Takako late in Ine’s life.

The Siebold Memorial in Nagasaki, c. early 20th c. Siebold is still remembered fondly in Japan (especially in Nagasaki) as an early booster of Japan around the world.

Episode 247 – Edokko

This week, we’re very lucky to have a chance to speak with Mr. Isaac Shapiro. Mr. Shapiro grew up in wartime Japan, and shares his experiences here with us today. You can check out his book, Edokko: Growing Up a Foreigner in Wartime Japan on Amazon!


The Shapiro family in Japan. Standing, left to right are the Shapiro siblings: Isaac, Jacob, Ariel, and Joseph. Sitting, left to right, are: Lydia (his mother), Michael, Constantine (his father), and Ms. Vaisman, their caretaker.

Isaac Shapiro in 1950. By this point, he had already emigrated to the United States.

Isaac Shapiro today.

Episode 246 – There and Back Again

This week, we cover the story of Engelbert Kaempfer, who wrote one of the most thorough and best known accounts of Japan for Western consumption before the Meiji era. How did this random German dude end up in Japan? What did he write about it? What did he think of it? And why do we care?


Roberts, J.A.G. “Not the Least Deserving:The Philosophes and the Religions of Japan.” Monumenta Nipponica 44, No. 2 (Summer, 1989), 151-169.

Michel, Wolfgang. “His Story of Japan: Engelbert Kaempfer’s Manuscript in a New Translation.” Monumenta Nipponica 55, No 1 (2000), 109-120.

A fascinating academic piece on prostitution and the Dutch in Nagasaki.

A complete version of the Kaempfer text from

Haberland, Detlef. Engelbert Kaempfer: A Biography


Kaempfer included several diagrams and images in his notes, including this one where he broke down the components of the Japanese phoenetic alphabet. In addition to being a helpful historical tool, it’s impressive because it means that unlike many Europeans of his day, he cared enough to try to learn the basics of the language.

Kaempfer got his start as a documentarian in Persia; this sketch is his work on the ruins of the old Achaemenid Persian capital at Persepolis.

Kaempfer’s sketch of a sankin kotai retinue — a lord and his followers on their way to attend to the shogun in Edo.

A part of Kaempfer’s original manuscript from the British museum.

Kaempfer’s sketch of an audience with the shogun. Note the careful attention to the detail of the clothes, rather than simply drawing all the outfits the same or in a more European fashion.

Kaempfer’s map of Japan, using the original 60 provinces of Japan as its basis. A century and a half later, another German, Franz Philip von Siebold, would be kicked out of the country for having something like this, but Kaempfer was able to just acquire it no questions asked.

Episode 245 – The Summer of Rage, Part 2

This week, we cover the Miike coal mine strike of 1960. As labor and management do battle over the future of the mines, how will the future of the country be shaped by their clash?


Gerteis, Christopher. Gender Struggles: Wage-earning Women and Male-dominated Unions in Postwar Japan

Hyde, Sarah. The Transformation of the Japanese Left.

Golden, Miriam. Heroic Defeats: The Politics of Job Loss. 

Kawanishi, Hirosuke. The Human Face of Industrial Conflict in Postwar Japan. 


Miners in protective gear sitting in during the protests.

Housewives in Miike meet in support of the strike.

Strikebreakers like the ones here were deployed by Mitsui to attack the workers. Some were affiliated with the yakuza, and one of the strikers was killed during these confrontations.

The entrance to the main Miike mineshaft as of 2016. The mine was shuttered in the 1990s.

The death of Asanuma Inejiro, broadcast live on NHK, became a sort of symbolic stand in for the death of the old Japanese Left.

Episode 244 – The Summer of Rage, Part 1

This week, we look at the contentious summer of 1960, in which the disputes of postwar Japan boiled over into some of the most intense protests in the country’s history. How do these conflicts shape modern Japanese society?


MIT’s Visualizing Cultures program has a great section on Anpo.

Kishi Nobusuke’s obituary in the NYT, from 1987.

Williams, Andrew. Dissenting Japan.

Sasaki-Uemura, Wesley. Organizing the Spontaneous: Citizen Protest in Postwar Japan.

The Pacific Century has an excellent documentary on this subject (though a bit dated) called Inside Japan Inc


Kishi being booked into Sugamo Prison for trial as a war criminal. He would eventually be released without trial.

Kishi and Eisenhower golfing during Kishi’s first US visit in 1957.

This shot really gives you a sense of the scale of the protests.

Protestors from all walks of life (in this case, a teacher’s union) joined the protests.

These protesters came from Shizuoka, clean on the other end of Japan.

Protesters storm the south gate of the Diet on June 15. This is the day Kanba Michiko would die.

Kanba Michiko became a rallying cry for the protests after her death. The banner behind her photo here states the resolve of the protesters to fight harder in the wake of her death.

The Speaker of the House being muscled to the rostrum for a vote on the treaty. Confrontations between socialists and LDP members got VERY violent over the course of the treaty debates.

A Chinese political cartoon from the People’s Daily. The Japanese protester at left holds a sign saying, “Oppose the security treaty, down with Kishi, dissolve the Diet.” The Chinese protester’s sign says, “Oppose the US-Japan Security Treaty, support the struggle of the Japanese people.”

Episode 243 – Heavyweights

This week, the origins and history of Sumo.


Hall, Mina. The Big Book of Sumo.

An article from The Guardian on match fixing in sumo.

A BBC story on life in a sumo stable.

An NYT story on the incident from this April with the female doctors.


Yokozuna Hakuho performing his special dohyo-iri (ring entering ceremony).

The Yokozuna monument at Tomioka Hachiman Shrine. New Yokozuna are formally recognized here, and on the grounds there are two stones that list the names of every yokozuna.

Tochinoshin Tsuyoshi (Levan Gorgadze), a Georgian-born sumo wrestler who made the rank of ozeki this month. He may well become the first white yokozuna — who knows?

A late Tokugawa woodblock promoting sonno joi (honor the emperor, expel the barbarian) ideology. The sumo wrestler here acts as a stand in for all Japan, casting out the Westerners.

A traditional dohyo iri to mark the start of a series of bouts.

A dohyo iri shot that provides a fuller view of the dohyo, including the yakata above.09

Episode 242 – Castaway

This week, the story of Nakahama Manjiro, the castaway turned American whaler turned gold miner turned samurai turned English professor.



Kawada, Ikaku, et al. Drifting Towards the Southeast.

Preus, Margi. Heart of a Samurai.

A Japan Times feature on the life of Nakahama Manjiro.


Torishima, the island upon which Manjiro and company were shipwrecked.

The map included in Manjiro’s description of his voyages, made for the Tokugawa bakufu in 1853.

William Whitfield, the captain who rescued Manjiro from Torishima.

Manjiro as an older samurai.

The reception of Japanese diplomats by the Mayor of New York City in 1860. Manjiro was a part of the 1860 delegation sent by the shogun to the US, though he is not clearly marked out in this image.

Whitfield’s old house is today the home of a museum dedicated to the Manjiro story.

Episode 241 – All in the Family, Part 3

This week, we conclude our up close look at the Shimazu family and Satsuma domain with a consideration of how the domain fit into Edo society, and its position in modern Japan.


Sansom, George. A History of Japan, vol 3

Beasley, W.G. The Collected Writings of W.G. Beasley

Hall, John Witney, et al., editors. An Institutional History of Early Modern Japan.

Jansen, Marius B. The Making of Modern Japan.


Sekisho (checkpoints) like this one dotted Tokugawa Japan. This particular example is from Honshu, but the basic principle is the same — the gate allows for controlled access, giving samurai officials a chance to inspect traveler’s documentation.

A marker for one of the old sekisho in Kagoshima itself.

Today it’s a trendy tourist area, but in the early Edo Period, Bonotsu, just a short distance northwest of Kagoshima, was home to a Chinatown from which an illicit smuggling operation of Chinese goods into Kagoshima was operated.

Zusho Hirosato (Shouzaemon), who rescued the Shimazu clan’s finances from near disaster.

The Japanese government and the Kagoshima prefectural government run a museum dedicated to the history of Satsuma and the Shimazu — the Shokoshuseikan, shown here.

Kagoshima today — a modern city with a very distinct regional identity.

Episode 240 – All in the Family, Part 2

This week, we cover the sengoku era history of the Shimazu clan, and their meteoric ascent from  minor lords to major ones in the span of a few decades. Plus, the Tokugawa and the Shimazu, the role of sugar in the Shimazu clan’s fortunes, and the invasion of the Ryukyu islands. It’s a packed episode!


Sansom, George B. A History of Japan, Vol 2. 1334-1615

Turnbull, Stephen. The Samurai Capture a King: Okinawa, 1609.

Turnbull, Stephen. The Samurai: A Military History.

Also, while researching the grounds of some of the castles mentioned in this episode, I came across this fascinating blog that is worth a look.


Shimazu Yoshihiro, the 17th Shimazu family head. Under his generalship, and then his leadership as daimyo, the Shimazu became a major force in Japanese politics.

The Battle of Mimigawa (1578). The crushing defeat of the Otomo clan signaled the rise of the Shimazu as major contenders to rule Kyushu.

Part of the remnants of the earthworks of Kakuto castle.

An armor set which belonged to Shimazu Yoshihiro.

The old provinces of Japan. Satsuma province is at the very bottom (no. 63). Neighboring Osumi (64) was occasionally under Shimazu control as well prior to the Sengoku period.

Compare this map to the locations of Satsuma and Osumi in the previous one and you can see how far the Shimazu came by 1584.

The remnants of Nakijin castle, wiped out in the one major engagement of the Okinawan campaign.

The gravestone of Jana Ueekata, the onl Okinawan to refuse to sign the final treaty of subordination.

Episode 239 – All in the Family, Part 1

This week, we start a short series on the history of one of the most influential fiefdoms in Japanese history (Satsuma) and the family who ruled it (the Shimazu). How did this little chunk of land on the edge of Japan grow to national importance?


A History of Japan to 1334 AND A History of Japan, 1334-1600. 

Turnbull, Stephen. War in Japan, 1467-1615


Toufukuji castle, the first permanent military garrison on Kagoshima. It predates Shimazu clan arrival in the area by about a century.

The site of the meeting between Shimazu Takahisa and Francis Xavier. Working with missionaries was a requirement of obtaining Western style weapons.

Japanese arquebuses. The first islands where the Portuguese arrived (Tanegashima) was within the bounds of Satsuma domain, and Satsuma was one of the first domains to adopt the new weapon.

Shimazu Tadahisa as a monk. At the end of his long tenure as family head and daimyo, the Shimazu were in a far better position than they had been previously.

The old provinces of Japan. Satsuma province is at the very bottom (no. 63). Neighboring Osumi (64) was occasionally under Shimazu control as well prior to the Sengoku period.

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