Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Tag: Edo Page 1 of 2

Episode 313 – The Doctor is In

This week, we’re going to zoom in on the kind of life that doesn’t usually make the big picture history of Japan. It’s time to look at the story of a single medical student during the final years of the Tokugawa era and explore everything from his education to his drinking habit, and to ask ourselves just what we can learn from such a focused examination of the past.


The fully accessible article on Shibata Shuzo that gave me this idea here. This is an unusual episode in that it’s only really driven by this source; the other work on Shibata that has been done is all in Japanese.

Images (Note: all images except the Kaitai Shinsho are from the Moriyama article)

An example of the kind of drinking establishment Shibata Shuzo would have frequented.

Shibata Shuzo’s world map.

The Ihou Taiseiron, a Chinese medical text from the 1300s that Shibata Shuzo learned traditional Chinese Medicine from.

Detail image from Kaigai Shinwa, a book of information about western imperialism produced in the late 1840s.

Kaitai Shinsho, one of the major works on Dutch medicine in the Edo Era.Japan

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 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.



Episode 301 – Stand Up For Your Rights, Part 1

While the Meiji Restoration was going on, where was everybody else? We’ll start trying to answer that question today with a look at an uprising in 1866 in the region of Shindatsu.


Vlastos, Stephen. Peasant Protests and Uprisings in Tokugawa Japan

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

Vanoverbeke, Dimitri. Community and State in the Japanese Farm Village


Itakura Katsusato later in life. He is supposed to have promised relief to the peasants of Shindatsu, but was overruled.

The former site of the Daikansho (bakufu intendant’s office) in Koori, where the Shindatsu rebels eventually made their way.

Shindatsu, sometimes today called the Fukushima basin. You can see how well irrigated it is; perfect for silk.

A map of the region from Stephen Vlastos’s book (see the notes).

Episode 299 – The Rebellion that Never Was

This week, we cover an obscure bit of samurai history: the Keian Incident, a planned coup against the Tokugawa Shoguns that was foiled by a lucky bit of happenstance. What can we learn from something that, in a certain sense, didn’t actually happen?


Totman, Conrad. Early Modern Japan

Nishiyama, Matsunosuke. Edo Culture: Daily Life and Diversions in Urban Japan, 1600-1868

Paramore, Kiri. Ideology and Christianity in Japan

Shirane, Haruo and Tomi Suzuki. The Cambridge History of Japanese Literature

Walthall, Anne. Peasant Uprisings in Japan


A marker on the site where Yui Shosetsu’s head was put on display.

Another Keian Taiheiki print. Marubashi is at left, played by Ichikawa Sadanji the first. Shosetsu is in the middle, played by Nakamura Shikan the fourth. These two actors allow us to date this performance to either the late Edo or early Meiji Periods.

A print from Keian Taiheiki. Marubashi Chuya is at left; Yui Shosetsu is in the center.




Episode 272 – I am the Law!

This week we cover the life and career of the legendary judge Oka Tadasuke, who rose from minor samurai to the rank of daimyo and a major position in the bakufu — only to become a legendary figure. Who is he? How did he rise so high? And what can he tell us about the role of judges and bureaucrats in Japanese society more generally?


Dening, Walter. Japan in Days of Yore. 

Mansfield, Stephen. Tokyo: A Biography.

Nice, Richard W. Treasury of Law. 

Angles, Jeffrey, trans. “The Execution of Ten’ichibo.” Critical Asian Studies 37, no 2 (2005), 305-321.


Ooka Tadasuke, from a woodcut illustrated version of the Ooka Seidan.

Ooka Tadasuke’s grave in Kanagawa.

A monument to the former site of the Minami Machibugyosho (the place of business for the Minami Machi bugyo). It’s located outside Yurakucho Station in Tokyo.

Tokugawa Yoshimune, Ooka Tadasuke’s patron.

Toyohara Kunisada print from the illustrated Ooka Seidan. This particular case is the story of a murder solved by Ooka.

Episode 258 – The City that Never Sleeps, Part 1

This week, we start a look at the history of the city of Tokyo. How did the frontier fishing village of Edo go from backwater nowhere to the heart of the nation in only a few short generations?


Mansfield, Stephen. Tokyo: A Biography.

Richie, Donald. Tokyo: A View of the City. 

Mansfield, Stephen. Tokyo: A Cultural History


The Imperial Palace of Japan was originally Chiyoda Castle, home of the Tokugawa Shoguns. Its groundwork was laid 140 years before the arrival of the Tokugawa, by Ota Dokan, a retainer of a branch of the Uesugi clan.

Ota Dokan as depicted in a print by the late Edo woodblock artist Toyohara Chikanobu. Note Edo castle in the background.

A map of Chiyoda castle in 1636.

Edo as depicted by Hiroshige. Note the west-facing orientation towards Mt. Fuiji.

The Tsujun Bridge, an acqueduct in Kumamoto, Kyushu. It’s a good example of what the acqueduct construction of Edo would have looked like at its height.

The Tamagawa Acqueduct, depicted by Hiroshige.

A procession of firefighters (machibikeshi). C. early 1700s.

The Meireki Fire was the most devastating fire in Edo’s history — and would retain that title until the fires associated with the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.

Episode 250 – Today is the Victory

This week, we take on the legend of Miyamoto Musashi. How is it that a person we know very little about came to be a legend? Could it be, perhaps, that the very fact that we know so little about him for sure is part of the allure of his legend?


Tokitsu, Kenji. Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings.

Kane, Lawrence. Musashi’s Dokkodo. 

Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan


Musashi wielding two weapons, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

A self-portrait attributed to Musashi.

A monument to the Musashi-Sasaki Kojiro duel on Ganryujima.

The entrance to Reigando, the cave Musashi retired to at the end of his life.

Musashi’s grave in Kumamoto.

Musashi fighting the whale, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Mifune Toshiro as Miyamoto Musashi in the samurai trilogy. Note the two swords.

Ichioji, Kyoto. This temple, supposedly where the final battle between Musashi and the Yoshioka school took place, now has a monument to the fight.

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