Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Tag: History Page 2 of 11

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 298 – The Ghost of Japan Past

This week, we profile one of the great Western interpreters of Japan: Lafcadio Hearn. How did some Anglo-Greek kid end up in Japan by way of New Orleans, and why do we still care about him today?


Because Hearn was a Japanese national at the time of his death and he died in 1904, everything he ever wrote is public domain and freely searchable online.

Here is the Pulvers article I quote from so much in this episode.

Starr, S. Frederick. Inventing New Orleans: Writings of Lafcadio Hearn.

Hirakawa, Sukehiro, ed. Lafcadio Hearn in International Perspectives.


Lafcadio Hearn and his wife Koizumi Setsu.

Hearn, his wife, and their first child. From the Lafcadio Hearn memorial museum.

Lafcadio Hearn. Note that in every photo of him he is facing to your right. This is to hide his bad eye.

Lafcadio Hearn’s gravestone, where his name is written as Koizumi Yakumo.

A still from the 1965 Kwaidan movie (this one from the Yuki Onna chapter). It’s an enormously stylish film and worth checking out or that reason6



Episode 297 – As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams, Part 2

This week, we round out our look at the celebrated women of Heian Japan with two very different careers: that of the celebrated poet Akazome Emon and the recluse known either as Takasue’s daughter or Lady Sarashina. Plus some final thoughts on women in the Heian era.


Morris, Ivan. As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams

Watanabe, Takeshi. “Akazome Emon: Her Poetic Voice and Persona.” Yale Waka Workshop 2013 conference paper

Sato, Hiroaki. Japanese Women Poets: An Anthology.


A karuta card for Akazome Emon.

Lady Sarashina would have come to the capital in a procession like this one. For a young woman, leaving the provinces would have been a big step in life.

Two pages of a transcription of the Sarashina Diary. Note the hiragana text; remember that hiragana was once known as “women’s hand.”

Akazome Emon gazes at the moon, by Hokusai.

Episode 296 – As I crossed a Bridge of Dreams, Part 1

This week: the start of a two-part series on women in Heian Japan. What makes the social position of women in the Heian Era so distinct from later points of Japanese history, and from the East Asian cultural sphere more generally? How do we know what we know about the lives of women? And what can we learn from the story of one particularly badass woman: the poet and “femme fatale” Izumi Shikibu?


A complete translation of the Diary of Izumi Shikibu.

A writeup on Women in Traditional China by Patricia Ebrey, one of the best scholars on premodern China out there.

Mulhern, Chieko Irie. Japanese Women Writers: A Bio-critical Source Book

Keene, Donald. Travelers of a Hundred Ages.

Yoshie, Akiko. “Family, Marriage and the Law in Classical Japan – An Analysis of Ritsuryo Codes on Residence Units.


A print of Izumi Shikibu by Utagawa Kuniyoshi from the mid-Edo period.

A transcription of one section of the Izumi Shikibu Diary. Note the flowing nature of the cursive writing and the mixture of Chinese characters and kana — unusual for written work by women.

Another illustration of Izumi Shikibu with her Hyakunin Isshu poem.

An illustration of Izumi Shikibu with one of her poems from the Hyakunin Isshu (Collection of one hundred poems by one hundred poets), one of the most popular poetry collections in Japanese history.


Episode 295 – Into Thin Air

This week, we cover the true story of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese civilians. Who was taken, and why? What do we know about their lives in the north? And how does their disappearance still affect the relationship between Japan and North Korea today?


A Committee for Human Rights in North Korea report on the abduction issue.

Cummings, Bruce. North Korea: Another Country.


Hasuike Kaoru and Hasuike Yukiko on their return to Japan. Note the pins on their lapels; that pin is a marker of membership in the Korean Worker’s Party.

Yokota Sachie and Yokota Shigeru at a press conference with pictures of their daughter. From the Japan Times.

Yokota Megumi before her abduction and at some point in her life in North Korea. From the Japan Times.

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and US President Donald Trump with the families of abductees, 2017. From the Nikkei Asian Review.

Kim Hyon-hui, one of many North Korean operatives trained in Japanese by the abductees.


Episode 294 – What Goes Up, Part 5

This week, the effects of the collapsing asset bubble spread as the extent of the damage caused is revealed; Japan’s financial and political leaders scramble to respond, while refusing to admit the scale of the crisis. Plus, the legacies of the bubble era for Japan today.


This chapter by Dr. Ohno Kenichi of Japan’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies on the bubble and its effects

Nakaso Hiroshi’s paper on the financial crisis and its effects during his BOJ tenure

A New York Times article on nostalgia for the bubble era.

Tett, Gillian. Saving the Sun


The old Long Term Credit Bank of Japan; nationalizing the LTCB was the moment the Japanese government finally found a systemic response to its crisis of confidence.

Japan’s unemployment rate has spiked since the bubble; it still remains low compared to other industrialized countries, but the effects on Japanese society have been substantially disruptive.

Prime Minister Abe is now Japan’s third longest serving prime minister ever. Yet his policies of Abenomics have failed to substantially revive the economy.

A graph from Nakaso Hiroshi’s paper showing the fall in Japan’s economic growth rate after the bubble.

Initiatives like “Premium Friday” are attempts to revive the Japanese economy, but they don’t address the lack of confidence consumers have in their economic futures — which is what holds them back from spending money.


Episode 293 – What Goes Up, Part 4

This week, it all starts to come crumbling down. Japan is plagued by scandals that destroy public confidence at the system right as some begin to look around and say, “hey, does this all seem a bit unsustainable or is it just me?”

It’s not just them.


The quoted New York Times article from 1996.

Werner, Richard. Princes of the Yen

Kingston, Jeff. Japan in Transformation, 1945-2010.

Dubro, Alec and David Kaplan. Yakuza: Japan’s Criminal Underworld. 


Ezoe Hiromasa, the head of Recruit Corporation, whose illicit money laundering via the stock market touched off the first major 1980s scandal.

Sumita Satoshi, BOJ governor 1984-89. He is often blamed for the bubble, though responsibility is not solely his.

Kanemaru Shin giving an apologetic press conference as the scale of the Sagawa Kyubin scandal becomes clear. Kanemaru would die just a few years later, but the damage to public confidence would linger.

Recruit HQ via Google maps. The company still exists today, and surprisingly has not rebranded.

Land like this is prime target for yakuza jiageya, who would try to convince the home owners to sell so that the home could be bought up and developed.

Episode 292 – What Goes Up, Part 3

The Plaza Accord was supposed to fix the US-Japan relationship. How did that work out?


A partial translation of The Japan that Can Say No

Kennedy, Paul. The Rise and Fall of Great Powers


The Newsweek cover on the Columbia-Sony acquisition

Helen Bentley smashing a Japanese radio on the steps of Congress.

Episode 291 – What Goes Up, Part 2

This week, we’re going to talk about life in the bubble era by looking at three snapshots of that experience: a movie, a book, and a poem.


A partial translation of The Japan that Can Say No

Tanikawa’s “A Push of a Button” is available in Modern Japan: A History in Documents, edited by James Huffman


From Tampopo. The junior fellow who shows everyone up is at left; the man at right is kicking him under the table.

From Tampopo. I know this is my foremost concern when I eat spaghetti.

A scene from A Taxing Woman’s Return where the bad guys plot over a literal pile of money.

Sony founder Morita Akio.

Ishihara Shintaro today.

Tanikawa Shuntaro.

Episode 290 – What Goes Up, Part 1

This week, we turn our attention to the 1980s. Japan and the United States find their relationship wracked by increasing tensions over political and economic relations, and turn to the solution of an agreement designed to ease the pressure of Japan’s economic growth. The result? Japan’s infamous Bubble Era!


Pempel, T.J. Regime Shift

Anchordoguy, Marie. Reprogramming Japan

Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan.


The murder of Vincent Chin in 1982 was symptomatic of the level of tension (both economic and racial) in the US-Japan relationship by the 1980s.

The negotiators of the Plaza Accord. James Baker III (USA) is at center. Takeshita Noboru (Japan) is at right.

Ginza’s Yonchome in 1955.

Ginza Yonchome in the 1980s. You can see the incredible growth in just two decades and change.

Another shot of the Ginza in the 1980s. By the height of the bubble, one square meter of commercial real estate here cost $750,000.24

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