Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Tag: Japan (Page 1 of 8)

Episode 268 – The Right thing for the Wrong Reasons

Today, we cover one of the most unusual stories of WWII: the policy of saving and protecting Jews pursued by some among Japan’s military leadership. How did anti-semitic ideas about a global conspiracy convince some in Japan that the Jews could be their allies? How many were saved? And what does it all mean?


Goodman, David and Masanori Miyazawa. Jews in the Japanese Mind: The History and Uses of a Cultural Stereotype.

Shillony, Ben-Ami. Jews & The Japanese

Gao, Bei. Shanghai Sanctuary: Chinese and Japanese Policy Toward European Jews


The synagogue in Harbin, Manchuria
children in Shanghai during the Second World War

One of the main streets of the Shanghai Ghetto in 1943.
This image gives you some idea of how cramped living space was in the Shanghai Ghetto. 
Polish refugees arriving in Shanghai
Yasue Norihiro, one of the two leading men behind the initiative to protect Jews within Japan
Inuzuka Koreshige, also a leader in the initiative to protect Jews within the empire
Despite having been proven a forgery back in the 1920s, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion remains a go-to for anti-semites in Japan and around the world. This edition was edited by Japanese anti-semite Ota Ryu in the 1990s. 

Episode 267 – Do Not Give Up Your Life

This week, we cover poet and political activist Yosano Akiko in her drift from icon of the political left to polemicist for the ultranationalist right. What kind of life trajectory drives a person that way? Why did she follow that path? And why did she write so many poems about breasts?


Garon, Sheldon. Molding Japanese Minds: The State in Everyday Life

Dollase, Hiromi Tsuchiya. “Awakening Female Sexuality in Yosano Akiko’s Midaregami.Simply Haiku: Autumn, 2005.

Rabson, Steve. “Yosano Akiko on War: To Give One’s Life or Not: A Question of Which War.” The Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese 25, No. 1., Special Issue: Yosano Akiko.

Larson, Phyllis Hyland. “Yosano Akiko and the Re-Creation of the Female Self: An Autogynography.” From the same edition of the above journal.


Yosano Akiko as a younger woman.

Yosano Tekkan in his prime. To be fair, he’s quite a looker, though I’m not sure he’s 400 poems-worth of good looking.

Yosano Akiko later in life.

Though one of Yosano Akiko’s missions was to push for women to not just be valued for motherhood, she herself was quite the mother — to 13 children!

Yosano Akiko and Yosano Tekkan together early in their marriage.

Though like so much else of old Tokyo, the Yosano home is no longer standing, there is a nice little monument on its former site.

Episode 266 – In the Realm of the Gods

This week, we take a look at the bizarre history of a single text — Senkyou Ibun, or Strange Tidings from Another World — and the two people responsible for creating it: the famous scholar Hirata Atsutane, and a boy named Torakichi who claimed to have lived in Japan’s spirit world.


The majority of this episode is based on sources from:

Hansen, Wilburn N. When Tengu Talk: Hirata Atsutane’s Ethnography of the Other World.

and Hansen’s other work on the subject:

Hansen, Wilburn N. “The Medium is the Message: Hirata Atsutane’s Ethnography of the World Beyond.” History of Religions 46, No. 4 (May 2006), 337-372


A “crow tengu” statue. Depictions of tengu are not consistent (other than having some kind of wings).

Atsutane as drawn by one of his own pupils.

Text and diagrams from one of Atsutane’s earlier works, Tama no Mihashira (True Pillars of the Spirit), published 1811. By 1820, Atsutane was a respected scholar with a large volume of published work.

Senkyou Ibun is not only text; Atsutane hired artists to draw some of the things depicted in it. This is the Shichishoumai, the seven lives dance, being performed by the Tengu.

Episode 265 – The House Always Wins

This week, we cover the life of real estate mogul and international gambling sensation Kashiwagi Akio. Who was he? How did he become an internationally famous gambler? Why was he mysteriously murdered? And how the hell does none other than Donald Trump fit into this?


Los Angeles Times obituary for Kashiwagi, written one month after his death.

The Whale that Nearly Drowned the Donald,” A Politico piece on the Trump-Kashiwagi showdown.

New York Times piece on the murder.


One of very few images of Kashiwagi Akio I have been able to find. I couldn’t find any of his home, either. The man was VERY private.

The Trump Taj Mahal in 1990 with its namesake. Kashiwagi’s two part showdown with Trump in this very hotel made the papers, but the publicity was not enough to save Trump’s operations in Atlantic City.

Police search the interior of “Castle Kashiwagi” for clues. Note the wall section in the background. Also, this is literally the only photo I could find of any part of the house — Kashiwagi took his privacy seriously!

Episode 264- The Man of Legend

This week, we cover the story and legacy of the great warrior Kusunoki Masashige. Why does he have the unique distinction of a statue on the grounds of the emperor’s palace in Tokyo? What do we actually know about him?


McCullough, Hellen Craig (translator). Taiheiki: A Chronicle of Medieval Japan

Sato, Hiroaki. Legends of the Samurai.

Brownlee, John S. Japanese Historians and the National Myths, 1600-1945


The Siege of Chihaya, as depicted in an Edo period print by Ichijusai Yoshikazu. Despite his ultimate defeat, Masashige’s stand here was the start of his legend as a valiant warleader.

The siege of Akasaka Castle.

The battle of Minatogawa, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Another scene from Utagawa’s rendering of the battle of Minatogawa.

The aforementioned statue

Episode 263 – Their Eyes Were Watching the Gods, Part 2

This week; the zenith of Omoto, its fall, and its postwar rebirth. Plus, what have we learned?


Stalker, Nancy. Prophet Motive: Deguchi Onisaburo, Omoto, and the Rise of New Religions in Imperial Japan. 

Garon, Sheldon. Molding Japanese Minds.


A newspaper article on the first Omoto Incident (1921)

Deguchi Onisaburo in Mongolia.

Ruins of the 2nd Omoto Incident. This photo of a former Omoto Shrine was taken in 1950.

A Tokyo Asahi Shinbun feature on Onisaburo’s trial, from 1936.

Onisaburo as an old man.

Omoto’s internationalism remains an important part of the religion, even as the majority of its believers are still in Japan. This photo, from 1975, shows Omoto priests performing a service in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.03

Episode 262 – Their Eyes Were Watching the Gods, Part 1

This week, we tackled the origin of one of Japan’s new religious movements: Oomoto, or The Great Origin. Where did it come from, and how did the unique combination of two very different people with the right set of circumstances lead it to prominence?


Stalker, Nancy. Prophet Motive: Deguchi Onisaburo, Omoto, and the Rise of New Religions in Imperial Japan. 

Garon, Sheldon. Molding Japanese Minds

A publication on the life of Onisaburo by the modern day Omoto movement (Aizen’en)


Deguchi Onisaburo in his prime.

Deguchi Nao towards the end of her life. Being a religious visionary was hard on her.

Deguchi Onisaburo’s 1900 wedding to one of Nao’s daughters (Sumiko). From left to right: Sumiko, Nao, Onisaburo.

Like so much else, the Reikai Monogatari has officially been adapted into a Manga. I have not read it personally, but I have to admit I am curious.

One of Deguchi Onisaburo’s attempts at pottery. To be fair, I am not sure I could do better.

Large calligraphy work like this was a great vehicle for the kind of flamboyant performance artistry Onisaburo enjoyed.

Deguchi Onisaburo’s unique blend of nationalism and internationalism made for strange bedfellows. Even as he praised universalist ideas like the establishment of Esperanto, he was photographed with men like Toyama Mitsuru (center) and Uchida Ryohei (right), major figures in the early Japanese ultranationalist movement.

Episode 261 – The City that Never Sleeps, Part 4

This week, we cover postwar Tokyo as it recovers from the devastation of war in remarkable time, and take some time to think about what we’ve learned from the history of Japan’s most central city.


Mansfield, Steven. Tokyo: A Biography.

Seidensticker, Edward. Tokyo from Edo to Showa 1867-1989

Field, Norma. From My Grandmother’s Bedside: Sketches of Postwar Tokyo


A Type 0 Shinkansen, part of the fleet that started serving the Shinkansen line in 1964.

Sakai Yoshinori, 19 years old in 1964, was chosen to carry the Olympic torch as a symbol of Japan’s rebirth. Here he is headed to the Olympic flame in national stadium.

Sakai Yoshinori lighting the Olympic flame.

Team Japan during the opening ceremonies of the 1964 Olympics.

The Shibuya 109 Building, a symbol of Shibuya’s rebirth as a high-falutin’ upscale district.

JR Shinjuku station, the world’s busiest train station on a day to day average.

Perhaps no area better demonstrates both the continuity and change of the Shitamachi than Akihabara — once a vegetable market, and now an electronics one.


Episode 260 – The City that Never Sleeps, Part 3

This week: the Great Kanto Earthquake, the firebombing campaign, and Tokyo during the Occupation.


Mansfield, Steven. Tokyo: A Biography.

Seidensticker, Edward. Tokyo from Edo to Showa 1867-1989

Dower, John. War Without Mercy

A part of Robert Guillain’s account. 12


Asakusa district after the Great Kanto Earthquake. Parts of Sensoji are visible int he background.

The Hibiya police station, not far from the imperial palace, after the great Kanto Earthquake.

A translation of a schematic for Goto Shimpei’s rebuilding of Tokyo. His plan would inform the postwar vision for the city.

Meiji Shrine. The park surrounding it was the most impressive legacy of Goto Shimpei’s rebuild of Tokyo.

A send-off ceremony for college students headed to the front in Meiji Stadium. October 21, 1943.

Downtown Tokyo after the firebombing.

The toll of the March firebombing.

A crowd awaiting a prisoner release from Sugamo Prison.

The Takarazuka Theater was one of many theaters to re-open after the war with a new, more liberated set of acts.

Episode 259 – The City that Never Sleeps, Part 2

This week: the shogun’s city becomes the emperor’s, as Edo transforms into Tokyo.


Mansfield, Steven. Tokyo: A Biography.

McClain, James, ed. Edo and Paris.

Seidensticker, Edward. Tokyo from Edo to Showa 1867-1989


A model of a typical chonin (townsman) neighborhood.

Wikipedia has this handy map to give you an idea of what sections of Tokyo are considered Shitamachi and which are Yamanote. But the two terms don’t really have a precise definition.

The old Kuroda family yashiki in 1870, when it was taken over by Japan’s foreign ministry.

The justice ministry in 1910. A good example of European-style architecture in Kasumigaseki.

Ginza neighborhood, c. 1910. Note that many of the homes are still wooden construction and fairly close together, as had been the case during the Edo period.

The Rokumeikan, or Deer Cry Pavilion.

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