Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Tag: Japan Page 1 of 13

Episode 315 – The World Cast Aside

This week, we trace the evolution of Noh theater over the course of the careers of its famous founders: the father-son acting duo Kan’ami and Zeami.


Varley, Paul H. “Cultural Life in Medieval Japan” in The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol 3: Medieval Japan

Fenollosa, Ernest, and Ezra Pound. The Noh Theater of Japan.

Kuritz, Paul. The Making of Theater History.

A Japan Times article on women in Noh theater.


The video below gives you some sense of what a performance looks like, and what kusemai dance in particular is. The whole channel has some good stuff too.

A noh stage in Tenjin Shrine inside Miyajima Shrine on Itsukushima. The stage dates back to the mid-1500s and was constructed by the patronage of a warlord of the Mori clan.

A modern Noh stage.

The pre-performance dedication ceremony for a Noh play being performed at Kasuga Shrine in Nara.

A performance of the play Atsumori at the University of British Columbia. I believe the character on stage is Kumagai Naozane (the shite role).

Three pictures of one mask (of a young woman). This gives you an idea of how expressive the mask is when viewed from different angles.

Episode 314 – Responsibility, Accountability, and the Imperial Throne

Since Japan just got itself a new emperor, this is a good time to go back and look at an incident from the enthronement of the last emperor — and at a time where one local politician’s comment at a council meeting ignited a national firestorm which ended with him being shot.


Fields, Norma. In the Realm of a Dying Emperor

A Japan Times article on Naruhito’s coronation and the relative lack of protest compared to the last one

New York Times coverage of Motoshima’s shooting from 1990.


Motoshima Hitoshi during his political prime.

The Crysanthemum Throne (Takamikura) normally is in Kyoto but is brought to Tokyo for coronations.

Emperor Akihito (center left, in white) during his daijosai (enthronement). This event was greeted with massive protests in Tokyo.

Motoshima Hitoshi continued to speak publicly about his views on the emperor system and Hirohito until his death in 2014.


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 312 – Freedom and People’s Rights, Part 3

This week, we look at the violent incidents that eventually undermined the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement, and the legacies of the movement for Japan today.


Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan

Bowen, Rodger. Rebellion and Democracy in Meiji Japan

Botsman, Dan. Punishment and Power in the Making of Modern Japan


Okuma Shigenobu later in life. His devotion to democratic politics would eventually see him take a turn as Prime Minister in exchange for his party’s support of government policies.

Election returns for the 1890 election in Japan, the first one ever. The light red is the revived Jiyuto, led by Itagaki. The dark red is Okuma. The blue is the pro-government Taiseikai. Grey is unaligned. You can see the Freedom and People’s Rights Parties did extremely well despite the highly restricted suffrage of the time.

The graves of the Kabasan rebels.

The Demon Governor Mishima Michitsune.

Episode 311 – Freedom and People’s Rights, Part 2

How do you talk about a movement without clear leaders? By breaking down its different levels. Plus, a look at how things came to a head between the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement and the government.


Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan

Ikegami, Eiko. Bonds of Civility

Irokawa, Daikichi. The Culture of the Meiji Period


A woodblock print showing the assassination attempt on Itagaki. The moment was highly sensationalized in the press, with the Jiyuto-aligned papers blaming the government and its supporters for incitement and the government claiming this was all just a renegade act. This particular print is pro-Itagaki; note the defiant pose as Aikawa is arrested.

Chiba Takusaburo, leader of the Itsukaichi discussion group.

One of Chiba’s writings. This one is called the “Odoron”, or “Treatise on the Way of Kings.” The idea of “Odo”, the way followed by a true king, is a big part of Confucian historiography; Chiba is showing his continued Confucian impulses here.

There’s now a statue in Gifu Park commemorating the assassination attempt.


Episode 310 – Freedom and People’s Rights, Part 1

This week, we’re starting a look at the Jiyu Minken Undo — the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement — by talking a bit about its ideological origins as well as some of the movement’s early leaders.


Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan

Ozaki, Yukio. The Autobiography of Ozaki Yukio

Bowen, Roger W. Rebellion and Democracy in Meiji Japan.


Eto Shinpei’s participation in the Aikoku Koto helped destroy that party almost as soon as it got off the ground — when he was beheaded for treason the party disbanded to avoid coming under scrutiny because of its association with him.

Nakae Chomin as a younger man.

Itagaki Taisuke as a young man (c. 1880).

The Toyo Jiyu Shinbun, or Eastern Free Press. It was suppressed after slightly more than a month of publication.

Okuma Shigenobu. Tragically I had a hard time finding pictures of him from the early Meiji Period, but the English style suit here definitely shows off his Anglophilia.

Episode 309 – Flying High

This week: the battle against the construction of a new international airport in Chiba prefecture. Who fought against the airport, why, and how did it all go so very wrong?


Bowen, Rodger Wilson. “The Narita Conflict.” Asian Survey 15, No 7 (July, 1975)

Apter, David E. When Parties Fail: Emerging Alternative Organizations

Apter, David E. Against the State: Politics and Social Protest in Japan.


The Shounen Kodotai (Middle School Action Corps) of the HD.

Tomura Issai, the leader of the HD.

Gear and weapons worn by those who fought against the airport.

Anti-airport protestors clash with police.

It’s not great but this was the best shot I could find of the land clearing battles of 1971.

Opposition against Narita remains; the HD actually still has a website (though it’s very out of date) and you occasionally see signs like this billboard (which says something like “don’t throw us out”).


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.)

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