Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Tag: Japan (Page 2 of 8)

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 257 – The Bookseller

This week, we cover the life and legacy of one of the great bridges between Japan and China — the Christian bookseller of Shanghai, Uchiyama Kanzo.


Keavaney, Christopher. Beyond Brushtalk: Sino-Japanese Literary Exchange in the Interwar Period.

Shih, Shu-mei. The Lure of the Modern: Writing Modernism in Semicolonial China, 1917-1937.

Minchello, Sharon, ed. Japan’s Competing Modernities: Issues in Culture and Democracy, 1900-1930.

A podcast by Harvard’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies on the Lu Xun-Uchiyama Kanzo friendship.


Uchiyama Kanzo in 1953.

To give you an idea of how big a deal Lu Xun was and is in China, here is a People’s Republic of China Party Congress taking place beneath a banner of him. His works remain mandatory reading for most middle and upper schools in China.

Lu Xun (left) and Uchiyama Kanzo, c. 1933.

The location of the Uchiyama Bookstore on Sichuan Road, c. 2018.

A gathering at the Uchiyama Bookstore in 1936. From left to right: Lu Xun,Huang Xinbo, Cao Bai, Bai Wei, and Chen Yanqiao. Courtesyt of the Harvard Yenching Library collection of Sha Fei’s photos.


Episode 256 – The Wrestler

This week, we take a look at the history of pro wrestling in Japan, and its unlikely progenitor: a Korean-born sumo wrestler named Rikidozan.


Whiting, Robert. Tokyo Underworld

Niehaus, Andreas, and Christian Tasgold. Sport, Memory, and Nationhood in Japan.

Weiner, Michael. Race, Ethnicity, and Migration in Modern Japan.


Rikidozan at the peak of his career.

Rikidozan laying the hurt on one of his heels.

Crowds watching a public NTV broadcast of the Rikidozan/Kimura vs. Sharpe Bros match in 1954.

Baba “Giant” Shohei.

Inoki Kanji vs Muhammad Ali, 1976. If you’re wondering, the match was a draw.

Inoki Kanji (Muhammad Hussein Inoki) in Pyongyang in 2016.

Women’s puroresu (Joshi puroresu) remains a major cultural phenomenon in Japan today. This image is from a match in 2018.

Episode 255 – The Beautiful Island, Part 4

This week, we close out our time with Taiwan with a look at its return to the Republic of China, and at the modern day relationship between the “renegade province” and Japan.


This fascinating Wall Street Journal article on the legacy of Japanese colonialism, as well as the early days of Republican rule.

Roy, Denny. Taiwan: A Political History.

Morris, Paul, et al. Imaginging Japan in Post-War East Asia

Rubinstein, Murray. Taiwan: A New History.


A commemorative photo of the events of Retrocession Day, as the October 25, 1945 surrender ceremony is sometimes called.

Taiwanese greet troops from the mainland, 1945.

Rioters attack the Monopoly Bureau of the Taiwanese government during the 2-28 Incident.

Today, Taipei’s largest park is known as 2-28 Park, and has a memorial to the events of 1947 inside.

A 2016 documentary, Wansei Back Home, talks about the lives of Wansei (Taiwan-born Japanese) after their repatriation to Japan.

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and President Tsai Ing-wen, 2016. The mutual threat of the PRC has drawn Japan and Taiwan closer together in recent years.


Episode 254 – The Beautiful Island, Part 3

This week, Japan’s attempt to assimilate Taiwan finds some success, and one big stumbling block: the Musha Incident, the last and largest rebellion against Japanese rule on the island. Plus, the beginnings of Taiwan’s mobilization for war.


Roy, Denny. Taiwan: A Political History.

Ching, Leo. T.S. Becoming “Japanese”: Colonial Taiwan and the Politics of Identity Formation. 

Rubinstein, Murray A. Taiwan: A New History.

Barclay, Paul D. Outcasts of Empire: Japan’s Rule on Taiwan’s “Savage Border,” 1874-1945.


The flag of Chiang Wei-shui’s Taiwanese People’s Party. The similarities to the flag of the mainland’s Guomindang — the blue and red background, the white sun — were intentional, and likely were a factor in Japanese reluctance to cave into demands from a party that wanted to align itself with Chinese nationalism.

Taiwanese intellectuals in Tokyo petition for the right for a democratically elected assembly in 1924.

Musha village, Ren’ai Township, Taiwan — the location of the Musha Incident.

Musha Primary School, where Seediq warriors attacked Japanese colonists.

A Japanese soldier captures an image of the aftermath of the attack on the Musha Primary School.

It wasn’t just Japanese soldiers who fought the Seediqs during the Musha incident. The Japanese mobilized other aboriginals with grudges against the Seediq, like these men, to help put the insurrection down.

Taiwan Grand Shrine in Taibei, the largest Shinto shrine set up by the Japanese. This image was taken prior to the shrine’s destruction in WWII.

Taiwanese volunteers (though many were pressured to join) in the Imperial Army during the Pacific War.

Episode 253 – The Beautiful Island, Part 2

This week: now that Japan has conquered Taiwan, what are they actually going to do with it?


Sharpe, M.E. Maritime Taiwan: Historical Encounters with East and West.

Rubinstein, Murray A. Taiwan: A New History.

Barclay, Paul D. Outcasts of Empire: Japan’s Rule on Taiwan’s “Savage Border,” 1874-1945.

Tsurumi, E. Patricia. “Education and Assimilation in Taiwan under Japanese Rule, 1895-1945.” Modern Asian Studies 13, No. 4

Ts’ai, Hui-yu Caroline. “The Hoko System in Taiwan, 1895-1945: Structure and Functions.” The Journal of the College of Liberal Arts of National Chung-Hsing University, Vol. 23.


Kodama Gentaro, the military bureaucrat who was the first governor general with a tenure longer than a year or so.

Sakuma Samata, like his predecessor Kodama, was a military man. Under his rule, uprisings against the government grew stronger in character — he was eventually recalled after suffering a wound during one of those uprisings.

Lo Fu-hsing, the Hakka-Han-Dutch rebel who was executed by the Japanese in 1913, was honored by the Republic of China on Taiwan with a postage stamp.

A memorial for the Tapani Incident in modern Tainan.

Captured rebels in the wake of the Tapani Incident.

Den Kenjiro, the first civilian governor-general of Taiwan, took office in 1919.

A girl’s school in Taiwan. From their origins as relatively marginal parts of colonial policy, schools like this one would become increasingly central to the assimilation-oriented policies of the government-general.

An aboriginal school under Japanese rule.

Episode 252 – The Beautiful Island, Part 1

This week, we start a history of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. How did Japan come to conquer the island, and what did its conquest entail for the Japanese and for the inhabitants?


Alsford, Nikki. Transitions to Modernity in Taiwan

Cheung, Sui-Wai, editor. Colonial Administration and Land Reform in East Asia.

Teng, Emma. Taiwan’s Imagined Geography. 

Morris, Andrew D. Japanese Taiwan: Colonial Rule and its Contested Legacy.


A map of Taiwan for reference. I will do my best to give some geographical references when talking about specific places as well, to help you stay oriented!

Today’s fort Anping is built on the original site of the Dutch Fort Zeelandia settlement.

A sketch of Fort Zeelandia during the Dutch occupation.

Recently restored by Sebastian Airton, this 1849 print by Kuniyoshi depicts the half-Japanese, half-Chinese warlord ruler of Taiwan Koxinga as he fights off a giant tiger.

Even after subduing the island, the Qing faced rebellions in Taiwan. This print is of a force sent in the late 1700s to suppress one such rebellion.

Liu Mingchuan, Taiwan’s first governor-general.

French soldiers in Keelung during the Sino-French War (1884-87). The French advance would never make it beyond Keelung itself.

A Japanese print of a Japanese officer being ambushed by a native. Prints like these served a propaganda purpose of depicting the Taiwanese resistance as equipped with antiquated weapons and reliant on dishonorable ambush tactics — which, to be fair, was often the case.

Another propaganda print from the occupation campaign.

Episode 251 – Homosexuality in Japan

This week, we take a look at the history of gay and lesbian relationships in Japan. How has the social position of homosexuality changed over time in Japanese history? What evidence can we use to “read out” the history of a non-mainstream culture?


Pflugfelder, Gregory M. Cartographies of Desire: Male-male Sexuality in Japanese Discourse, 1600-1950

Leupp, Gary P. “The Floading World Is Wide…: Some Suggested Approaches to Researching Female Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan (1603-1868)”. Thamyris 5, No. 1 (1998)

Leupp, Gary P. Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan.

An excellent article on on homosexuality

Pew polling data source 


Note: I did not include much from the SUBSTANTIAL quantity of Tokugawa era depictions of homosexuality because most of it is erotic in nature, and that’s not really what I’m going for with this episode. It’s easy to find with a Google search if you want to see it.

“Male and Youth”, by Miyagawa Issho, 1750

Shunkoin, a temple in Kyoto, started offering itself as a same-sex wedding venue in 2014, despite the fact that same-sex marriage is yet to be legalized by the Kyoto city government. Image from Japan Today.

Masaki Sumitani, aka. Hard Gay, during his wrestling career.

A female-female couple depicted by Isoda Koryusai, c. 1700s.

Ren and Yae, a same sex couple (who hid their last names to avoid discrimination) get married in Setagaya Ward during Pride Week, 2015. Photo from NPR.

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.

Episode 249 – Every Day is a Journey

This week, we delve into the life, legacy, and style of Matsuo Basho, Japan’s most famous poet. Who was he? How did he develop his unique style? How did Japan’s most famous haiku poet end up writing before the invention of the word “haiku”? All that and more!


Ueda, Makoto. Basho and His Interpreters.

Carter, Steven D. Haiku Before Haiku: From the Renga Masters to Basho.

Carter, Steven D. “On a Bare Branch: Basho and the Haikai Profession.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 117, No 1 (Jan-March, 1997)


Matsuo Basho, as depicted by Hokusai.

Bronze equestrian Basho statue in Nasu, Tochigi.

Basho meeting with two farmers celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival. From Yoshitoshi’s 100 Aspects of the Moon series, early Meiji.

A painting of Basho on horseback by one of Basho’s students (Sugiyama Sanpu).

An example of Basho’s propensity for mixing images with poetry. The Hokku/Haiku here reads:
Yellow rose petals
a waterfall

Basho in the garden of his hut. His banana tree (the original Basho) is to the right.

A bronze statue of Basho in Otsu city, Shiga Prefecture.

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