Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Tag: Korea

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 162 – Best of Frenemies, Part 8


This week, we close out this series with a look at the relationship between South Korea and Japan. Also included; Isaac’s patented speed run of South Korean history. Enjoy!


Listen to the episode here.


Cummings, Bruce. Korea’s Place in the Sun.

Tudor, Daniel. Korea: The Impossible Country.

Rozman, Gilbert. Asia’s Alliance Triangle: US-Japan-South Korea Relations At A Crossroads.



Syngman Rhee wrote a book trying to explain “the Japanese psyche” while in the US in 1941 lobbying for aid to Korea’s independence movement. It lays out his opinion of Japan pretty clearly. Spoiler: it isn’t great.


Park Jung-hee in the uniform of a Manchukuo officer. Park’s time working with the Japanese made him a natural leader in reconciling South Korea and Japan.


Park Jung-hee signs the treaty on basic relations with Japan.


A summit meeting between Abe Shinzo, Barack Obama, and South Korea’s president Park Geun-hye (daughter of Park Jung-hee). Obama’s facial expression does a lot, in my opinion, to set the tone for how well things were going.

comfort women statue japan south korea

The comfort woman statue erected in Seoul across from the Japanese embassy.

People hold placards next to a statue symbolizing "comfort women" during a weekly anti-Japan rally in front of Japanese embassy in Seoul

The weekly protests across from the Japanese embassy are the longest running regular protests in history. They have occured every week since 1992.


Perhaps Korean pop culture holds the key to Japan-Korea reconciliation? This poster is from the First Girl’s Generation tour in Japan.

Episode 159 – Best of Frenemies, Part 5

This week — what was colonial Korea like? We’ll do a quick overview of 35 years of colonial economic, political, and social policy to give you a feel for what Japan’s goals in Korea were and how those goals effected the lives of ordinary Koreans.

Listen to the episode here.


Cummings, Bruce. Korea’s Place in the Sun.

Kang, Hildi. Under the Black Umbrella: Voices from Colonial Korea, 1910-1945.

Caprio, Mark. Japanese Assimilation Policies in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945.



The Government-General building in Seoul. Hard to miss the symbolism of putting it in the old royal capital.


Keijo (Seoul) in the 1930s under Japanese occupation.

Korean workers at a Japanese operated gold mine, 1937.


Korean “volunteer” troops in the Imperial Japanese Army, c. 1943.


Yi Un and his Japanese wife. After WWII, Yi Un would be barred from returning to Korea until the 1960s.

Episode 158 – Best of Frenemies, Part 4

This week, the Korean Kingdom’s final years see the desperate bid of King Gojong to salvage Korea’s independence. Ultimately, however, Korea’s royal family will be unable to save itself, and in 1910 Korea’s independence will be snuffed out completely for the first time since the era of Kublai Khan.

Listen to the episode here.


Cummings, Bruce. Korea’s Place in the Sword.

Duus, Peter. The Abacus and the Sword: The Japanese Penetration of Korea, 1895-1910.

Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan.



Queen Min’s state funeral attracted a huge number of mourners. Her assassination provoked a nationalist outcry, and today she is seen as a martyr of Korean independence.


Miura Goro, the Japanese ambassador who directed the effort to assassinate Queen Min. This photo shows him in his younger days as a member of the Tokugawa Shogunate’s French-style modern army.


King Gojong in his later years as the Gwangmu Emperor. Like the Meiji Emperor, Gojong traded in his old robes for Western military uniforms, embracing Westernization as the key to national strength.


Ito Hirobumi with Yi Un, son of Emperor Sunjong and grandson of Gojong. Ito saw himself as a mediator between Japan and Korea, but his death was celebrated in Korean nationalist circles.


Emperor Sunjong, Korea’s last Emperor.


Ito Hirobumi disembarking the train at Harbin, 1909. This photo was taken mere moments before An Jung-geun shot him.


Harbin station today. The red square, placed there by the Chinese government, shows where An Jung-geun stood as he shot Ito. The triangle shows the direction of fire.

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A monument to An Jung-geun outside the South Korean capitol of Seoul — one of very many to depict the assassin as a literally larger than life national hero.

Episode 157 – Best of Frenemies, Part 3

This week, a three way competition for control of Korea between Japan, China, and Russia heats up! Factional fighting in the Korean court will drag Japan and China into conflict; in the end, the Koreans themselves are sidelined when it comes to controlling their own fate.

Listen to the episode here.


Cummings, Bruce. Korea’s Place in the Sun.

Duus, Peter. The Abacus and the Sword: The Japanese Penetration of Korea, 1895-1910.

Uchida, Jun. Brokers of Empire: Japanese Settler Colonialism in Korea, 1876-1945.



The Japanese legation flees Seoul during the Imo Incident, 1882. The attacks by conservative elements of the Old Army on Japanese property and nationals sparked outrage and cries for retaliation back in Japan.


A French cartoon from the late 1880s which accurately depicts the situation in Korea at the time.


Members of the Enlightenment Faction who participated in the Gapsin Coup. Kim Ok-gyun is the farthest on the right.


Kim Ok-gyun in the attire of the yangban class. Kim’s radical desire for a Korean Meiji Restoration would be his undoing, as his fellow yangban did not share this asperation.


Kim Ok-gyun’s decapitated head was widely depicted in newspapers of the time; while still conservative, the Korean court was not above using modern technology to drive home this most traditional of punishments.


Chinese generals surrendering after the siege of Pyongyang. The Chinese were swiftly driven from the Korean peninsula in the Sino-Japanese War; after only two battles, all Chinese forces withdrew to Manchuria.

Episode 156 – Best of Frenemies, Part 2

This week, Korea encounters the West. We’ll introduce the early Western forays into Korea, explain how Japan came to sign the first unequal treaty with its neighbor, and look into the factionalization of the Korean royal court.

Listen to the episode here.


Cumings, Bruce. Korea’s Place in the Sun.

Duus, Peter. The Abacus and the Sword: Japan’s Penetration of Korea, 1895-1910.



The Daewongun, father of King Gojong and head of the arch-conservative, isolatonist faction of the royal court.


Queen Min, wife of King Gojong. Her approach to international relations was based off the Chinese notion of “using the barbarian to control the barbarian.”


Caught between his powerful wife and his domineering father, King Gojong was, for most of his reign, something of a political non-entity. He is shown here in 1884, in the midst of his career as a political football between his more powerful relatives.


The USS General Sherman, c. 1864.


A North Korean stamp commemorating the burning of the General Sherman. The incident features prominently in anti-American rhetoric in the north.


A North Korean monument on the site of the burning of the General Sherman. According to North Korean propaganda — almost certainly untrue — the mob which burned the General Sherman was led by none other than the grandfather of Kim Il-sung, founder of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea.


Japanese marines from the IJN Un’yo come ashore to gather water on Ganghwa Island. A skirmish between Korean and Japanese forces broke out; tensions between the two sides were defused by Queen Min’s decision to accept an unequal treaty with Japan.


The Japanese language translation of the Treaty of Ganghwa of 1876, the first unequal treaty signed by Korea. It would not be the last.

Episode 155 – Best of Frenemies, Part 1


This week: we get up to speed on Korean history, so that we can begin exploring the turbulent Korean-Japanese relationship. Pirates, coups, Mongols, poetry battles — we’ve got it all!


Listen to the episode here.


Cummings, Bruce. Korea’s Place in the Sun.

Eckert, Carter J. Korea Old and New.

Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan.



Mt. Baektu (Paektu), the site where the founder of Korea supposedly descended from heaven (and where, according to North Korean propagandists, Kim Il-Sung was born).


Korea c. 600 CE. A divided state, the Korean kingdoms fought each other — with Japanese intervention — until only Silla in the south and a new northern state of Goryeo remained. Goryeo would eventually triumph and unify Korea.


A status of Yakushi Nyorai (Bhaisajya Buddha) from Asuka-period Japan. Buddhism first entered Japan from Korea in the 500s CE.


Yi Seong-gye, the Goryeo general who launched a coup in 1392 and founded the new Joseon dynasty. His descendants would rule Korea for the next 600 years.


Yi Sun-shin, the admiral who defeated the Japanese on multiple occasions during the Imjin War, is a patriotic hero in Korea. His accomplishments are truly spectacular — including one battle where he defeated the Japanese with 13 ships to their 130, without losing a single ship himself.


A Korean embassy in Edo (Tokyo) in 1748. Korea sent 12 embassies to Japan during the Edo period, all of which were occasions of much interchange and celebration between the two states.

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