Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Tag: Meiji Page 1 of 2

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 301 – Stand Up For Your Rights, Part 1

While the Meiji Restoration was going on, where was everybody else? We’ll start trying to answer that question today with a look at an uprising in 1866 in the region of Shindatsu.


Vlastos, Stephen. Peasant Protests and Uprisings in Tokugawa Japan

Pratt, Edward. Japan’s Protoindustrial Elite: The Economic Foundations of the Gounou

Vanoverbeke, Dimitri. Community and State in the Japanese Farm Village


Itakura Katsusato later in life. He is supposed to have promised relief to the peasants of Shindatsu, but was overruled.

The former site of the Daikansho (bakufu intendant’s office) in Koori, where the Shindatsu rebels eventually made their way.

Shindatsu, sometimes today called the Fukushima basin. You can see how well irrigated it is; perfect for silk.

A map of the region from Stephen Vlastos’s book (see the notes).

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 248 – Family Matters

This week we take on the history of the von Siebold family — father Philip Franz, son Alexander, and daughter Kusumoto Ine. How does the story of this unusual family fit in to the story of 19th century Japan?


Nakamura, Ellen. “Working the Siebold Network: Kusumoto Ine and Western Learning in Nineteenth-Century Japan.” Japanese Studies 28, No. 2

Ravina, Mark. To Stand with the Nations of the World.

Walthall, Anne. The Female as Subject: Women and Writing in Early Modern Japan.

Nakamura, Ellen. “Ogino Ginko’s Vision: “The Past and Future of Women Doctors in Japan” U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal, no. 34 (2008)


Philip Franz von Siebold during his time in Nagasaki. The painting was done by Kawahara Keiga, a Japanese painter who was friends with von Siebold.

A landscape by Kawahara Keiga showing Dutchmen observing Nagasaki’s harbor. The woman and child shown here are Taki and Ine.

Philip Franz and Alexander von Siebold around the time of Philip’s second trip to Japan in 1859.

Mise Shuzo and Kusumoto Takako.

Kusumoto Ine posing at the height of her career. She became a very well respected practitioner of Western medicine.

Alexander von Siebold did well out of his work in Japan, netting a minor Barony in Austria-Hungary as well as a steady and respectable job.

Kusumoto Ine and her daughter Takako late in Ine’s life.

The Siebold Memorial in Nagasaki, c. early 20th c. Siebold is still remembered fondly in Japan (especially in Nagasaki) as an early booster of Japan around the world.

Episode 192 – No Country for Young Women, Part 1


Empress Shoken in Western-style court dress. She was charged with seeing off the five girls and giving them their mission.


The girls on arriving in the West. From left to right: Ryo, Sutematsu, Shige, Ume, and Tei.


Adeline and Charles Lanman.


From left to right: Ume, Sutematsu, and Shige.


Shige as a young girl living in New Haven.

This week: the beginning of a two parter on Japan’s first ever female exchange students.

Listen to the episode here.

You can check out Astra Nullius here.


Nimura, Janice. Daughters of the Samurai.

Furuki, Yoshiko. The White Plum, a Biography of Tsuda Ume.

Tsuda, Umeko and Yoshiko Furuki. The Attic Letters: Ume Tsuda’s Correspondence to her American Mother.

Some excellent biographical sketches of Ume, Shige and Sutematsu are available here.




Episode 136 – The Fall of the Samurai, Part 19

This week, Saigo Takamori is going to sidetrack the whole government by pulling the idea of invading Korea off the shelf, sparking a political crisis. Once the dust from this debate has settled, the political landscape will have changed once again, and the battle lines for a final showdown over the fate of Japan will be drawn.

Listen to the episode here.


Lu, David. Japan: A Documentary History, Vol II.

Ravina, Mark. The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori.

Harootunian, Harry, et al., eds. The Sources of the Japanese Tradition.



During the Tokugawa era, Japan and Korea maintained very cordial relations, and visiting Korean ambassadors enjoyed celebrity status. This print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (courtesy of depicts visiting Korean ambassdors being greeted by the shogun.


The debates over the Korean invasion created a massive rift within the government and resulted in the resignation of Saigo Takamori and his supporters. Here, the events of the final imperial conference where the invasion was decided against are depicted. Notice how Westernized the government already is by this point; all the major figures except the emperor are depicted in Western clothing.


After being forced out of the government, Itagaki Taisuke would spend the rest of his life agitating for representative government. In 1882, he was nearly assassinated by a supporter of the government, an event dramatized in this print.


Conscription physicals like the one shown here proved ccontroversial at first for a population not used to this kind of invasive treatment. By the early 20th century, when this photo was taken, they were commonplace and considered something of a right of passage.


After the slow abolition of the samurai class, the military was one of the few career paths open to ex-samurai. Much of the army and navy leadership was dominated by samurai and their descendants. Here a group of samurai officers are depicted in 1877; notice that the former symbols of samurai status have all been replaced by Western affectations.


The national police force was another common vocation for ex-samurai. This group of members of the Tokyo Metropolitan PD, shown in 1888,


Episode 135 – The Fall of the Samurai, Part 18

This week, we cover the major issues of the new government. Who’s in charge? What do they want to do? And what could possibly go wrong if we just take half the leadership off for a two year trip?

Listen to the episode here.


Nish, Ian, ed. The Iwakura Mission in America and Europe: A New Assessment.

Pyle, Kenneth. Japan Rising.

Umegaki, Michiko. After the Restoration.



Okubo Toshimichi of Satsuma was a childhood friend of Saigo Takamori who would help lead the charge for the abolition of feudalism. His kickin’ sideburns didn’t appear until later in life, but I think they nicely encapsulate his self-image as a conscious Westernizer who wanted to remake Japan in the Western image.


Guido Verbeck, the Dutch-American engineer-cum-missionary who dreamed up the Iwakura Mission.


I have been hunting for an excuse to use this photo, and now seems like as good a time as any. This picture was taken in 1868; Verbeck, with his daughter, is in the center, surrounded by the leading restorationist samurai. All manner of famous restoration leaders are in here: Ito, Yamagata, Sakamoto Ryoma, even Katsu Kaishu. It’s great!


Iwakura Tomomi, center, during the mission. Standing at center right is Ito Hirobumi. Sitting at the far right is Okubo Toshimichi.


Wherever the Iwakura Mission went it was greeted with lavish parties like this one, depicted in a contemporary American magazine. The affairs served to boost Japan’s overseas profile.


The Iwakura Mission actually included a number of women, charged with learning about the West. Several chose to stay and study abroad in the West; Tsuda Umeko (shown here as the youngest, sitting on another girl’s lap) will eventually attend Bryn Mawr College before returning to Japan to found her own university. You better believe she’s getting an episode.


The path of the Iwakura Mission. Courtesy of

Episode 134 – The Fall of the Samurai, Part 17


This week, we take a look at the new balance of power now that the Tokugawa are gone. Who’s calling the shots? What do they want? And most importantly of all, now that the war is over, will we all be resolving our differences with calm discussion like a bunch of grownups?

Spoilers: no.


Listen to the episode here.


Lu, David. Japan: A Documentary History, Vol. II.

Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan.

Beasley, W.G. The Meiji Restoration.


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