Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Tag: Tokugawa Page 1 of 2

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.)

Episode 302 – Stand Up For Your Rights, Part 2

This week, we take a look at the peasant uprisings in Aizu domain in 1868 to continue our exploration of the question: where were all the peasants in the Meiji Restoration?


Vlastos, Stephen. Peasant Protests and Uprisings in Tokugawa Japan

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

Bowen, Rodger. Rebellion and Democracy in Meiji Japan

Magagna, Victor V. Communities of Grain: Rural Rebellion in Comparative Perspective


Wakamatsu Castle, the fortress of the lords of Aizu.

The siege of Wakamatsu castle saw the fall of Aizu domain, but the peasants of Aizu did little to defend their former masters.

Yonaoshi uprisings were not just confined to Aizu. Many, like the one depicted here, began with the destruction of the property of the wealthy and powerful, especially wealthy peasants.



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 299 – The Rebellion that Never Was

This week, we cover an obscure bit of samurai history: the Keian Incident, a planned coup against the Tokugawa Shoguns that was foiled by a lucky bit of happenstance. What can we learn from something that, in a certain sense, didn’t actually happen?


Totman, Conrad. Early Modern Japan

Nishiyama, Matsunosuke. Edo Culture: Daily Life and Diversions in Urban Japan, 1600-1868

Paramore, Kiri. Ideology and Christianity in Japan

Shirane, Haruo and Tomi Suzuki. The Cambridge History of Japanese Literature

Walthall, Anne. Peasant Uprisings in Japan


A marker on the site where Yui Shosetsu’s head was put on display.

Another Keian Taiheiki print. Marubashi is at left, played by Ichikawa Sadanji the first. Shosetsu is in the middle, played by Nakamura Shikan the fourth. These two actors allow us to date this performance to either the late Edo or early Meiji Periods.

A print from Keian Taiheiki. Marubashi Chuya is at left; Yui Shosetsu is in the center.




Episode 272 – I am the Law!

This week we cover the life and career of the legendary judge Oka Tadasuke, who rose from minor samurai to the rank of daimyo and a major position in the bakufu — only to become a legendary figure. Who is he? How did he rise so high? And what can he tell us about the role of judges and bureaucrats in Japanese society more generally?


Dening, Walter. Japan in Days of Yore. 

Mansfield, Stephen. Tokyo: A Biography.

Nice, Richard W. Treasury of Law. 

Angles, Jeffrey, trans. “The Execution of Ten’ichibo.” Critical Asian Studies 37, no 2 (2005), 305-321.


Ooka Tadasuke, from a woodcut illustrated version of the Ooka Seidan.

Ooka Tadasuke’s grave in Kanagawa.

A monument to the former site of the Minami Machibugyosho (the place of business for the Minami Machi bugyo). It’s located outside Yurakucho Station in Tokyo.

Tokugawa Yoshimune, Ooka Tadasuke’s patron.

Toyohara Kunisada print from the illustrated Ooka Seidan. This particular case is the story of a murder solved by Ooka.

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 222 – The Dog Shogun

This week: was Japan’s 5th Tokugawa shogun really as crazy as everybody says?

Spoilers: no.

Listen to the episode here.


Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan.

Bodart-Bailey, Beatrice. The Dog Shogun: The Personality and Policies of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. 

A solid Japan Times article on Tsunayoshi’s reign.

Some excerpts from the Greater Learning (Da Xue/Daigaku) for the curious.


Engelbert Kaempfer’s depiction of a daimyo’s retinue in Japan. Kaempfer’s depictions are some of the best non-Japanese sources for the high water mark of Edo life.

Engelbert Kaempfer’s books on Japan — like this one here — were among the first to provide Westerners with firsthand knowledge of the country. Kaempfer met Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, and thought highly of him as a ruler.

Tsunayoshi at the height of his power as the 5th shogun of the Tokugawa.

Episode 133 – The Fall of the Samurai, Part 16

This week: the “short-lived” part of “the short-lived Ezo Republic” comes to fruition, and what is now Meiji Japan begins dealing with a new issue. Now that the Tokugawa are finally gone, what comes next?

Listen to the episode here.


Drea, Edward. Japan’s Imperial Army: Its Rise and Fall, 1853-1945.

Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan.

Beasley, W.G. The Meiji Restoration.




The CSN Stonewall Jackson/IJN Kotetsu-maru. Commissioned by the Confederacy and built by the French, this warship was never delivered to its original purchasers. Instead, the US government sold it to the Tokugawa, but refused to deliver it after the Boshin War broke out. Instead, they ended up transferring it to the new Imperial Navy, which deployed it against the Ezo Republic.


One of the ships of the Ezo Republic navy shown here having run aground after the failed attempt to seize the Kotetsu-maru.


The Battle of Hakodate.


Another view of the battle, this one from a European sketch. The Imperial fleet is shown here blockading Hakodate.


Hijikata Toshizo died on June 20, 1869; he was the last major Shinsengumi leader left fighting. Seven days later the Ezo Republic surrendered.


The Emperor’s procession to Edo, 1868. After his arrival, the city would be renamed Tokyo, a name reminiscent of the imperial capitols of China. Image courtesy of Bucknell University.

Episode 132 – The Fall of the Samurai, Part 15

This week, we’ll cover the military campaigns of 1868. Edo will (surprisingly anticlimactically) fall, the north will rebel, and Matsudaira Katamori’s domain of Aizu will be overrun after a brutal two month siege. In the end, only the small splinter territory of the Ezo Republic will be left standing.

Listen to the episode here.


Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan.

Drea, Edward. Japan’s Imperial Army: Its Rise and Fall, 1853-1945.

Goro, Shiba, Mahito Ishimitsu and Teruko Craig. Remembering Aizu.



A map of the major engagements of the Boshin War. Note that the dates are different on this one; that has to do with the fact that around this point, the new government was switching away from the old lunar calendar to the Western solar calendar, creating some confusion about what events happen when.


This monument shows the site in modern Tokyo where Katsu Kaishu and Saigo Takamori sat down to negotiate the fate of the city.


The Shogitai, shown here defending their bastion at Kan’eiji, made a futile last stand against the loyalists. Saigo Takamori crushed them with his Western style artillery.


Troops from Sendai domain mobilize to fight the loyalists, June 1868.


Aizu samurai defending their domain. The one on the far left is a woman; many Aizu women took up arms to defend their home against the loyalist assault.


Pro-Tokugawa troops being shipped to Hakodate to join in Enomoto Takeaki’s rebellion.


The vessels of the Ezo Republic navy, depicted in part here, were the greatest asset of the Ezo Republic.

Episode 131 – The Fall of the Samurai, Part 14


In early 1868, the armies of the loyalists and the Tokugawa bakufu will clash outside Kyoto. We’ll discuss the factors that led to the Battle of Toba-Fushimi, and why what was supposed to be a walk in the park for the Tokugawa turned into a complete disaster.


Listen to the episode here.


Totman, Conrad. The Collapse of the Tokugawa Bakufu, 1862-1868.

Craig, Albert. Choshu in the Meiji Restoration.

Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan.



Omura Masujiro, the Choshu samurai next in the chain of command after the death of Takasugi Shinsaku. His lack of seniority, controversial views, and the need to bind Satsuma more fully to the alliance meant that he was not given command of the defenses of Kyoto.


Saigo Takamori would lead the defense of Kyoto. Prior to 1868, his only field experience came from the First Choshu Expedition, when he led a contingent of Satsuma troops against his future ally Choshu.

35mm original

The Toba battlefield; loyalist forces held a bridge over the Uji river against Tokugawa assault.


Another view of the Toba crossing.


Yodo Castle. The decision of the lord of Yodo to defect rather than allow Tokugawa forces to enter his keep represented the first time a fudai daimyo defected from the Tokugawa cause. It would not be the last.


Tokugawa Yoshinobu fleeing Osaka, which is shown burning behind him. Yoshinobu decided to flee to Edo rather than make a stand at Osaka.

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