My name is Isaac Meyer, and I’m a  former PhD student at the University of Washington, specializing in (surprise!) modern Japan (with sub-specializations in modern China, modern Europe, and international relations). Today, I work as a teacher at an independent school in the Seattle area.

I also have a tendency to go off on random historical tangents. One day, I decided to combine these two traits in podcast form, and thus was born the History of Japan Podcast!

Comments, questions, and hatemail can be directed to: [email protected]. Thanks for listening!

70 thoughts on “About”

  1. Commerce in 1800s?

    I am watching episodes of Ryomaden on Hulu. I recommended them to my student of Japanese studying for the JET program. I have been blown away, learning that the events that took place during the bakumatsu,directly contributed to my present life as the daughter and granddaughter of Sogo-shosha officials from Kobe, now enjoying life in Encintas, California. I did not know that Kobe was a fishing village, that grew into a port. (My father’s family came Miki, Hyogo a rural valley in the Rokko mountains behind Kobe. )

    In Ryomaden, I became more intrigued with Yataro Iwasaki, the founder of Mitsubishi.
    Until, episode 15, he is dressed in rags carrying bird cages. He gets married to a young woman who literary rescues him from a cess poll, because she was told by a psychic that her future husband will be covered in shit when she meets him. My two big teenage crushes were Ryoma and John Keats but, at midlife, this Iwasaki san is far more interesting. Hulu only has 20 episodes of Ryomaden, so I am curious to know more about Iwasaki’s rags to riches story. I would be so happy if you would podcast his life in the future.

    Also due my current interest in FOREX trading, I learned about the Dojima Rice Exchange and the invention of candlestick charts. Apparently my great-grandfather, a Miki sho-ya
    bankrupted himself, and my grandfather had turn to higher education in Kobe, and got employed by Suzuki-shoten.

    Thanks for your podcasts

    Hisa(ko) Izumi

    1. I’m actually going to be doing two more “day in the life” episodes now that I know a bit more about the Edo period than I used to, and one of them is going to be on life in Osaka specifically. Not sure when they’re going to get released (I have four other long series in the works as well) but they’re coming! Keep an eye out!

  2. Hello Isaac, I just listened to your interesting podcast on Yoshiko Yamaguchi.
    First, kudos for getting so much about her life correctly, although as you mention, only knowing about her for several weeks.
    If I may suggest, please see the below biographical link on her life; it has many pictures and items of interest to anyone wishing to know more about the actual world in which she lived.

  3. Doing well. I’ve only been listening for a month or so now (I’m up to episonde 50) and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. It’s been great to see you develop as a podcast host.

    As for me, I’ve been living in Japan for most of the past seventeen years. I’ve spent most of that in Kansai, but my first long term time here was in Kagoshima for three years and Nagoya for a year and change.

    I too studied Japanese history but didn’t follow my studies into grad school, choosing the path of ESL teaching here.

    Good luck in the future and I look forward to catching up and progressing into future episodes.

  4. Hi Issac, I just want to thank you for making this podcast. It’s very fun it listen to. I’m learning a lot. 🙂

  5. Hi Isaac,
    I’m really loving your podcasts! I’m new to the podcasts and only on episode 35 (34 was pretty depressing, but I find a lot of history is).
    You’re doing an amazing job, please don’t stop!
    I have a suggestion, you should create a youtube account upload these and add static pictures during the audio. They will cut you cheques based on the number of views.

    Best Regards,

  6. Just discovered your podcast – it is terrific! As the mom of an East Asian studies major and a son who spent a year on a fellowship in Korea, I have a lot of catching up to do.

  7. Isaac, this podcast is wonderful!! A true joy to listen to, thank you so much for your dedicated efforts – you make the world even richer.

  8. Hello Isaac!!!!

    I’m a physician-scientist training in Kyoto University. I listen to your podcast whenever I’m doing some tedious cell biology experiments. I love history a lot and your work has made my life in Kyoto even richer. I’ve been here for 2 years and every shrine, temple, castle or even unassuming alleyways now have context to me.

    I visit the US every 6 months, so I am hoping to bump into you so I can personally thank you!

  9. Hi! I love the podcast – thank you for doing it! I am a teacher and it is harder to find good info on Japanese history than for other topics (like WWI or something). I would actually like to make a suggestion – I would actually buy the transcripts to your shows if I could. I enjoy listening & taking notes but that is a time-consuming process that I can’t always do. Just a thought!
    Thanks again!

  10. Hi Isaac,

    I’m a student from SOAS and I just wanted to say that your podcasts have been extremely helpful to me and have helped me to understand everything I haven’t been able to in my lectures! Haha.

    Thank you!!

  11. Is there enough information to do a day in the life in the Heian period (or other pre-edo period thing)?

    1. Honestly, I am not sure. I have a friend who is doing some doctoral work on pre-modern Japan, and I’ve been trying to find a time when we could get together and do a Heian day in the life episode. It’s tricky, though, because she’s in a different state.

  12. Hi Isaac:

    My husband and I are going to Japan soon on business and then staying on for a couple of weeks to sightsee. I was feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to learn a respectable amount about Japan before our trip, and then I discovered your wonderful podcasts. They are an ideal introduction to the history and culture of Japan. I’m only on Episode 9, and already the names and places in the guidebooks are beginning to make much more sense. You are going to be an incredible professor — You are a natural teacher!

    Thank you for all your hard work!

  13. I just found this podcast a few weeks ago (Laszlo Montgomery recommended this podcast) and I love it! I’m currently on “An Unnatural Intimacy” and the topics are fascinating and enjoyable. Have you ever considered doing an episode on The Black Dragon Society or any of the other far right or militarist groups in Japan?

  14. Enjoying your podcast greatly. Do you have any plans for an episode on the Ainu? (Or did I miss it somewhere in the 166 existing episodes?)


  15. I have worked my way through you 175 episodes and I have enjoyed most and understand the others. Congratulations on the wedding. An 8 year engagement means on of you is a saint; I will leave it to you to determine this. Always remember: “Happy Wife, Happy Life.” I am sure that is either an ancient Chinese or Japanese saying.

    Happy honeymoon, New Year, etc. See you in the new year.

  16. I would like if every 4 episodes or so during long multipart series, you inserted a one of topic, rather than a streak of one ofs then a long multi-part on one topic. I may be in the minority though. thank you for the awesome podcast!

  17. Hi Isaac,
    Whilst 75% of occupation troops were American, us Australians + New Zealanders, Indian & Brits were also involved. Certain zones were allocated to Commonwealth control. In fact my father after specialist training in Japanese administration & culture @ U Virginia prior to the surrender ended up as Deputy Governor of Torrori Providence.
    Less noteworthy it was an Australian judge who chaired the main war trials.
    I am a great fan of your podcast.

  18. I write a lot about Japanese culture myself. I think I may have been the oriiginal Japanophile in 1980. I enjoy your historical perspective.

  19. Episode Idea or just reply with suggestions if you can!

    When going to Japan, there are all the main landmarks and shrines and such, but what cites do you think are historically significant to see in Japan if one were to visit there with an interest in the historical aspect? What are your must visit cites for a hypothetical “History of Japan” tour?

  20. The glossary reads: “Zen (禅): A sect of Buddhism brought over from Japan in the late 12th/early 13th centuries AD. The two primary schools of Zen are Rinzai (臨在), Sōtō (曹洞), and Ōbaku (黄檗), which arrived in Japan in the 17th century). ”

    Don’t you mean “brought over from China”?

    1. Hi Rich

      You are right about “brought over from China”. And Rinzai should be 臨済, not 臨在. – Sorry Isaac, seems like I’m in nitpicking mode this weekend. I’ll shut up now. 🙂


  21. Hello.
    Could you talk more about the history of Chanoyu and the men and women who shaped it? While I have learned much about Sen Rikyu and the Urasenke Tradition of Chado during my 25 years of study, I know very little about other traditions. Also, it would be also great to hear how the study of tea transformed and survived the Meiji Period and the Post WWII occupation.

  22. Hey Issac, I really enjoy the podcast. I was wondering if you were planning on doing an episode on puroresu?

  23. Hi Isaac,
    Wonderful podcast! Do you happen to have any book recommendations for history of the French revolution?

  24. Excellent Podcast!

    Would you be interested in doing episodes on history of notable Japanese corporations?

    1. I’ve definitely thought about this before; honestly, I’m just not sure where to start. Maybe something on the history of Mitsui because it’s so damn long…Mitsubishi is also an interesting one because of how linked it was to the government early in its history.

  25. I am interested in any environmental movements, or lack thereof, in Japan. I have heard of reforestation efforts during the Meiji era and after WW II. Your 200th episode touched on whaling and dolphin hunts, two pretty environmentally unfriendly activities. What has been/is the Japanese perspective on environmental preservation? Are environmental movements only characteristic of the west, and, if so, why? An episode or series on this would be very interesting to me.

    1. Your timing is impeccable! Next week’s episode is actually going to be about forest management in premodern Japan, and I’m hoping to do at least one other on postwar environmentalism. I’ve been getting big into the work of Conrad Totman lately, which is what inspired the topic; his work is a good place to start if you want to do some reading on your own too!

  26. Hi Isaac,
    I’ve been working through your podcasts and I’m really enjoying them so far. I study Chinese at university and have always been interested in Chinese history. Your podcast has helped me better understand East Asia more broadly and allow me to think comparatively about Chinese and Japanese history.

    One topic I would be really interested in learning more about is the period of Japanese control over Taiwan from 1895-1945; I have read about it into histories of China and Taiwan but I would be curious to know how the story changes when told from the perceptive of Japanese history. I think this could be a really interesting topic since it kind of sits slightly on the peripheries of Japanese history.

  27. Is this the appropriate place to pitch an episode? If so, my recommendation (based on a rudimentary search of your site, which WordPress isn’t helping) for a can’t-miss, feel-good, put-smiles-on-the-entire-family summer special is … Unit 731! But seriously:

    For years (as in, since shortwave-radio days–I am seriously ancient) I’ve been listening to “Late Night Live,” an ABC (A -> Australian) weeknight radio show. Today (25 Jul 2017) they did an interview (show page here, audio here) with an author unknown to me, Frank Walker, on a subject about which I knew a bit, the extent to which Axis war criminals were not only not pursued post-WW2, but actively recruited into the Cold War. However Walker discussed some bits that quite surprised me, including the postwar fate of Ishii Shirō: that particular bit starts ~6:15 into the audio and runs until ~11 min (i.e., length ~= 5 min), though I would recommend listening to the entire piece. (The bit at the beginning about the Germans who made filthy lucre building deathcamp ovens, then went on to make even bigger bank after the war, is also recommended … except on those grey days of the soul for which Seattle is so justly renowned 🙂 I was also unaware of the spatial extent of Ishii’s operations, having thought they were confined to Manchukuo.

    That being said, I am aware of the extent to which non-Japan-specialists can get Japanese history spectacularly wrong (here’s looking at you, Noel Perrin 🙂 so I’d appreciate a “deeper dive” into this by someone with presumably better access to the relevant literature, esp regarding the suggestion that the US recruited Ishii into its biological and chemical warfare in Korea.

  28. Hey! Your podcast was recommended to me by none other than Lazlo Montgomery while I was listening to his China History Podcast, and I have been hooked ever since!

    Having studied Fascism as an undergrad and a Master’s student, I am particularly excited for your episode on Japanese Fascism! I only just started the episode, but I already have a great feeling about it!

    On a somewhat related note, will you be doing an episode on the Black Dragon Society? Keep up the good work!

  29. You’ll have to excuse me for coming here asking for this, if would be possible to one day produce a podcast that talks about Yae Niijima (the way you finds best and more interesting).
    After following The Chinese History Podcast I wanted something similar about Japan and found this one. Listen to only two episodes now (about japanese diaspora) and liked and because I know that a suggestion takes time even if accepted I’m asking this now in advance while I follow and listen to the past episodes .

  30. I was having a discussion with someone yesterday about your Yakuza episodes where you mentioned there was a legal cap on the number of practicing lawyers in Japan. Is there a source I could follow up on that and learn more? Thank you kindly.

  31. I’ve heard you ask for topics we would love to here. One I would enjoy listening to is an episode on the rise of sushi and maybe a few other popular Japanese foods that have taken the world by storm. I’ve heard bits on how sushi came to be and also the practitioners of that art who has taken it to a true art form. One such influential sushi chef I know of is Jiro Ono. (Look up the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” to see what I mean.) Thanks for this cool podcast and for all the work you put into it.

  32. Hello,
    Firstly, thank you for your wonderful contribution to the world of podcasts. secondly, is there any chance if a Mishima Yukio episode in our future?

  33. Hello Isaac

    Episode 246: you got the pronunciation of Engelbert Kaempfer’s name perfectly right, no “Entschuldigung” needed. What used to be in Kaempfer’s day Westphalia, however, is in what is today the Federal Republic of Germany. The German Democratic Republic was “East Germany”, the Warsaw Pact member that disappeared in the 1990 unification of East and West Germany.

    As always, thanks for the work

  34. Hi Issac,

    I really enjoyed Englebert Kaempfer podcast! Question, have you done a podcast focusing on the Meiji Restoration/Bakamatsu?

    Keep up the great work!

    1. I have! There was big ol’ one a few years ago. Fall of the Samurai was the title, I think. Somewhere in the early 100s?

  35. Is it just me or are others struggling to get access to the full set of podcasts? Fantastic podcast – just don’t want to miss any.

  36. What do you think of this review?

    “The Warlords”
    by AJP Taylor, 1977
    §6: Warlords Anonymous [review]
    Japan’s war 1941-45 (today’s book review) was, arguably, a just one of self-defence, in contrast to Hitler’s savage attempt at revenge for WWI.
    In 1853 the European colonial empires lined up Japan as their next target when Perry blasted his way into Yeddo bay. With great resilience and ingenuity and with no protective tariffs, the Japanese modernized and industrialized. During this time, the Europeans taught Japan that aggressive expansion paid. In China, the French seized Kwangchow, the Germans Tsingtao, the English Hongkong, the Russians the whole of Outer Manchuria . . . but when the Japanese took Port Arthur in 1895, Germany and Russia protested China’s territorial integrity. They bullied Japan into returning it. Yet, two years later in 1897, Russia seized it, together with Inner Manchuria, with impunity. Japan learned the lesson. In 1905 they defeated the Russians and took Port Arthur back and the Russians were expelled from Inner (Chinese) Manchuria. Their surprise attack was modelled on Nelson’s 1809 attack on Copenhagen and hailed by the British as “daring”. It was also internationally noted that Japan’s chivalrous treatment of PoWs was a model of humanity.
    American mediation in 1905 denied Japan any indemnity for the war. Outer (Russian) Manchuria was left to the Russians. Only on Sakhalin (an island that had been Japanese since 1807 but taken by the Russians in 1860, along with Outer Manchuria from China) were the Japanese ceded its southern half (which they called Karafuto), leaving the Russians in possession of the oilfields in the northern half of the island. After the next war, WWI, despite being an ally, the Japanese were not treated as equals and, in 1924, America applied strict immigration rules against them but not against Europeans. Again, in the chaos of the Russian revolution, Japan retrieved northern Sakhalin and occupied the Outer Manchurian coast opposite but they were forced by the Americans to return all to the new Soviet empire, in contrast to Wilson’s cavalier treatment of European territories. His egalitarian pronouncements thus oozed hypocrisy in Japanese ears.
    When the world economic crash came in 1929, the European powers jealously guarded their colonial empires for their own goods. As for the USA, the whole of the North and South American continents were regarded as its economic empire, plus a sizeable portion of the East Indies (the Philippine Islands, erstwhile Spanish). What was Japan to do? The rest of the East Indies were mostly Dutch, Siberia was retained by the Russians, Indochina by the French and Australia and Canada were virtually British or American private markets.
    Twice denied a fairly won market in Manchuria by the Americans, and excluded from all other surrounding markets, the Japanese sought to create an empire modelled on the Europeans’ by assisting the return of the Manchu emperor to power in Chinese Inner Manchuria in 1931. England and America objected despite following similar policies over the previous century. They could, of course, afford to be charitable towards China, having carved out such huge empires elsewhere. And of course, it wasn’t charity: it was aimed at an economic competitor: Japan. Japan saw this as the pot calling the kettle black and no different from Germany and Russia’s behaviour in 1895-1897. Added to America’s insult of 1924, it’s no wonder Japan ignored such humbug and left the League of Nations. As Japan’s pursuit of its own economic sphere continued, America’s alarm at possible competition grew.
    In 1940, with France occupied by Germany, Japan took over French Indochina more or less by default but, again, the Americans objected and, in September 1941, America decided to blockade Japan. Now Japan, like Britain, is an island nation, but even more dependent upon imports because it lacks natural resources such as coal and oil. On all occasions when we have been blockaded, it has been considered an act of war. Today, if blockaded, neither Britain nor Japan could survive much more than three months. So when, three months later in December 1941, Japan attacked the Americans in Hawaii, no-one should have been surprised, least of all the consistently hostile Americans. The attack was modelled on that of 1905, which in turn was the concept of Nelson in 1809: ‘daring’ yesterday, ‘treacherous’ today.
    Japan lost and their military leaders were treated as war criminals just half a century after we had extolled their similar action in Manchuria. Militarism is wrong but the Japanese had no monopoly of it and, ironically, the Americans are now pressing the Japanese, against their better judgement, to rearm.
    As far as they could, the Japanese resisted, then rode, the tides of history. Within a generation from the ashes of 1945, the Japanese steered their burnt-out, atom-bombed, over-populated, bankrupt, fuel-less country to being one of the foremost nations in the world.
    So it’s Catch-22: if you fight for an empire with its automatic market, you’re a militarist. If you eschew war and try to trade peacefully to prosperity, you again hit protectionist walls such as the EU or the USA. I’ll be buying Japanese wares. Aside from being the best engineered, they’ve earned the trade.

  37. Hello Isaac
    Allow me to stay that I am a huge fan and love the way you research, structure and present the show.
    One thing, I have only recently started listening to the podcast and am still busy with the series on the Fall of the Samurai. Having said that, can we expect any content on the Heian period and other Japanese history from the deep past? Would be fascinating.
    Thank you for your efforts with this podcast, love it.
    Yours ever
    Dylan (South Africa)

    1. Thank you for the kind words! I haven’t done a lot on the Heian era because it’s not really my specialty, but I do want to do some more (at least on Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu, if only because I have a fondness for them). I will also be doing some more work on the Muromachi period at some point as well.

  38. Hi Isaac,

    I have been a big fan of your podcast for years, and I love all the episodes you put out there for all of us to listen, and from which I learn on a weekly basis. Your dedication is remarkable and much appreciated by me and so many others. By any chance, do you recommend any documentaries (on amazon, hulu, netflix, or other platform) about Japanese history? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for all your hard work through the years, and good luck in the future. I look forward to hopefully many more years of your outstanding podcast. -Andrew Kavros

  39. Dear Isaac,
    I have just discovered your podcast two weeks ago and I would like to thank you for the time and the dedication that you put in it.
    So far I have cherry-picked a dozen episodes based on my interests and all of them were very interesting and well thought.
    I would also like to point out the fact that you are very easy to understand for a non native English speaker like me (I’m French).
    Keep up the good work.
    Kind regards,

  40. Stumbled onto the podcast after I learned I was moving to Japan. Are there plans to shift the episodes towards the olympics this summer? Either way, I look forward to listening …

    1. I’ll do at least a few! Possibly other sports related ones; been thinking about a J-league baseball episode at some point.

  41. I spotted the deliberate error in today’s episode. Ibsen was Norwegian, not Danish. I’m still enjoying the show, never miss an episode. Thanks

  42. Why “former” PhD student? Did I miss the news in one of the podcasts? Are you done with higher ed for good? It seem like someone should offer you an honorary doctorate for all your research on the show(s).

    1. I did end up leaving academia simply because of issues with funding for research and just generally low pay. I teach at a private high school now, which I really love because I always preferred teaching to pure archival research. At some point, if there’s interest, I might do a whole thing on that process, but for now just rest assured that I am happy with my choice!

  43. Hi Isaac! Love your podcast and I am slowly making my way through the 400-odd episodes! For a new beginner to Japanese History, are there any books you would recommend to compliment your podcast?

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