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History of Japan
This podcast, assembled by a former PhD student in History at the University of Washington, covers the entire span of Japanese history. Each week we'll tackle a new topic, ranging from prehistoric Japan to the modern day.
6 days ago
Episode 349 - The Rising Sun Will Come to Us From Heaven, Part 1
This week, we're turning our attention to Christianity in Japan after the "Christian Century." Despite its status as a minority religion in Japan, Christianity has had a major historical impact on the country. How did this happen? We'll start this week by looking at the Christian persecutions which destroyed the communities built by European missionaries in the 1500s. Show notes here.
Jul 24, 2020
Episode 348 - By the Sun and Its Brightness
This week, we cover the short yet fascinating history of Islam in Japan. What factors led to a connection between the Islamic world and Japan? Who led the efforts to build bridges between the two? And why is the history of this relationship so generally unknown? Show notes here.
Jul 17, 2020
Episode 347 - Blackness in Japan, Part 5
This week, we wrap up the series with a look at black history during the Occupation and Postwar eras, with some final thoughts on the series as a whole. Show notes here.
Jul 10, 2020
Episode 346 - Blackness in Japan, Part 4
This week, we turn our attention to the black experience during the war in the Pacific, and to the fascinating story of the Pacific Movement of the Eastern World. Show notes here
Jul 3, 2020
Episode 345 - Blackness in Japan, Part 3
This week, we're talking about political and cultural exchange between black communities and Japan in the 20s and 30s, as well as how one prominent black leader found himself bamboozled by Japan's pro-empire propaganda in the 1930s. Show notes here.
Jun 26, 2020
Episode 344 - Blackness in Japan, Part 2
This week, we look at Japan's relationship with blackness and black communities in the wake of the Meiji Restoration, and at the beginnings of a movement among black people to make Japan into a champion of non-white peoples. Note: this episode includes some language that may be considered dated or offensive (though no use of slurs). Show notes here.
Jun 19, 2020
Episode 343 - Blackness in Japan, Part 1
This week, we're beginning an overview of black history in Japan with a focus on the Sengoku and Edo eras, and especially the fascinating tale of Yasuke. What sources do we have for this moment of cultural contact? Show notes here.
Jun 12, 2020
Episode 342 - The Other Olympics
This week, how did the 1964 Paralympics end up in Japan? Who made it happen? And why does 1964 represent an important moment in the history of disability sports in Japan? Show notes here.
Jun 5, 2020
Episode 341 - The Femme Fatale
This week, we're focusing on the story of Ono no Komachi, a mysterious poet from the 800s whose poems were used to construct a fictional persona entirely separate from who she actually was. How did this happen? Why does it matter? And what can we learn from telling the history of a made up character? Show notes here.
May 29, 2020
Episode 340 - The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
This week, we're covering the career of one of modern Japan's spymasters: Akashi Motojiro, who attempted to build an intelligence network in Russia during the Russo-Japanese War. Why was he given this task? Did he succeed? And what lessons does his career offer in terms of the wider arc of modern Japanese history? Show notes here.
May 22, 2020
Episode 339 - Wedding Bells
Mawwiage is whut bwings us togethah, today! Today we're talking about the history of marriage as an institution in Japan. How has it changed and evolved? What customs and practices have governed it? And what do those practices look like today? Show notes here.
May 15, 2020
Episode 338 - Let the Games Begin, Part 3
This week, we finish our look at the Olympic movement in Japan with a series of discussions on the legacy of the 64 games, the Winter Olympics in Japan, and on the prospects for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Show notes here.
May 8, 2020
Episode 337 - Let the Games Begin, Part 2
This week, Japan finally gets the Olympics; but what does that really mean for Japan? What does hosting really accomplish for Japan's image, and how do the games themselves unfold? Show notes here.
May 1, 2020
Episode 336 - Let the Games Begin, Part 1
This week, we're starting a series on the history of the Olympic movement in Japan. How did Japan get involved in the Olympics? What factors drove Japanese participation? And what ever happened to Japan's first attempt to host the Olympic games -- the 1940 Olympics that never were. Show notes here.
Apr 24, 2020
Episode 335 - An Autumn Afternoon
This week, we're taking an in-depth look at the life and legacy of Ozu Yasujiro, one of Japan's most famous directors -- despite the fact that it's really only in the last decade and a half of his life that he had the freedom to make the films he wanted to make! Show notes here.
Apr 17, 2020
Episode 334 - The Spanish Flu in Japan
This week, we're talking over Japan's response to one of the greatest public health crises of the 20th century: the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19. What strategies did the government put in place to try and counter the flu, how was it treated, and what was it like for the doctors on the front lines fighting to save their patients? Show notes here.
Apr 10, 2020
Episode 333 - The Oku
This week, we tackle one of our more unique subjects. It's time to talk about an institution so secretive that most of its records were almost certainly destroyed to keep them away from prying eyes. No, it's not some secret ninja clan: it's the harem, or Oku, of the Tokugawa shoguns. Show notes here.
Apr 3, 2020
Episode 332 - Lady Kasuga
This week, we tackle the life of one of Japan's most interesting women, who rose from obscure origins to become a major power player in the early Tokugawa period: Saito Fuku, better known as Lady Kasuga. Show notes here.
Mar 27, 2020
Episode 331 - In the Beginning, Woman was the Sun, Part 3
This week we wrap this series up with a look at the changes in the feminist movement during the US Occupation of Japan, and with a look at the postwar careers of Ichikawa Fusae and Hiratsuka Raicho. Show notes here.
Mar 20, 2020
Episode 330 - In the Beginning, Woman was the Sun, Part 2
This week, we continue our exploration of the life of Hiratsuka Raicho, and add a new character to our cast: Ichikawa Fusae. How did these two women navigate the tricky waters of 1920s and 1930s Japanese politics, and what obstacles did they encounter along the way? Show notes here.
Mar 13, 2020
Episode 329 - In the Beginning, Woman Was the Sun, Part 1
This week, we start off our first ever twinned biography with a look at the early career of one of Japan's pioneering feminists: Hiratsuka Raicho.
Mar 6, 2020
Episode 328 - What a Strange Thing!
This week, we're talking about my absolute favorite poet in the history of forever: Kobayashi Issa. I promise he's great, and I don't just love him for the poop jokes. Show notes here.
Feb 28, 2020
Episode 327 - The Lockheed Scandal, Part 2
This week: what happens once the scandal goes public, and what does all this say about postwar Japan more generally? Show notes here.
Feb 21, 2020
Episode 326 - The Lockheed Scandal, Part 1
This week, we take a look at one of postwar Japan's most famous political scandals, and how the efforts of one company to revive its fortunes ended up roping in everyone from shadowy underworld figures to the Prime Minister of Japan himself. Show notes here.
Feb 14, 2020
Episode 325 - The Teijin Scandal, Part 2
This week, tensions within Japanese society explode as a simple stock purchase turns into a knock-down, drag out fight over corruption in the Japanese state. Show notes here.
Feb 7, 2020
Episode 324 - The Teijin Scandal, Part 1
This week, we tackle a political scandal from 1930s Japan to dig deeper into the question: just why did Japan's system of parliamentary government and liberal democracy, which seemed to be flourishing in the 1920s, fall apart so quickly in the 1930s? Show notes here.
Jan 31, 2020
Episode 323 - Musui's Story
This week, we're discussing the autobiography of a troublemaking, low-ranking samurai whose life didn't reshape Japan, but whose tale can tell us a lot about how our image of the samurai class matched up with reality. Show notes here.
Jan 24, 2020
Episode 322 - The Heist
This week, we cover one of Japan's great unsolved crimes: the 300 million yen robbery. How did one man steal so much cash? Why couldn't the police find him? And why are we still talking about it today? Show notes here.
Jan 17, 2020
Episode 321 - The Regent
This week, take a deep dive with me into the life of one of the regents of the Heian Era, Fujiwara no Tadahira, as we try and figure out just what it looked like to try and rule over Heian Japan on a day to day level. Show notes here.
Jan 10, 2020
Episode 320 - Minamata, Part 2
As the 1950s become the 1960s, the truth of Chisso's failure to address its problems comes out thanks to a new round of poisoning on the other side of Japan. The people of Minamata seek justice for themselves. Show notes here.
Jan 3, 2020
Episode 319 - Minamata, Part 1
This week, we're beginning a deep dive into the history of one of the most famous cases of environmental poisoning in Japanese history: Minamata disease. How did a chemical factory end up poisoning the people of a small town in rural Japan for years before anyone found out? And why, once it became clear that they were being poisoned, did it take so long for anything to come of it? Show notes here.
Dec 20, 2019
Episode 318 - Lone Wolf and Cub
This week, we're talking about one of the greatest cheesy samurai film franchises of all time. Just how did a series of films about one man and his baby mowing down legions of opponents become a pop culture legend? The story of how Lone Wolf and Cub became one of the greatest samurai film franchises ever is our final episode of 2019. Show notes here.
Dec 13, 2019
Episode 317 - Separate Ways
This week, we explore the career of the first woman to make a big splash in modern Japanese literature: Higuchi Ichiyo. We'll talk about her story, her writing, her legacy, and her tragically short career -- and I'll spend a lot of time talking about how much I hate Mori Ogai! Show notes here.
Dec 6, 2019
Episode 316 - The Entrepreneur
This week, it's time to talk backroom deals and business trickery, because we're chronicling the rise of Mitsubishi and the rags to riches story of its founder Iwasaki Yataro. Show notes here.
Nov 22, 2019
Episode 315 - The World Cast Aside
This week, we trace the evolution of Noh theater over the course of the careers of its famous founders: the father-son acting duo Kan'ami and Zeami. Show notes: http://isaacmeyer.net/2019/11/episode-315-the-world-cast-aside/
Nov 15, 2019
Episode 314 - Responsibility, Accountability, and the Imperial Throne
Since Japan just got itself a new emperor, this is a good time to go back and look at an incident from the enthronement of the last emperor -- and at a time where one local politician's comment at a council meeting ignited a national firestorm which ended with him being shot. Show notes here: http://isaacmeyer.net/2019/11/episode-314-resp…-imperial-throne/
Nov 8, 2019
Episode 313 - The Doctor is In
This week, we're going to zoom in on the kind of life that doesn't usually make the big picture history of Japan. It's time to look at the story of a single medical student during the final years of the Tokugawa era and explore everything from his education to his drinking habit, and to ask ourselves just what we can learn from such a focused examination of the past. Show notes here.
Nov 1, 2019
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.
Oct 25, 2019
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.
Oct 18, 2019
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.
Oct 11, 2019
Episode 309 - Flying High
This week: the battle against the construction of a new international airport in Chiba prefecture. Who fought against the airport, why, and how did it all go so very wrong?
Oct 4, 2019
Episode 308 - The Prisoners of Nanbu, Part 3
This week, the crew of the Breskens is freed at last. Plus some final thoughts on Tokugawa diplomacy.
Sep 27, 2019
Episode 307 - The Prisoners of Nanbu, Part 2
The Breskens crew arrive in Edo, with the question of how they are to be treated looming over them. At the same time, another group of very different Europeans arrive there as well. This week, we'll talk about the interwoven fates of both groups, and what they tell us about the concerns of the shogunate and Tokugawa Iemitsu.
Sep 20, 2019
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!
Sep 13, 2019
Episode 305 - The American Interlude, Part 2
This week, we'll cover the end of USCAR and the legacies of 27 years of foreign rule over Okinawa Prefecture.
Sep 6, 2019
Episode 304 - The American Outpost, Part 1
This week, we start off some coverage of the period of American rule over the Ryukyus, and the entwined histories of USCAR - the US Civil Administration for the Ryukyu Islands -- and the GRI, the Government of the Ryukyu Islands. How did this arrangement work? What were the issues between them? And why did so many Okinawans come to despise American rule?
Aug 30, 2019
Episode 303 - The History of the Geisha
Finally, a long overdue look at one of the most romanticized and exocitized parts of traditional Japanese culture. What are geisha? Where do they come from? Aren't they basically fancy prostitutes? And haven't I learned everything I need to know about them from reading Memoirs of a Geisha?
Aug 23, 2019
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?
Aug 19, 2019
Bonus Episode - Sakakibara Seito/"Boy A"
What's this? Another cross-posted Criminal Records episode? That's right! Check it out, and if you like it go to criminalrecordspodcast.com for more.
Aug 16, 2019
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.
Aug 9, 2019
Episode 300 - The 300th Episode!
It's a shame you can't embed gifs in the episode descriptions, because otherwise this would just be the Ron Paul It's Happening! gif. Thank you all for enjoying the show; it would not be what it is without you.
Aug 2, 2019
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?
Jul 26, 2019
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?
Jul 19, 2019
Episode 297 - As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams, Part 2
This week, we round out our look at the celebrated women of Heian Japan with two very different careers: that of the celebrated poet Akazome Emon and the recluse known either as Takasue's daughter or Lady Sarashina. Plus some final thoughts on women in the Heian era.
Jul 12, 2019
Episode 296 - As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams, Part 1
This week: the start of a two-part series on women in Heian Japan. What makes the social position of women in the Heian Era so distinct from later points of Japanese history, and from the East Asian cultural sphere more generally? How do we know what we know about the lives of women? And what can we learn from the story of one particularly badass woman: the poet and "femme fatale" Izumi Shikibu?
Jul 5, 2019
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?
Jun 21, 2019
Episode 294 - What Goes Up, Part 5
This week, the effects of the collapsing asset bubble spread as the extent of the damage caused is revealed; Japan's financial and political leaders scramble to respond, while refusing to admit the scale of the crisis. Plus, the legacies of the bubble era for Japan today.
Jun 14, 2019
Episode 293 - What Goes Up, Part 4
This week, it all starts to come crumbling down. Japan is plagued by scandals that destroy public confidence at the system right as some begin to look around and say, "hey, does this all seem a bit unsustainable or is it just me?" It's not just them.
Jun 8, 2019
Episode 292 - What Goes Up, Part 3
The Plaza Accord was supposed to fix the US-Japan relationship. How did that work out?
May 31, 2019
Episode 291 - What Goes Up, Part 2
This week, we're going to talk about life in the bubble era by looking at three snapshots of that experience: a movie, a book, and a poem.
May 24, 2019
Episode 290 - What Goes Up, Part 1
This week, we turn our attention to the 1980s. Japan and the United States find their relationship wracked by increasing tensions over political and economic relations, and turn to the solution of an agreement designed to ease the pressure of Japan's economic growth. The result? Japan's infamous Bubble Era!
May 17, 2019
Episode 289 - The Right Tool for the Job, Part 2
This week, we're going to talk about the impact that the gun had on Sengoku Era Japan, and the ways that it both reinforced and undermined the political trends of the time.
May 10, 2019
Episode 288 - The Right Tool for the Job, Part 1
This week, we discuss the history of one of the most important technologies in Japan: the gun. How did it get to Japan and spread around the country so quickly?
May 3, 2019
Episode 287 - The Drunken Demon
This week, we're taking a look at a specific oni tale, and probably the most famous one; the story of the Demon King of Mt. Oe, Shuten Doji. What's his story? How did he get punked by five of Japan's most famous warriors? And why are we still talking about him so many years later?
Apr 26, 2019
Episode 286 - On the Outside Looking In
This week we talk oni, the demons of Japanese folklore and legend. What makes oni different from Western style demons? What are some of the most famous oni stories? And how has the image of the oni changed over time?
Apr 20, 2019
Episode 285 - Rags to Riches, Part 3
This week: how did the Hojo go from the zenith of their power to utter destruction in a single generation? The answer: a difficult neighborhood, dangerous neighbors, and bad decisions.
Apr 18, 2019
Bonus Episode - Narutaki Mansuke
It's time for a b-b-b-b-bonus, from my other show at criminalrecordspodcast.com. I think you all will enjoy it; if you do, check the show out!
Apr 13, 2019
Episode 284 - Rags to Riches, Part 2
This week, we will talk about the innovations the Latter Hojo used to secure their dominance, and about their long war against one of the great clans of the Kanto, the Ogigayatsu Uesugi.
Apr 6, 2019
Episode 283 - Rags to Riches, Part 1
This week, we start a series on one of the also-rans of the Sengoku period: the Latter Hojo clan. Who were they, and where did they come from, and why is their first leader sometimes considered the first of a new breed of samurai warlord?
Mar 30, 2019
Episode 282 - The Brothers Soga
This week, we cover one of the most famous tales of revenge in Japanese history: that of the two Soga brothers, Goro and Juro. What do we know of the original story, and how did it morph into one of the most famous tales ever told in Japan?
Mar 23, 2019
Episode 281 - The Fool of Owari, Part 2
This week, we cover the remainder of Oda Nobunaga's rise to power: his wars for control of central Japan in 1570, his cleverness as a ruler, his brutal reign, and his eventual death at the hands of one of his most trusted retainers.
Mar 17, 2019
Episode 280 - The Fool of Owari, Part 1
Apologies for the delayed publication, all! Slight technical hiccup on my end. This week, we turn to the life and legacy of the first of Japan's three unifiers: the warlord Oda Nobunaga, who expanded his domains from part of a backwater province to 1/3rd of all Japan in just a few decades. Who were the Oda? Where did they come from? And how did Nobunaga go from a nobody to a major force in Japanese politics in just a few years?
Mar 9, 2019
Episode 279 - The Prince of Thieves
This week, we consider a figure who appears in two stories from the ancient collection of tales known as the Konjaku Monogatari: the bandit chief Hakamadare. What do we know about him? What do the stories say about him? And what can we learn from those tales?
Mar 2, 2019
Episode 278 - The Men Who Stayed Behind
This week we investigate the role of Japan in laying the groundwork for Vietnam's wars against France and the United States. How did Japan's occupation of Indochina create the groundwork for the Viet Minh? And why did some Japanese soldiers, given the choice to return home in defeat or stay behind and fight on behalf of a country other than their own, take up the Vietnamese cause?
Feb 23, 2019
Episode 277 - The House of Cards, Part 5
This week, we arrive at the end of the Ashikaga. What were the final 100 years of Ashikaga "rule" like, and what can we take away from exploring their time as rulers of Japan?
Feb 16, 2019
Episode 276 - The House of Cards, Part 4
This week, we do a deep dive on the life of Ashikaga Yoshimasa and the lead up to the Onin War, the conflict that traditionally marks the end of Ashikaga rule over Japan. But how fair is it to point to Onin as a break with the past?
Feb 9, 2019
Episode 275 - The House of Cards, Part 3
This week we turn away from politics to discuss religion, art, and the economy during the age of the Ashikaga. Why is this era such a moment of societal flourishing despite the constant warfare and instability of Ashikaga rule?
Feb 2, 2019
Episode 274 - The House of Cards, Part 2
This week: war in the Ashikaga age. Plus; the reign of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu is generally considered the zenith of Ashikaga prestige, but why was his power built on such shaky foundations? Once the Ashikaga had seized control of Japan, how did they go about actually governing it?
Jan 26, 2019
Episode 273 - The House of Cards, Part 1
This week we start a multipart series on the Muromachi period and the reign of the Ashikaga family. How did they come to power? Why is their government generally described as so weak? And how, despite that weak government, did they win a 60 year war for control of Japan?
Jan 19, 2019
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?
Jan 12, 2019
Episode 271 - You're Going on the List
This week, we cover the fascinating tale of Sei Shonagon and the Makura no Soushi, or Pillow Book. Why is a collection of anecdotes considered to be one of Japan's greatest literary classics? What mkes the Pillow Book so famous? And why does Isaac love it so very much?
Jan 5, 2019
Episode 270 - A Brief and Fleeting Dream
This week, we cover the life and work of one of Japan's most famous authors: the 11th century courtier Murasaki Shikibu. Why do we know so little about who she was? What inspired her to write Genji? Why do I dislike her work so viscerally? And how did it become so famous?
Dec 22, 2018
Episode 269 - The Revolution Will Not Be Live
This week, we cover the little-known "Chichibu Incident," an uprising against the Meiji government in 1884 that saw several thousand people take up arms against the state. Where did it come from? How did the rebellion fare? And what is its connection to the broader trends of Japanese history?
Dec 15, 2018
Episode 268 - The Right Thing for the Wrong Reasons
Today, we cover one of the most unusual stories of WWII: the policy of saving and protecting Jews pursued by some among Japan's military leadership. How did anti-semitic ideas about a global conspiracy convince some in Japan that the Jews could be their allies? How many were saved? And what does it all mean?
Dec 8, 2018
Episode 267 - Do Not Give Up Your Life
This week, we cover poet and political activist Yosano Akiko in her drift from icon of the political left to polemicist for the ultranationalist right. What kind of life trajectory drives a person that way? Why did she follow that path? And why did she write so many poems about breasts?
Dec 1, 2018
Episode 266 - In the Realm of the Gods
This week, we take a look at the bizarre history of a single text -- Senkyou Ibun, or Strange Tidings from Another World -- and the two people responsible for creating it: the famous scholar Hirata Atsutane, and a boy named Torakichi who claimed to have lived in Japan's spirit world.
Nov 17, 2018
Episode 265 - The House Always Wins
This week, we cover the life of real estate mogul and international gambling sensation Kashiwagi Akio. Who was he? How did he become an internationally famous gambler? Why was he mysteriously murdered? And how the hell does none other than Donald Trump fit into this?
Nov 10, 2018
Episode 264 - The Man of Legend
This week, we cover the story and legacy of the great warrior Kusunoki Masashige. Why does he have the unique distinction of a statue on the grounds of the emperor's palace in Tokyo? What do we actually know about him?
Nov 9, 2018
Special Bonus - Criminal Records: Sada Abe
As a surprise bonus, here's an episode of my new show Criminal Records on one of Japan's most fascinating criminal cases. Fair warning: this episode includes some graphic content!
Nov 3, 2018
Episode 263 - Their Eyes Were Watching the Gods, Part 2
This week; Oomoto's zenith and fall from grace. Plus, what have we learned from all this?
Oct 27, 2018
Episode 262 - Their Eyes Were Watching the Gods, Part 1
This week, we tackled the origin of one of Japan's new religious movements: Oomoto, or The Great Origin. Where did it come from, and how did the unique combination of two very different people with the right set of circumstances lead it to prominence?
Oct 20, 2018
Episode 261 - The City that Never Sleeps, Part 4
This week, we cover postwar Tokyo as it recovers from the devastation of war in remarkable time, and take some time to think about what we've learned from the history of Japan's most central city.
Oct 13, 2018
Episode 260 - The City that Never Sleeps, Part 3
This week: the Great Kanto Earthquake, the firebombing campaign, and Tokyo during the Occupation.
Oct 6, 2018
Episode 259 - The City that Never Sleeps, Part 2
This week, from Edo to Tokyo: how the shogun's city became the emperor's!
Sep 29, 2018
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?
Sep 22, 2018
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.
Sep 15, 2018
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.
Sep 8, 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.
Sep 1, 2018
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.
Aug 25, 2018
Episode 253 - The Beautiful Island, Part 2
This week: now that Japan has conquered Taiwan, what are they actually going to do with it?
Aug 19, 2018
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?
Aug 11, 2018
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?
Jul 28, 2018
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?
Jul 21, 2018
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!
Jul 14, 2018
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?
Jul 7, 2018
Episode 247 - Edokko
This week, we're very lucky to have a chance to speak with Mr. Isaac Shapiro. Mr. Shapiro grew up in wartime Japan, and shares his experiences here with us today. You can check out his book, Edokko: Growing Up a Foreigner in Wartime Japan on Amazon!
Jun 30, 2018
Episode 246 - There and Back Again
This week, we cover the story of Engelbert Kaempfer, who wrote one of the most thorough and best known accounts of Japan for Western consumption before the Meiji era. How did this random German dude end up in Japan? What did he write about it? What did he think of it? And why do we care?
Jun 23, 2018
Episode 245 - The Summer of Rage, Part 2
This week, we cover the Miike coal mine strike of 1960. As labor and management do battle over the future of the mines, how will the future of the country be shaped by their clash?
Jun 16, 2018
Episode 244 - The Summer of Rage, Part 1
This week, we look at the contentious summer of 1960, in which the disputes of postwar Japan boiled over into some of the most intense protests in the country's history. How do these conflicts shape modern Japanese society?
Jun 9, 2018
Episode 243 - Heavyweights
This week, the origins and history of Sumo.
Jun 2, 2018
Episode 242 - Castaway
This week, the story of Nakahama Manjiro, the castaway turned American whaler turned gold miner turned samurai turned English professor.
May 26, 2018
Episode 241 - All in the Family, Part 3
This week, we conclude our up close look at the Shimazu family and Satsuma domain with a consideration of how the domain fit into Edo society, and its position in modern Japan.
May 19, 2018
Episode 240 - All in the Family, Part 2
This week, we cover the sengolu era history of the Shimazu clan, and their meteoric ascent from minor lords to major ones in the span of a few decades. Plus, the Tokugawa and the Shimazu, the role of sugar in the Shimazu clan's fortunes, and the invasion of the Ryukyu islands. It's a packed episode!
May 12, 2018
Episode 239 - All in the Family, Part 1
This week, we start a short series on the history of one of the most influential fiefdoms in Japanese history (Satsuma) and the family who ruled it (the Shimazu). How did this little chunk of land on the edge of Japan grow to national importance?
May 5, 2018
Episode 238 - Hell is Empty
This week, we tackle the evils of Unit 731 -- its history, its experiments, and its ultimate escape from any real justice.
Apr 28, 2018
Episode 237 - Princess, Lover, Soldier, Spy
This week, we take on the scintillating story of the Manchurian princess Kawashima Yoshiko, who grew up in Japan before becoming an agent for Japanese intelligence.
Apr 21, 2018
Episode 236 - Never Look Away
This week, we discuss the career of Japan's most legendary director, Kurosawa Akira. From humble, middle class beginnings, our story will take us through some of his most notable films, and include detours into the lives of Mifune Toshiro, George Lucas, and even Francis Ford Coppola!
Apr 14, 2018
Episode 235 - Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
This week: the story of a relatively unimportant man who appears briefly and dies spectacularly, and the long chain of events that led to those moments. Politics, betrayal, war, and a dog -- what's not to love?
Apr 7, 2018
Episode 234 - The Oldest Profession
Note: Since this week we're talking about the sex trade, I've taken the precaution of giving this episode an explicit tag. However, it does not include any more language than usual; it's just a precaution because iTunes can get pretty finicky about this stuff. So with that in mind, let's get down and dirty into the world of prostitution!
Mar 24, 2018
Episode 233 - A People Apart
This week, we tackle the history of the Burakumin. Where did this outcast group come from? Why does discrimination against them remain an issue? What steps has the government taken to protect them, and what steps have they taken to get organized and push back? AMA link here.
Mar 17, 2018
Episode 232 - A Thief in the Night
This week, we spend an entire history podcast talking about someone who may not even have actually existed -- the legendary thief Ishikawa Goemon. The live link for the AMA is: https://whatpods.com/ama/history-of-japan/.
Mar 10, 2018
Episode 231 - The Measure of an Emperor, Part 6
This week, we wrap up the life of Japan's 124th Emperor. What, in the end, did it all mean?
Mar 3, 2018
Episode 230 - The Measure of an Emperor, Part 5
How does a man raised to be a military autocrat become a democratic emperor in just a few short years? Or is that even possible?
Feb 24, 2018
Episode 229 - The Measure of an Emperor, Part 4
This week: Hirohito goes to war. What did he know, how much did he direct things himself, and ultimately, how much responsibility does he bear for the greatest cataclysm in the history of East Asia?
Feb 10, 2018
Episode 228 - The Measure of an Emperor, Part 3
This week, we take a look at Hirohito's life before World War II. What kind of ruler was Japan's new emperor when the chips came down?
Feb 3, 2018
Episode 227 The Measure of an Emperor, Part 2
Young Hirohito goes on trips, serves his first turns in politics, and gets married! Join us as we look at the future emperor's first steps into the life that he never really had a chance to choose for himself.
Jan 27, 2018
Episode 226 - The Measure of an Emperor, Part 1
Today, we dive into the boyhood of Emperor Hirohito. What's it like growing up always knowing that your life is a political tool? How do you process your middle school principal killing himself in a show of loyalty to your grandfather?
Jan 20, 2018
Episode 225 - Breaking the Bank
This week, we cover a famous caper that probably sent an innocent man to jail for nearly 40 years. There's poisoning, plotting, and conspiracy galore as we discuss the Teigin Incident.
Jan 13, 2018
Episode 224 - Crime and Punishment, Part 2
This week, we cover the features of modern Japanese policing, from the friendly face of the koban police boxes to the harsh realities of Japan's rules on interrogation.
Jan 6, 2018
Episode 223 - Crime and Punishment, Part 1
This week: how has Japan been policed? Was there really such a thing as a samurai cop? Was their hair as good as the samurai cop from the iconic 1991 film? And how did policework in Japan change after the Meiji Restoration? We will answer all but one of these questions; I leave it to you to guess which one.
Dec 16, 2017
Episode 222 - The Dog Shogun
This week: was Japan's 5th Tokugawa shogun really as crazy as everybody says? Spoilers: no.
Dec 9, 2017
Episode 221 - The Monster with 21 Faces
This week, we cover a crime wave that shocked 1980s Japan, and proved that postwar society was perhaps not quite all it was cracked up to be. Also, there's a lot of poisoned candy.
Dec 2, 2017
Episode 220 - The All Seeing Eye
This week, we investigate the great Zen master Dogen, who was something of an eccentric in his own time but remains one of the greatest Buddhist thinkers in Japanese history.
Nov 25, 2017
Episode 219 - The Red Dawn, Part 3
Turns out, getting involved in a land war in Asia really is one of the classic blunders. This week, how did it all pan out?
Nov 18, 2017
Episode 218 - The Red Dawn, Part 2
How did Japan fit into the broader framework of the Allied intervention? What were the Japanese trying to accomplish in Siberia? And who was even in charge of this damned thing? All that and more, this week.
Nov 11, 2017
Episode 217 - The Red Dawn, Part 1
100 Years ago, Japan intervened in Russia to create a buffer state against the new Soviet Union. So how did that work out? We'll start answering that question this week.
Nov 4, 2017
Episode 216 - The Scourge of the Gods, Part 7
This week: why is a military failure worth 7 episodes of our time? The legacy of the Mongol invasions of Japan, explained.
Oct 28, 2017
Episode 215 - The Scourge of the Gods, Part 6
The 1281 invasion is at the gates (or the seawall, I suppose). How will round 2 play out?
Oct 21, 2017
Episode 214 - Scourge of the Gods, Part 5
This week, we prepare for round two. How are the Japanese getting ready for another invasion, and how does that new invasion begin?
Oct 14, 2017
Episode 213 - The Scourge of the Gods, Part 4
This week, we cover exciting topics like meteorology and internal Mongol family politics! But wait, there's also a bit of Zen theology dashed in to spice things up! It's an eclectic week on the podcast for sure!
Oct 7, 2017
Episode 212 - The Scourge of the Gods, Part 3
This week I promise we'll actually get to the 1274 invasion. But first, how were the samurai who defended Japan organized, and what weapons did they use?
Sep 30, 2017
Episode 211 - The Scourge of the Gods, Part 2
This week: why did Kublai go to Japan? A quick overview of the tensions that led to the first invasion, and a look at the armies of Mongols and Chinese that would fight it.
Sep 23, 2017
Episode 210 - The Scourge of the Gods, Part 1
This week: where did the Mongol Empire come from, and who was in charge when they decided to come after Japan? Also, why is the Kamakura shogunate the most convoluted form of government in a history of convoluted governments?
Sep 9, 2017
Episode 209 - Across the Sea, Part 5
Today, we wrap our look at immigrants from Japan with a brief discussion of Nikkei communities in the Philippines and China, and with a look at Japan's own attempts to have Nikkei return "home."
Sep 2, 2017
Episode 208 - Across the Sea, Part 4
This week: why did the American government think it was necessary to round up Nikkei on the West Coast? And what did that policy mean for the people who actually lived it?
Aug 26, 2017
Episode 207 - Across the Sea, Part 3
This week, we're headed south to take a look at Nikkei communities in Brazil and Peru.
Aug 19, 2017
Episode 206 - Across the Sea, Part 2
This week, we take a closer look at early communities of Nikkeijin -- people of Japanese descent -- in the United States and Hawaii.
Aug 12, 2017
Episode 205 - Across the Sea, Part 1
This week, we begin a new series on the Japanese diaspora!
Aug 5, 2017
Episode 204 - No Peace Without War
This week we tackle the question of Japanese fascism by looking at one of Japan's foremost fascists, the authoritarian scholar Kita Ikki.
Jul 29, 2017
Episode 203 - The Old Man and the Sea
This week: one of Japan's most famous Buddhist masters, Kukai, takes center stage!
Jul 22, 2017
Episode 202 - The Old Man Mad About Art
Today we discuss Japan's greatest artistic genius, Katsushika Hokusai!
Jul 15, 2017
Episode 201 - The Green Archipelago
This week: Japan's a pretty verdant place, but how did it stay that way when so many other places were ravaged by human development?
Jul 8, 2017
Episode 200 - The 200th Episode!
All you could ever want to know about podcast recording, UW's graduate program, and why the Japanese definitely are not part of the 10 lost tribes of Israel! That and more! Thank you all for 200 great episodes!
Jun 24, 2017
Episode 199 - Fist of Legend, Part 6
In which we bring things to a close by considering the fall of the Butokukai, the spread of budo beyond Japan, the role of martial arts in the African-American community, the question of Olympic sport status, and the challenge of the UFC. It's gonna be a busy week.
Jun 17, 2017
Episode 198 - Fist of Legend, Part 5
This week: can a martial art be a philosophy of life? Can it rise to the level of a religion?
Jun 10, 2017
Episode 197 - Fist of Legend, Part 4
This week: karate comes to mainland Japan (and gets a rebrand in the process), and the Butokukai's attempts to militarize the martial arts backfire when the Americans come to town.
Jun 3, 2017
Episode 196 - Fist of Legend, Part 3
This week: the rise of judo and of the modern budo, and karate strikes back!
May 27, 2017
Episode 195 - Fist of Legend, Part 2
This week: who wants to swing a sword when you can just shoot a gun?
May 20, 2017
Episode 194 - Fist of Legend, Part 1
This week: where do Japan's traditional martial arts come from?
May 13, 2017
Episode 193 - No Country for Young Women, Part 2
This week: what are three educated women to do in a society that doesn't value their education?
May 6, 2017
Episode 192 - No Country for Young Women, Part 1
This week: the beginning of a two parter on Japan's first ever female exchange students.
Apr 29, 2017
Episode 191 - Lifting the Lost, Part 9
This week: what, in the end, did the Occupation mean -- for both the occupied and the occupier?
Apr 22, 2017
Episode 190 - Lifting the Lost, Part 8
This week: what was it like to live through the Occupation? How did people get by? And why is Kurosawa Akira objectively the greatest director ever?
Apr 15, 2017
Episode 189 - Lifting the Lost, Part 7
This week: the social reforms of the Occupation. Economic policy, education policy: it's like our very own C-SPAN screening!
Apr 8, 2017
Episode 188 - Lifting the Lost, Part 6
This week, we talk about what it took to make a peace on paper a peace in fact. With millions of Japanese civilians and soldiers scattered across Asia, what would it take to get them all home again?
Apr 1, 2017
Episode 187 - Lifting the Lost, Part 5
This week, we discuss the course of the Tokyo War Crimes Trials and their legacy in Japan. How did they go from a vision of international optimism to despised by people on both sides of the political spectrum?
Mar 25, 2017
Episode 186 - Lifting the Lost, Part 4
This week, we'll begin a discussion of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, better known as the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. Who is being tried, what for, and why?
Mar 18, 2017
Episode 185 - Lifting the Lost, Part 3
This week: where did Japan's constitution come from, and how the hell did it get done in only six days?
Mar 11, 2017
Episode 184 - Lifting the Lost, Part 2
The Occupation begins! This week, we'll set the stage with a focus on the relationship between Supreme Commander Douglass MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito.
Mar 4, 2017
Episode 183 - Lifting the Lost, Part 1
This week, we turn our attention to the US Occupation of Japan. When did Americans first start thinking seriously about taking Japan over and remaking its whole society?
Feb 18, 2017
Episode 182 - Building Better Worlds
This week, we're doing a biography of the little known Buddhist socialist Seno'o Giro. How do you reconcile Buddhism and Marx? Find out this week!
Feb 11, 2017
Episode 181 - Red Star Over Tokyo, Part 6
This week, we round out our look at the hard left in Japan. Militant communist uprisings (if less than 100 people counts as an uprising), electoral maneuvering, recycling policy -- this episode has it all.
Feb 4, 2017
Episode 180 - Red Star Over Tokyo, Part 5
This week: the Japanese left is relegated to permanent opposition status in the postwar period. How did the revolutionary moment come to this?
Jan 28, 2017
Episode 179 - Red Star Over Tokyo, Part 4
This week, the floodgates are open! The system has fallen, and the left is poised to seize power...or not!
Jan 21, 2017
Episode 178 - Red Star Over Tokyo, Part 3
Today, a specter is haunting Japan. But that specter is not communism; it's the ghost of the communist party, dead before it truly lived. This week on the podcast: how to kill a communist party in a few easy steps.
Jan 14, 2017
Episode 177 - Red Star Over Tokyo, Part 2
The revolution comes to Japan...but not really. Today we explore the birth and very rapid death of Japan's first socialist party, and the rise of its communist movement.
Jan 7, 2017
Episode 176 - Red Star Over Tokyo, Episode 1
Today, we'll turn our attention to a set of ideas that will ultimately fall flat on their face in Japan (and most other places): Marxism. How did the hard left come to Japan? And before that, what even is Marxism?
Dec 10, 2016
Episode 175 - The Great Commoner
This week, it's time for Japan's first party politician: Hara Takashi. Was he a populist hero or a wannabe elite? And in the end, does that even really matter?
Dec 3, 2016
Episode 174 - All The World's A Stage
This week, we explore the history of one of Japan's most popular art forms: kabuki theater. Major themes include prostitution, Tokugawa era morality laws, stagecraft, prostitution, and the superiority of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine over The Next Generation.
Nov 19, 2016
Episode 173 - The Maelstrom, Part 11
Today, we'll wrap up our look at the Russo-Japanese War with some thoughts on its long term consequences. How much of an impact can a war that lasted for a year and a half really have?
Nov 15, 2016
Episode 172 - The Maelstrom, Part 10
Apologies for the technical delay! Today, we'll watch Russia descend into chaos, and take a look at the peace negotiations that result as both sides realize they can't keep this war up.
Nov 10, 2016
Episode 171 - The Maelstrom, Part 9
It's time for the Imperial Japanese Navy to bail out the Imperial Japanese Army. But first, let's enjoy the Russian Baltic Fleet's Party Cruise to the Pacific!
Oct 29, 2016
Episode 170 - The Maelstrom, Part 8
In the last major land battle of the Russo-Japanese War, two great powers enter and...two great powers leave? Wait, I'm confused. How are the Japanese winning every battle and still not winning the war?
Oct 22, 2016
Episode 169 - The Maelstrom, Part 7
The Russians retreat, the Japanese advance, the losses pile up. Things are starting to get a bit worrisome for the Japanese army; could they potentially win every battle and still lose the war?
Oct 15, 2016
Episode 168 - The Maelstrom, Part 6
This week: the Port Arthur campaign, from start to finish. Wasn't this supposed to be a cakewalk?
Oct 7, 2016
Episode 167 - The Maelstrom, Part 5
The war rages on as the Japanese land in Port Arthur and press the attack, and Oyama Iwao advances north. The Russians will attempt to make a stand as divisions open up in their leadership.
Sep 30, 2016
Episode 166 - The Maelstrom, Part 4
Today, we're starting a war! The battle for Manchuria begins as Japan and Russia confront each other on land and at sea for the first time. But will the daring Japanese plan to win the war quickly pay off? Well....kind of.
Sep 24, 2016
Episode 165 - The Maelstrom, Part 3
This week -- negotiations between the two sides begin in St. Petersburg, but neither Japan nor Russia is really committed to peacefully working things out. In Imperial Japanese Army HQ, the first steps towards an actual plan for war are formulated: but how to neutralize the many advantages Russia holds?
Sep 10, 2016
Episode 164 - The Maelstrom, Part 2
This week, we're going to cover the incompatible goals that led Japan and Russia towards war. Why did each side see the other as a threat? Why was war even on the table in the first place? Can't we all just get along?
Sep 3, 2016
Episode 163 - The Maelstrom, Part 1
This week, we're turning our attention to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. In our first episode, we'll introduce our stage -- Manchuria -- and our players -- Russia and Japan.
Aug 27, 2016
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!
Aug 20, 2016
Episode 161 - Best of Frenemies, Part 7
This week, we discuss Japan's relationship with the modern day Hermit Kingdom, and to explain North Korean policy and how those policies effect Japan. It's gonna be a long ride into the web of madness that is the world's only communist monarchy, so grab your Kim Il-sung pins and strap in!
Aug 13, 2016
Episode 160 - Best of Frenemies, Part 6
This week, it's time to join the resistance. We'll trace the birth of the Korean resistance from protests in 1919 to its bifurcation into two rival movements. The first, the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, will be based in Shanghai and dominated by the charismatic American-educated Syngman Rhee. The second will be an armed anti-Japanese insurrection in Manchuria led by a man whose life is more myth than fact: Kim Il-sung.
Aug 6, 2016
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.
Jul 23, 2016
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.
Jul 17, 2016
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.
Jul 9, 2016
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.
Jul 2, 2016
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!
Jun 25, 2016
Episode 154 - Zen at War
This week: what happens when Buddhists go to war? We'll explore the relationship between the Japanese Empire and the Zen Buddhist establishment.
Jun 11, 2016
Episode 153 - The Birth of the Samurai, Part 8
This week, we conclude our series on the rise of the samurai with murder, intrigue, political reform, and gratuitous Game of Thrones references.
Jun 4, 2016
Episode 152 - The Birth of the Samurai, Part 7
The Genpei War comes to a close in this action packed episode! Kyoto will fall! The Taira will burn! Oxen will be deployed as tactical weapons!
May 28, 2016
Episode 151 - The Birth of the Samurai, Part 6
This week, we let slip the dogs of war as Japan plunges into a new phase of conflict. Though Prince Mochihito will not make it out of 1180, the rebellion he starts will catch on in eastern Japan. Young Minamoto no Yoritomo, with some prodding from his new father-in-law/captor, will rise up to assume his birthright as leader of the Minamoto (but not without some controversy).
May 24, 2016
Episode 150 - The Birth of the Samurai, Part 5
We're live, folks! Sorry for the delay. It's time for the career of Taira no Kiyomori, the man whose talent and ambition was matched only by his temper and his ego.
May 14, 2016
Episode 149 - The Birth of the Samurai, Part 4
This week: patricide, rebellions, and royal incest. Oh, also the increasing destabilization of the Heian government as ever more power falls into the hands of Taira no Kiyomori.
May 7, 2016
Episode 148 - The Birth of the Samurai, Part 3
This week: the Taira family continue their rise to prominence, the Minamoto get stuck spinning their wheels for a few decades, and warrior violence makes its way to Kyoto. All that, plus the hottest court gossip of the 1120s, this week.
May 1, 2016
Episode 147 - The Birth of the Samurai, Part 2
This week, Minamoto no Yoshiie establishes the power of the Seiwa Minamoto family, upsetting a careful balance of power. Also, he drops the hottest rhymes of
Apr 23, 2016
Episode 146 - The Birth of the Samurai, Part 1
This week, we'll be starting a short series about the advent of the samurai class. First, what came before the samurai, and why did Japan's emperors decide to devolve more and more power to provincial warriors?
Apr 16, 2016
Episode 145 - An Offer You Can't Refuse, Part 2
What does organized crime look like in modern Japan, and why does anybody put up with it? Also, how many rocket launchers can you buy with 50 pounds of amphetamines? All that and more, this week.
Apr 8, 2016
Episode 144 - An Offer You Can't Refuse, Part 1
Someday, and that day may never come, I'll call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, accept this episode as a gift on my podcast's release day. Pull off your shirt to reveal your gang tattoos, it's time for the yakuza!
Apr 2, 2016
Episode 143 - Nanjing, Part 2
This week, we talk about how views of Nanjing have shifted since WWII, and where the modern right-wing revisionists came from. Why are we still talking about a massacre from 80 years ago?
Mar 26, 2016
Episode 142 - Nanjing, Part 1
This week, we look at the events of the Nanjing Massacre. Just what happened in China's capital city in December, 1937?
Mar 19, 2016
Episode 141 - Fukushima
Today we're going to talk about Japan's relationship with nuclear power and the catastrophic events of March, 2011. Why did Japan become so reliant on nuclear energy? Why did all the safeguards in place fail so badly in 2011? And where on earth do we go from here?
Mar 12, 2016
Episode 140 - The Stars Our Destination
This week, we'll talk about the birth of the Japanese space program. From its origins as the brainchild of a former weapons designer and a borderline pyromaniac, the programs now incorporated into JAXA (the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) have accomplished some of the most amazing technical feats of the 20th and 21st century. How did they do it, and why? And what's changing now with the rise of China?
Mar 5, 2016
Episode 139 - The Soldiers of the Sun
This week: conscription in Japan. What's it like to be conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army? How are conscripts treated, and what are the goals of the conscription system?
Feb 27, 2016
Episode 138 - The Fall of the Samurai, Part 21
Aaand we're done. This week, some final thoughts on the period and its key players before we put the Meiji Restoration to bed for good! Be sure to get in touch and tell me what you thought of the series.
Feb 20, 2016
Episode 137 - The Fall of the Samurai, Part 20
This week, we turn to the final drama of our series -- the samurai rebellions that will break out in final defense of 1000 years of samurai tradition. As the group of leaders who had overthrown the Tokugawa becomes ever smaller, the final course of Japan will be set. From this point on, what the new Japan will look like will be clear.
Feb 13, 2016
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.
Feb 6, 2016
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?
Jan 30, 2016
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.
Jan 23, 2016
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?
Jan 16, 2016
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.
Jan 9, 2016
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.
Jan 2, 2016
Episode 130 - The Fall of the Samurai, Part 13
This week, we cover 1867: the final year of the Tokugawa shogunate (sort of). Caught between a loyalist rock and an imperial hard place, Tokugawa Yoshinobu will consider the unthinkable: resignation, and an end to 260 years of bakufu tradition.
Dec 19, 2015
Episode 129 - The Fall of the Samurai, Part 12
Choshu vs the Tokugawa, round 2! Only two years after being defeated by the Tokugawa, Choshu is back at war with Japan's leading family. This time, they've got far more cards to play, though. Can Choshu defeat the Tokugawa and put them into a slow death spiral from which they will never recover? Hint: yes!
Dec 12, 2015
Episode 128 - The Fall of the Samurai, Part 11
Not even a dead motherboard can stop me; 1865 is just too important for us to talk about! This week: Civil Wars, gunrunning, and important financial tips (hint: become an arms dealer) as we continue the march to the fall of the Tokugawa!
Dec 5, 2015
Episode 127 - The Fall of the Samurai, Part 10
1864 is probably the most important year in the Meiji Restoration that nobody really has heard of; the Tokugawa will come as close to winning their fight for control of Japan as they ever will, and the shishi movement will end up on the ropes. So, how did the Tokugawa stage such an effective comeback, and why did Tokugawa victories end up laying the groundwork for Tokugawa defeats down the line? All that and more, this week!
Nov 27, 2015
Episode 126 - The Fall of the Samurai, Part 9
This week, we'll move into the tumultuous events of 1863. Challenges foreign and domestic are going to upset the balance of power that has existed since the death of Ii Naosuke, and drive Japan ever closer to civil war.
Nov 21, 2015
Episode 125 - The Fall of the Samurai, Part 9
This week, we'll move into the messy early/mid 1860s and look at the doomed attempt to bridge the gap between the Tokugawa and the Imperial Court. We'll also look at the situation in Kyoto, which was growing more violent by the day.
Nov 13, 2015
Episode 124 - The Fall of the Samurai, Part 8
This week, the turbulent politics following the death of Ii Naosuke will result in the rise of one of the most famous symbols of the late Tokugawa era: the shishi, or men of spirit. These shishi groups, radicalized by the political trials of recent years, will introduce a degree of violence to Japanese politics not seen in generations, and pave the way for a fundamental change in Japanese politics.
Nov 7, 2015
Episode 123 - The Fall of the Samurai, Part 7
This week, Ii Naosuke will try to right the ship of state by any means necessary. However, his reassertion of Tokugawa authority will run into serious problems as the violence surrounding politics begins to ramp up.
Oct 31, 2015
Episode 122 - The Fall of the Samurai, Part 6
This week, we explore the beginnings of opposition against the bakufu. The Harris Treaty will prove deeply divisive, and before long two factions of daimyo will develop opposing and supporting it. Locked in a stalemate, the two sides turn to a place that had been isolated from politics for nearly 1000 years: the imperial court and its young emperor Komei in Kyoto.
Oct 10, 2015
Episode 121 - The Fall of the Samurai, Part 5
This week, we're going to stop the forward progress of the narrative and focus on two men who are going to have a large impact on the massive political realignment that's coming down the tubes, though they themselves will not live to see it: Sakuma Shozan and Yoshida Shoin. We'll use them to try to answer the question of just how radical the most radical elements in 1850s Japan really were.
Oct 3, 2015
Episode 120 - The Fall of the Samurai, Part 4
This week, we'll explore Japanese reactions to Perry and his successor, the new US Consul in Japan Townsend Harris. As the foreign powers begin to muscle their way more and more into Japan, battle lines between two opposing camps with different visions of Japan's future will be drawn. Things haven't come apart yet, but we're now officially on the road to Tokugawa collapse.
Sep 26, 2015
Episode 119 - The Fall of the Samurai, Part 3
So why did President Millard Filmore decide to send an expedition to Japan? Who exactly was Commodore Perry? And why did he have such a thing for giving people model trains? All that and more, this week.
Sep 19, 2015
Episode 118 - The Fall of the Samurai, Part 2
In this ecclectic episode, we'll finish up our quick review of the Tokugawa period with a look at three things: the various issues which plagued the samurai class by the 19th century, three of the regions that will play a key role in the fall of the shogunate, and finally the foreign crisis.
Sep 5, 2015
Episode 117 - The Fall of the Samurai, Part 1
This week, we're starting our new longest ever series on the collapse of the Tokugawa shogunate and the birth of modern Japan. This week, we're taking a look at the political situation in the Tokugawa period -- how was the country carved up by Tokugawa Ieyasu? Who ruled what, and what kind of implications did that have in terms of establishing a secure and stable nation?
Aug 31, 2015
Episode 116 - One Man Yoshida
Yoshida Shigeru was the postwar Prime Minister who helped salvage Japan's economy after WWII and set the country on the course to recovery. Today we'll discuss his background, time in office, and his influence on the course of Japan's political history.
Aug 24, 2015
Episode 115 - The Far Side of the World
This week, we cover the first Japanese expeditions to Europe. How was it decided that a group of samurai should be dispatched to Rome? Were there really samurai who were also technically knights? How scandalized were the European upper classes by the idea of chopsticks? All that and more, this week!
Aug 15, 2015
Episode 114 - The King of the Monsters
This week, we cover the rise to global fame of one of Japan's greatest cultural ambassadors: Godzilla. How did a monster designed as a metaphor about the bomb become emblematic of postwar Japan? Find out this week!
Aug 8, 2015
Episode 113 - Rain of Ruin, Part 6
In the final episode of our series on the atomic bomb, we'll talk a bit about some other theories related to the bomb before closing with some general thoughts about the bomb and what it says about how we approach and write history.
Aug 5, 2015
Episode 112 - Rain of Ruin, Part 5
This week, we look at the Revisionist critiques of the atomic bomb. Why did America use it, and was it really necessary to end the Pacific War?
Jul 25, 2015
Episode 111 - Rain of Ruin, Part 4
This week, we'll be covering the Orthodox position on the atomic bomb: the defense of the bomb as necessary in the face of Japanese unwillingness to surrender. We'll look at the original impetus for putting forth a systemic defense of the bomb as well as the basic arguments often used to defend its use.
Jul 18, 2015
Episode 110 - Rain of Ruin, Part 3
This week; what exactly happened during the final, fateful weeks of World War II? What sequence of events finally led to Japan's surrender?
Jul 11, 2015
Episode 109 - Rain of Ruin, Part 2
For our longest (non-Q&A) episode ever, we'll discuss the development of the Manhattan Project as the odd couple of Leslie Groves and Robert Oppenheimer work to complete the greatest feat of scientific engineering in history.
Jul 4, 2015
Episode 108 - Rain of Ruin, Part 1
In our first of six episodes on the atomic bombs, we start to answer an important question; where did the idea for the bomb come from? Where did people get the idea that a sufficiently large bomb would enable them to win wars from the air?
Jun 27, 2015
Episode 107 - The Lair of the Wolves
How does a nation ruled by warriors descend into over 100 years of civil war? Find out this week as we discuss the causes of the Onin War and the collapse of the authority of the Ashikaga shoguns.
Jun 20, 2015
Episode 106 - Facing Both Ways
Kato Shizue was one of Japan's earliest feminist icons. This week we'll trace her unusual rise from daughter of wealth and privilege to firebrand politician fighting for the rights of Japanese women and women everywhere.
Jun 13, 2015
Episode 105 - A Relic of Another Age
This week, we cover Japan's doomed attempt to build an undefeatable battleship in a time when battleships were no longer really the key to naval victory. That's right, it's time for the IJN Yamato!
Jun 5, 2015
Episode 104 - The Patriot
This week: did the postwar period destroy the soul of Japanese culture? Mishima Yukio certainly thought so. We'll explore his life, his career, and the unusual manner of his untimely death this week!
May 30, 2015
Episode 103 - The Path of the Righteous Man
What do you get when you cross radical Confucianism with armed samurai? Japan's first samurai rebellion since the 1630s, and a recipe for one fascinating episode. Cannons, torture, and philosophy: this episode has it all!
May 23, 2015
Episode 102 - The Episode Formerly Known as the 100th Episode
This week: your questions! What places are fun to visit Japanese? How do you learn Japanese outside of school? And does the Emperor obey traffic laws when he drives himself? All that and more today!
May 16, 2015
Episode 101 - Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains
This week, we've got our first ever interview with author and Shikoku pilgrimage survivor Paul Barach. You can find his book, Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains, on Amazon.
May 9, 2015
Episode 100 - Taiko
Toyotomi Hideyoshi rose from the lower ranks of society in just a bit over 30 years; how did he rise so far so fast, and why did the regime he built crumble almost immediately after this death? All that and more this week.
May 2, 2015
Episode 99 - The Tiger and the Dragon
This week: what does it take to be part of Japan's most infamous warlord duo? We explore the lives of Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin, their relationship with each other, and the ways in which their rivalry has been romanticized over the course of Japanese history.
Apr 25, 2015
Episode 98 - The Comfort Women
This week, we're going to discuss one of the most reprehensible aspects of a war littered with horrible acts; the system of mass sexual slavery of women euphemistically dubbed "comfort women". We'll talk about the origins and nature of the system, and the reason why it has come back to haunt Japanese politics today.
Apr 18, 2015
Episode 97 - The North Remembers
This week, we turn to Japan's "native outsiders" -- the Ainu, the aboriginal people of Hokkaido. We'll trace their relationship with the Japanese and talk about their position in modern Japan.
Apr 11, 2015
Episode 96 - The Dragon and the Rising Sun, Part 6
This week, we're turn to the modern Sino-Japanese relationship. After 1978, the communist party assumed a different form under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. How did those changes affect diplomacy between China and Japan? And what on earth happened to lead to the modern fraught relationship between East Asia's two most powerful states?
Apr 4, 2015
Episode 95 - The Dragon and the Rising Sun, Part 5
This week we explore the rise of the man who would come to symbolize, for good or ill, modern China: Mao Zedong. Who was he, how did he come out on top, and what was his relationship with his neighbors to the east?
Mar 28, 2015
Episode 94 - The Dragon and the Rising Sun, Part 4
This week we look at the Second Sino-Japanese War from the opposite angle: not those who fought, but those who collaborated. We'll discuss the titular leader of Manchukuo and the head of the "reformed" Chinese regime with an eye towards shedding some light on who collaborated and why.
Mar 14, 2015
Episode 93 - The Dragon and the Rising Sun, Part 3
This week we introduce the man who led China's war against Japan: Chiang Kai-shek. The reluctant military leader wanted no part of a war against the nation where he had trained, but the trends of the time forced him into a conflict that would eventually destroy not only Japan, but his own regime as well.
Mar 7, 2015
Episode 92 - The Dragon and the Rising Sun, Part 2
This week, we turn to the life of the father of modern China: Dr. Sun Yat-sen. How did he help turn China from an empire into a modern nation-state, and how did his paths cross with Japanese allies and enemies along the way?
Feb 28, 2015
Episode 91 - The Dragon and the Rising Sun, Part 1
This week, we're going to start our exploration of the Sino-Japanese relationship with a quick recap of the history of China's last imperial dynasty. How did China find itself in such desperate straits by the turn of the twentieth century that they were being surpassed by a chain of islands that had been irrelevant for centuries? Tune in to find out!
Feb 21, 2015
Episode 90 - Fifty Shades of Wordplay
In the late 17th century, the popular writer Ihara Saikaku produced literature for mass entertainment and consumption. He became immensely popular, and remains widely read even centuries after his heyday. We'll explore his life, career, and legacy as we ask, "just how did a man making entertainment to pay his bills become one of Japan's most celebrated authors?"
Feb 14, 2015
Episode 89 - A Day in the Life of Meiji Japan
This week we'll be going through the basics of daily life for children, women, and men during the Meiji Period. How did the tremendous changes of the Meiji Era change the way people lived and worked? This week, we'll try to sketch an outline of an answer for that question, as we cover themes as varied as compulsory educations and fistfights over the rights of prostitutes!
Feb 7, 2015
Episode 88 - The Quest for Immortality
This week; a mad emperor on a quest to live forever, and the sorcerer who led an expedition to make it happen and may just have founded Japanese civilization in the process (but probably not). It's the likely untrue but still fun and interesting story of Xu Fu!
Jan 31, 2015
Episode 87 - The Way of the Gods, Part 3
For our final episode on Shinto and the Japanese state, we'll focus on the postwar controversies of Shinto: what was the role of the emperor going to be? How would Shinto fit in the new political order? And what on earth are we going to do with Yasukuni? The answers to these questions are what give shape to much of the controversy surrounding Shinto in modern Japan.
Jan 24, 2015
Episode 86 - The Way of the Gods, Part 2
This week we move into Japan's imperial period; what was the relationship between Shinto and a government which claimed its legitimacy in part from an emperor descended from one of the kami? What was the reality of "State Shinto", and who really led the charge to integrate church and state in Japan? All that and more, this week!
Jan 17, 2015
Episode 85 - The Way of the Gods, Part 1
Jan 10, 2015
Episode 84 - A Day in the Life of Rural Edo Japan
This week, we go back to address a glaring flaw from episode 10: my total lack of discussion of the countryside. Rural life in the Edo Period involved a lot more than simply farming from dawn to sunset, and this week we'll get into exactly what it meant to be a peasant in the golden age of the samurai.
Dec 27, 2014
Episode 83 - Reform Without Sanctuary
Koizumi Junichiro was quite possibly the most successful Prime Minister Japan has had for decades (and certainly the best dressed). This week, we'll trace the rise of his career, his goals while in power, and the impact of his reforms on a Japanese state sometimes thought to be irreformable.
Dec 20, 2014
Episode 82 - The Shadow Shogun, Redux
After the fall of Tanaka Kakuei, one man has become known as the heir to his tradition. One man has attempted to manipulate the flow of politics in order to either serve as a populist champion for Japan or embody the worst of the Japanese political process (depending on who you ask). His name is Ozawa Ichiro, and he is our topic for this week.
Dec 13, 2014
Episode 81 - The Great Treason Incident
In 1910, an anarchist plot to assassinate the Meiji Emperor was uncovered. Seizing the opportunity, conservatives in the government pounced in to arrest 26 anarchists. The background of this confrontation between the government and the radical left, the trials themselves, and their modern legacy are our topics this week.
Dec 6, 2014
Episode 80 - The Great Gamble
This week -- and if you're getting this on release day, 72 years and 364 days later -- we're going to discuss the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as well as its architect, the iconoclastic Japanese admiral Yamamoto Isoroku. Who was this man who came up with a bold plan to disable the entire US Navy in one shot? What was he thinking when he put this plan together? And why, in the end, did he have no prospect of victory?
Nov 29, 2014
Episode 79 - The Bismarck of the East
Our topic this week is the life and legacy of one of Japan's greatest political leaders: Ito Hirobumi, author of Japan's first modern constitution. Born into a low-rank samurai family in Choshu, Ito would wear many hats in his life: radical, terrorist, student, diplomat, leader, and finally -- and fatally -- as the face of Japanese dominance in Korea. His life and his legacy are central to the story of modern Japan.
Nov 22, 2014
Episode 78 - The Sage of Mita
Our topic this week is the Meiji intellectual Fukuzawa Yukichi. From the second son of a poor samurai family he rose to be one of Japan's most prominent intellectuals, and helped define what it meant for Japan to be a modern country. His influence was tremendous, but it also had a darker side; in his works lie the kernel of what would later become Japanese imperialism and ultra-nationalism.
Nov 15, 2014
Episode 77 - Hidden by the Leaves
Our topic this week is Hagakure, one of the best known works on bushido ever written. Where did it come from? What is its purpose? What is its legacy? All that and more, this week!
Nov 8, 2014
Episode 76 - The Ten-Thousand Leaves
We're turning our attention this week to Japan's first classic of poetry: the Man'yoshu, or the Collection of Ten-Thousand Leaves. We'll trace the origins of the work as well as its cultural impact through the ages, and talk about why it is we should care about a bunch of poems some of which date back to times contemporary with the Roman Empire.
Nov 1, 2014
Episode 75 - Kwaidan
This week, we're going to take a look at the collection of supernatural stories published by American author and journalist Lafcadio Hearn, called Kwaidan. We'll look at Hearn's life and how he came to Japan, and also discuss the nature of one of the creatures he describes: the yuki onna, or snow woman. We'll close with a reading of Hearn's story on the yuki onna.
Oct 25, 2014
Episode 74 - Taira no Masakado
We'll be taking things back to the Heian Period this week for the story of the great rebel Taira no Masakado. His rebellion, however, is only half the story -- after he dies, things get very interesting indeed...
Oct 18, 2014
Episode 73 - The Slow and Steady Step, Part 2
After his defeat at the hands of Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu will lie low for a decade or so, biding his time. However, when the opportunity presents itself with Hideyoshi's death and the succession of his young heir, Ieyasu will strike at last, and gamble everything for one more shot at power.
Oct 11, 2014
Episode 72 - The Slow and Steady Step, Part 1
This week, join us for part one of the life of Tokugawa Ieyasu. A brilliant and ambitious man, Ieyasu began his life as a hostage for the good behavior of his middling-rank family. By 1584, however, he would be in position to make his first bid for power.
Oct 4, 2014
Episode 71 - Playing the Part
This week, we're going to to talk about the life of Yamaguchi Yoshiko, the Chinese-born actress turned politician who went from propaganda actress to one of the most moving voices for Sino-Japanese reconciliation.
Sep 27, 2014
Supplemental - Zero Hour, September 14, 1944
As a supplemental to this week's episode, here's an entire episode of Zero Hour, courtesy of the Internet Archive. This episode is from September 14, 1944. If you're looking to hear some genuine old fashioned World War II propaganda, now's your chance!
Sep 27, 2014
Episode 70 - The Tokyo Rose
Note: This is a revised version to fix a technical issue with the original release This week, we're going to talk about the life of Iva Toguri, the woman most associated with the infamous (and legendary) role of the Tokyo Rose. Labelled as a traitor for her actions during the war, Toguri fought hard for her citizenship and her reputation, and was rewarded for her tenacity decades after the fact.
Sep 20, 2014
Episode 69 - An Unnatural Intimacy, Part 7
In our final episode on the US-Japan relationship, we'll bring things up to the modern day and discuss the revival of the US-Japan alliance in the 2000s. After decades of tension, today the US-Japan relationship seems closer and more natural than it has ever been. Still, where will things go from here? Only time will tell.
Sep 13, 2014
Episode 68 - An Unnatural Intimacy, Part 6
This week, we're jumping ahead to cover the 1950s through the 1980s; Japan and the United States, former foes, are now allies in the Cold War. The relationship, however, is not as smooth as it seems on the surface.
Sep 6, 2014
Episode 67 - An Unnatural Intimacy, Part 5
This week, we take the final plunge to Pearl Harbor. Backed into a corner by foolish decision-making and serious misreadings of their situation, the leaders of Japan will scramble at the last minute to avoid war, but refuse to make any serious concessions to do so. In the end, war will happen not because anyone really wants it but because no one wants to avoid it badly enough.
Aug 29, 2014
Episode 66 - An Unnatural Intimacy, Part 4
This week, we'll discuss the Second Konoe Cabinet, which was torn by indecision and plagued by bad leadership. The Japanese leadership will alienate the US by signing the Tripartite Pact, and their attempts to bridge the gap with the US will be plagued by bad management and failure.
Aug 23, 2014
Episode 65 - An Unnatural Intimacy, Part 3
This week, we'll delve into the origins of Japan's war with China and the strain that conflict placed on Japan's relationship with the US. In the course of the 9 years from the invasion of Manchuria to the second appointment of Konoe Fumimaro as Prime Minister, Japan will become bogged down in an unwinnable war and find itself facing a far more assertive United States.
Aug 16, 2014
Episode 64 - An Unnatural Intimacy, Part 2
This week, we'll discuss America and Japan's new roles as Great Powers in the 20th century. We'll discuss the reasons Japan and America came together to support the Allies in World War I, the rationale behind Japanese support for an American-dominated world order after 1918, and the early arms control and peace initiatives supported by Japan and the US.
Aug 9, 2014
Episode 63 - An Unnatural Intimacy, Part 1
This week, we're beginning a multiparter on the modern relationship between America and Japan. We'll cover the background of both countries and their relationship leading up to the 1905 Russo-Japanese War.
Jul 26, 2014
Episode 62 - New Masculine Identities and Pop Culture in 1980s Japan
This week, Sam Timinsky will be joining us for another guest podcast, covering changes in masculine identity in the wake of Japan's economic bubble and bust in the 1980s and 1990s. As a reminder, there will be no new episode next week; the week after that we will resume normal service.
Jul 19, 2014
Episode 61 - Akutagawa Ryunosuke
This week, a special guest reader will be coming on to read a script on Akutagawa Ryunosuke, one of modern Japan's foremost authors. As the script is still mine, any errors are my own; join us for a distinctly non-expert look at one of the great minds of Japanese literature!
Jul 12, 2014
Episode 60 - Women's Activism in Japan
For our first ever guest episode, an old colleague and dear friend of mine named Sam Timinsky will be coming in to discuss the history of women's activist movements in Japan. Sam does an excellent job with a very difficult topic, and this episode gives you a chance to get a different perspective from my own on modern history! Sam is a PhD student (like myself) at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Jul 4, 2014
Episode 59 - The Only Women in the Room
This week, we're covering two women whose work in the Occupation helped reshape Japan into a modern state. Beate Sirota was the Austrian-born Jewish-American woman who pushed for Japan's equal rights clauses in its Constitution, and Eleanor Hadley was a Seattle native who fought to disestablish Japan's powerful zaibatsu. We'll discuss the lives and contributions of these two incredible women.
Jun 27, 2014
Episode 58 - Motoori Norinaga
This week, we'll be discussing the most important premodern Japanese philosopher that no one has ever heard of: Motoori Norinaga, the leading light of Kokugaku (National Studies) in Edo-period Japan. We'll be covering his life, a barebones overview of his philosophy, and his impact on Japan.
Jun 20, 2014
Episode 57 - The 47 Ronin
This week, we're discussing one of Japan's most famous tales: 47 warriors without a master who, during the height of Japanese feudalism, took it upon themselves to avenge their former lord's death. In doing so, they catapulted what was a fairly obscure feud into the pages of history and legend, and remain figures of incredible popularity in Japan (and to a certain degree, the West) to this day.
Jun 14, 2014
Episode 56 - The Tea Master
This week, we're going to be talking about Japan's legendary tea master Sen no Rikyu. We'll discuss his cultural background, the reasons for his rise, his sudden fall, and his massive impact on Japanese culture.
May 31, 2014
Episode 55 - Peace in Our Time
This week, we'll be discussing the history and possible future of Article 9, the peace clause of Japan's constitution. Where did it come from? How has it been interpreted? What does its future look like? All that, this week!
May 24, 2014
Episode 54 - The Great Change
This week, we'll be talking about Japan's first great political reform: the Taika, or Great Change. We'll discuss its causes, effects, its parallels with the Meiji Restoration some 1200 years later, and its legacy -- which reaches a lot farther than you might think.
May 17, 2014
Episode 53 - The Sun Queen
This week, we're going to take a look at the first figure in recorded Japanese history: Himiko, queen of Yamatai. Despite the fact that the records on her are extremely brief, she's assumed a position of tremendous importance in our thinking about the early history of Japan. We'll look at our records of her life, and her legacy in Japanese history and self-identity.
May 10, 2014
Episode 52 - Nichiren
This week, we're going to be talking about one of Japan's most famous religious movements: Nichiren Buddhism, devoted to the veneration of the text know as the Lotus Sutra. We'll discuss the life and education of Nichiren, as well as the legacy his teachings have for Japan and the world.
May 3, 2014
Episode 51 - Aum Shinrikyo
This week, we're taking a look at the darkest incarnation of Japan's new religions: the cult known as Aum Shinrikyo. We'll discuss their background, philosophy, and the chain of events which led them to commit the deadliest terror attack in Japan's history.
Apr 26, 2014
Episode 50 - The Q&A Show
For the one year anniversary of the show, join us for an extra-long Q&A show; I'll be taking questions submitted by the audience. Thank you all for a great year, and here's to many more!
Apr 19, 2014
Episode 49 - The History of Video Games
This week, join us for a very special podcast where we talk about the rise and not-quite-fall of Japan's video game industry. We'll cover the histories of the major Japanese gaming companies, and even discuss my own very tangential involvement in Japan's video game sector.
Apr 12, 2014
Episode 48 - The Emperor's Own, Part 4
In this final segment on the rise of the imperial military to power, we'll discuss the process by which the military hijacked Japan's foreign policy and shut down the democratic process. After this was done, the army briefly turned on itself before taking the final plunge into a war with China.
Apr 5, 2014
Episode 47 - The Emperor's Own, Part 3
This week, we'll continue with our story of the rise of Japan's military to power; after the crushing of Russia in 1905, the army and navy will lose power and influence to the civilian government as political parties rise to prominence. However, storm clouds gather on the horizon as World War I convinces some military leaders of the necessity of a military state and antagonism between the armed forces and the civilian leadership grows.
Mar 30, 2014
Episode 46 - The Emperor's Own, Part 2
Join us this week for a tale of Japan's rise to military greatness, as Yamagata Aritomo situates the army and navy during the 1880s for their rise to power and prominence. Under his leadership, Japan will defeat China, the unchallenged master of Asia for millennia. However, a new threat is looming on the horizon: the colossal Russian Empire.
Mar 14, 2014
Episode 45 - The Emperor's Own, Part 1
This week, we'll be beginning our first four-part series as we look at the rise to power of the Imperial Japanese Military. We'll be tracing the military from its origins in the fall of the Tokugawa to the start of war with China in 1937. This week, we'll be covering the inception of the Imperial military, its early form, and its early trials abroad and at home as the new Meiji government struggles to solidify its hold over Japan.
Mar 8, 2014
Episode 44 - A Review of The Last Samurai
This week, we'll be going all Tom Cruise for our second media review, and discussing the actual history behind the mishmash of stories used as the background for the 2003 film The Last Samurai.
Mar 1, 2014
Episode 43 - The Great Traitor
This week, we'll be doing our second Shogunal biography. We're going to discuss the life and legacy of the man who destroyed the Hojo family, established the Ashikaga bakufu, and who was until very recently reviled as the worst traitor in Japanese history: Ashikaga Takauji.
Feb 22, 2014
Episode 42 - Awakening Asia
This week, we're going to discuss the Russo-Japanese War from a different angle; we're going to talk about the effect it had in generating nationalist movements around Asia and in breaking the spell of European invincibility. From Sun Yat-sen to Mohandas Gandhi, the Japanese victory resonated around the world, and helped shape the 20th century as we know it.
Feb 14, 2014
Episode 41 - Striking from the Shadows
This week, we're going to discuss the ninja, or at least what we can discern about them from the limited information that's out there. We'll discuss their origins, historic exploits, and the mythologization that turned them into the pop culture warriors we know and love today.
Feb 8, 2014
Episode 40 - Japan's Christian Century, Part 3
This week, we'll discuss the arrival of William Adams, the reversal of fortune for Spain and Catholicism in Asia, and the suppression of Christianity by the Tokugawa. We're also going to discuss the legacy of Japan's Christian century, and how it relates to our conception of history.
Feb 1, 2014
Episode 39 - Japan's Christian Century, Part 2
This week, we'll continue our discussion of Japan's Christian century with the high-point of Christian missionizing in Japan, starting with the arrival of St. Francis Xavier. Xavier's mission will mark the start of Christianity's spread through the islands, but within half a century the progress of the missionary movement will have halted and Japan's Christians and the powers that support them will be facing serious threats to their power and position.
Jan 25, 2014
Episode 38 - Japan's Christian Century, Part 1
This is part one of an eventual three part series on the rise and fall of Christianity in medieval Japan. This week, we'll cover the background of events in Europe and Japan, as well as the arrival of the first Portuguese traders in the country.
Jan 18, 2014
Episode 37 - Women Warriors
This week, we'll be tackling an oft-requested topic; women warriors in the samurai class. Contrary to what you might think, women were actually very active in the roughly 800 years that make up the dominant time of the samurai class. Today, we'll be discussing just a few of them and learning about their accomplishments during Japan's war-torn past.
Jan 11, 2014
Episode 36 - The Great War
We're back for the start of 2014, and to kick the year off right we're looking at this year's most significant anniversary: 1914. We'll be talking about the effects of World War I in Japan, and the ways in which it marked a turning point for Japanese policies in Asia.
Dec 21, 2013
Episode 35 - Christmas and New Years
For our last podcast of 2013, I thought it'd be fun to do something light-hearted; so let's talk about traditions surrounding Christmas and New Years in Japan. We'll cover how these holidays came to be celebrated in Japan and talk a bit about the forms they take today.
Dec 14, 2013
Episode 34 - Japan and Okinawa, Part II
This week we'll finish up our two-parter on Japanese-Okinawan relations with a look at Okinawa during the Imperial Period. We'll be focusing heavily on the bloody Battle of Okinawa, and then wrap things up by looking at the relationship between the islands and the Japanese mainland today. This week's episode is rather more graphic and violent than usual -- I could not in good conscience whitewash the battle, but I do feel I should warn those of you who might be offended by such things to pass on this one.
Dec 7, 2013
Episode 33 - Japan and Okinawa, Part 1
This week, we'll begin a two-part series on the relationship between Japan and what is now her southernmost province: Okinawa. We'll cover the founding of the Kingdom of the Ryukyus, its relationship with Japan, and finally its incorporation into the burgeoning Japanese Empire.
Nov 23, 2013
Episode 32 - The Way of the Sword in the Age of the Gun
This week, we're going to discuss the topic of swordsmanship and kendo in modern Japan. We'll talk about where modern traditions of swordsmanship came from, and why kendo retains such a popular grip on modern Japan.
Nov 16, 2013
Episode 31 - The First Shogun
This week, we're going to take a look at the man credited with one of the greatest epochal changes in Japanese history: the shift from imperial to samurai government in the late 12th century. It's time for the life and legacy of Minamoto no Yoritomo!
Nov 9, 2013
Episode 30 - A Review of Shogun
This week we'll be tackling our first media review and discussing by far the most influential piece of historical fiction ever written about Japan: Shogun, by James Clavell. Listen to the episode here, and be sure to give me feedback on this one so I can improve the style for future review episodes!
Nov 2, 2013
Episode 29 - The Great Saigo, Part 2
This week we have the second and final part of our series on Saigo Takamori, covering his rebellion against the government, his death, and his legacy. Tune in for one of the most famous stories in Japanese history!
Oct 26, 2013
Episode 28 - The Great Saigo, Part 1
This week, we'll begin another two-parter dealing with the life and death of Saigo Takamori, one of the great leaders of the Meiji Restoration. This week, we'll discuss his rise to public prominence and subsequent fall from grace. Next week, we'll turn to the rebellion that would end his life and his legacy in modern Japan.
Oct 19, 2013
Episode 27 - The Way of Yin and Yang
This week, we're discussing Onmyodo, the mystical study of divination based off of the theories of yin and yang (in-yo or on-myo in Japanese). We'll be covering the entire history of the practice, including its most famous practitioner: Abe no Seimei. We'll also be discussing the modern fate of Onmyodo and its practitioners the onmyoji.
Oct 12, 2013
Episode 26 - The History of Manga
This week, we're going to talk about the evolution of manga. We'll discuss the roots of the comic form in Japan, both Eastern and Western, and its rapid explosion in popularity after World War II.
Oct 6, 2013
Episode 25 - The Shadow Shogun
This week we will be discussing the great political wheeler and dealer of modern Japanese politics: Tanaka Kakuei. We will trace the rise of this man of the people, the heights of his power, and his eventual fall from grace, as well as discussing his political legacy. Also, there will be bizarre assassination plots involving yakuza and revenge-minded porno actors. Should be a good time.
Sep 22, 2013
Episode 24 - In Buddha's Name: The Rise and Fall of the Ikko Ikki, Part 2
We'll be wrapping up our discussion of the Ikko Ikki this week, as the unstoppable force of the militant wing of Jodo Shinshu meets the immovable objects of Tokugawa Ieyasu and Oda Nobunaga. What follows is a tale of treachery, war, and revenge worthy of an HBO miniseries.
Sep 15, 2013
Episode 23 - In Buddha's Name: The Rise and Fall of the Ikko Ikki, Part 1
For our first two-part episode, we're going to discuss the Ikko Ikki, a militant insurrection of believers in the faith of Jodo Shinshu, or True Pure Land Buddhism. We'll discuss the rise of the movement to political and military prominence during the Sengoku Era in this week's episode; next week, we'll discuss its decline and fall.
Sep 8, 2013
Episode 22 - The Way of the Warrior
For our first listener-submitted topic, we're tackling Bushido: the warrior code of the samurai class. We'll discuss the evolution of the bushido ideology, the role it played during the ages of warfare in Japan as well as during the Tokugawa, and its modern legacy in a post-samurai world.
Sep 1, 2013
Episode 21 - The Crash
For our final outline episode, we'll be tackling the origins and effects of the real-estate bubble which devastated the Japanese economy in 1991, and which so brutally halted the story of Japanese growth. In particular, we'll be focusing on the ways in which the various problems outlined last week were brought to the fore by the economic chaos of the 1990s.
Aug 25, 2013
Episode 20 - Japan as Number One
This week, we'll be talking about the height of postwar Japan during the 1970s and 1980s. On the surface, it's a time of great accomplishment when the dream of catching up to the West had finally been realizing. Looking deeper, however, we find the roots of many of the problems which would bubble to the surface during the economic troubles of the 1990s.
Aug 17, 2013
Episode 19 - Rising from the Ashes
This week, we're going to discuss the postwar strategy that enabled Japan to revive itself after World War II. In 1952, most observers believed Japan would become a mid-rank regional power on the same order as Sweden; by 1970 it was clear that would not be the case. We're going to discuss how Japan was able to rebound from defeat so quickly, and what forces propelled the massive growth of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.
Aug 11, 2013
Episode 18 - Enduring the Unendurable
This week's episode is an overview of the Allied Occupation of Japan. In just seven years (1945-1952), the Allies undertook a massive effort to overhaul Japan's politics, economy, and society. We'll discuss the ways in which they tried to do so, and briefly attempt to evaluate their success. This was a really interesting episode to write and record -- I learned a lot myself! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Aug 3, 2013
Episode 17 - He Who Saves One Life, Saves an Entire World
This week we're going to be taking another break from the forward march of history to discuss the life of a man named Sugihara Chiune. Sugihara worked as a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs prior to World War II, and in 1940 he gave up his career in order to save thousands of Jewish refugees from the Nazis. We'l discuss who Sugihara was, what he did, why he did it, and why I think he's worth remembering.
Jul 28, 2013
Episode 16 - And Then the War Came
We've arrived, finally, at the Pacific War -- this week, we'll be charting the course Japan took to war, briefly summarizing the cours of said war, and then discussing how the war ended.
Jul 21, 2013
Episode 15 - The Homefront
This week, we'll be discussing domestic developments in Japan, and the path by which a reasonably (if not totally) liberal democracy in the 1910s and 1920s morphed into a military dictatorship in the 1930s. We'll talk about the various means by which the military grew its influence, and how it was able to use violence to cow the civilian government.
Jul 14, 2013
Episode 14 - The Course of Empire
Our podcast this week will turn to the subject of Japanese foreign policy from the end of the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 to the middle of the war against Nationalist China in 1940. We will cover the Russo-Japanese War, the steady split of the military away from the rest of the government, and the radicalization of Japanese policy towards China, culminating in the decision to launch a foolish and counterproductive war in 1937.
Jun 30, 2013
Episode 13 - Take Me Out to the Shiai
This week, it's time for a story of triumph and tragedy, racism and acceptance, international relations, and most importantly: baseball!
Jun 16, 2013
Episode 12 - Civilization and Enlightenment
This week, we're going to cover the early Meiji Period (1868-1900 or so). We'll be covering a wide range of topics, ranging from international relations to politics to social developments. This is one of the most interesting and tumultuous periods in Japanese history, and I hope you find it as engaging as I do!
Jun 9, 2013
Episode 11 - The End of an Era
This week, we'll be talking about the period called the Bakumatsu, or the end of the Bakufu. We'll be tracing a complex, but very interesting narrative describing how the Tokugawa went from masters of all they surveyed to defeat and destruction in a mere 15 years. Man, that sounds really gloomy. I promise there are fun bits too!
Jun 2, 2013
Episode 10 - A Day in the Life of Edo Japan
This week, I'll be talking about the life of the average city-dweller in the Edo Period. This is a very wide-ranging episode, covering everything from the schools in which young samurai were trained to the kabuki-based prostitution which those same young samurai were absolutely forbidden to patronize (not that it stopped them). I have to say, of all the episodes I've finished up to this point, I've enjoyed writing this one the most. I hope you guys like it too!
May 26, 2013
Episode 9 - Pax Tokugawa
This week we will be covering the social and political structure of Edo Japan. There's a lot of interesting material to go through, ranging from the social system (hint: it's good to be a samurai [but not as good as you might think]) to the foreign relations of the bakufu (which mainly involved making Dutch people do hilarious things for their amusement). Enjoy!
May 17, 2013
Episode 8 - The Three Unifiers
This week, we will be discussing the reunification of Sengoku Japan under the three Sengoku Unifiers -- Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. We will be discussing the trajectory of their careers and the nature of their characters. Since (spoilers) they were pretty bad people, it should make for some pretty good listening!
May 11, 2013
Episode 7 - Descent into Chaos
This week, we're going to cover the fall of the Ashikaga and the early Sengoku period (rougly 1400-1550 AD). I'll also be briefly discussing the arrival of Westerners and the rise of the militant Ikko Ikki movement. Enjoy!
May 4, 2013
Episode 6 - A New Order
This week we will cover the structure of the Kamakura bakufu, the Hojo triumph over the Mongols, the fall of the Hojo, and their replacement by the Ashikaga family. We'll also cover some cultural developments in the fields of Buddhism and Noh theater. Intrigue! Backstabbing! Performance Art! All the makings of an exciting show!
Apr 27, 2013
Episode 5 - Dream on a Spring Night
This week, we will be covering the fall of the Heian system, the massive Genpei War between the Minamoto and Taira families, and the rise of the first shogunal government (called a bakufu) under the auspices of the brutal Minamoto no Yoritomo.
Apr 20, 2013
Episode 4 - The Golden Age of Heian
This week's episode will discuss the Heian Period (794-1185), one of the golden ages of Japanese history. We'll talk about the politics and culture of the period, covering the structure of government, literary styles, and why it is that I think the Tale of Genji is kind of creepy.
Apr 13, 2013
Episode 3 - The First Capitol
Today we will be discussing the Asuka and Nara periods, and the formation of a centralized, Chinese-style government based in a permanent capitol city. There's intrigue, backstabbing, and stories about poop; should be fun!
Apr 6, 2013
Episode 2 - A Kingdom Called Wa
In this second episode, we discuss the earliest periods of Japanese history (the Jomon, Yayoi and Tumulus/Kofun periods), covering the years from prehistory to 538 AD. It's a long haul to cover!
Mar 31, 2013
Episode 1 - Introduction
Welcome to our introductory episode! Today we will be covering the basic ideas behind this podcast, including: * Who I am * What I'm planning to do here * Why you should care about history * Why Japanese history is important * What I need from you, my lovely and charming audience I'll be updating with new episodes every weekend (preferably Saturday, sometimes Sunday), so check back next week for more. Thanks for listening!