541 episodes

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.

History of Japan Isaac Meyer

    • History
    • 4.7 • 607 Ratings

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.

    Episode 532 - Cash Rules Everything Around Me

    Episode 532 - Cash Rules Everything Around Me

    This week on the Revised Introduction to Japanese History: the economics of Meiji Japan, and a brief foray into social attitudes towards Westernization. How did Japan transform itself from being largely cut off from the world economy to central to it within half a century, and what impact did all this change have on the national self-image and culture?
    Show notes here.
    Also: there will be no episode next week, as I will be on a school trip touring Japan with students. 

    • 38 min
    Episode 531 - The New Japan

    Episode 531 - The New Japan

    This week on the Revised Introduction to Japanese History: the politics of the Meiji Period! After a coalition of samurai, nobles, loyalists, and others succeed in overthrowing the Tokugawa shogunate, they must ask themselves: what comes next? And, in the time honored tradition of revolution, they answer that question by killing off or removing from office anyone they disagree with.
    Show notes here. 

    • 35 min
    Episode 530 - Bakumatsu, Part 3

    Episode 530 - Bakumatsu, Part 3

    This week: the age of feudalism comes crashing down, as in the span of just two years the Tokugawa shogunate goes from victory to crushing defeat. How did the final years of Tokugawa rule play out?
    Show notes here. 

    • 37 min
    Episode 529 - Bakumatsu, Part 2

    Episode 529 - Bakumatsu, Part 2

    This week on the Revised Introduction to Japanese History: the sudden assassination of the tairo Ii Naosuke sparks the rapid ascension of imperial loyalism, an ideology devoted to the undoing of the unequal treaties and the overthrow of the shogunate. How did loyalism come to be a dominant force in the politics of the early 1860s, and how did its following collapse in just a few years?
    Show notes here.
     

    • 37 min
    Episode 528 - Bakumatsu, Part 1

    Episode 528 - Bakumatsu, Part 1

    This week on the Revised Introduction to Japanese History: the beginning of the end of the Tokugawa shogunate. Commodore Perry's expedition to Edo will begin a process of radical political change as a teetering Tokugawa shogunate is forced to confront a challenge of Western imperialism that it will not prove equal to resisting.
    Show notes here.

    • 39 min
    Episode 527 - The Beginning of the End

    Episode 527 - The Beginning of the End

    This week on the Revised Introduction to Japanese History: crises about during the late Edo period. A crisis of samurai identity! Questions around vengeance, honor, and duty! And of course, the most confounding subject of them all: macroeconomics. But hey, I'm sure we can figure this all out as long as no pesky Americans show up to ruin things, right?
    Show notes here. 

    • 38 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
607 Ratings

607 Ratings

21ease ,

History of Japan

Maintains a good story, factual & humorous. At times insightful. Thanks!

etherdog ,

Fulfilling a daunting task for Japanese history

This is like a masters level colloquia on the history of Japan. It is well researched and well delivered.

Kaizoku.gari87 ,

Entertaining, but do not rely on this information

My main problem with this podcast is the author’s complete failure to appreciate any form of literature which requires a human soul to enjoy. I began listening as a kind of brush-up for my MA exams, but by the time I finished them (and had listened enough that the topics about which I pride myself in being knowledgeable could be covered), I realized the flaws and simple carelessness of the author’s research. Though factual historical information is often (but not always) correct, whenever there is any call to interpret, he tends to run with a preconception, singling out one or two other scholars who - at least partially - share his views, or else simply declaim opinions with no academic backing whatsoever.

To give a particularly egregious example, the first episode on Kawabata Yasunari may be more or less factually correct, but his errors do not end with a total misunderstanding of Kawabata’s aesthetic. I have no idea how one could read the term “mono no aware” and decide the closest translation was “impermanence.” (This calls to attention another of the author’s failings: a modest capability with the Japanese language at best.) “Aware” is most often interpreted as “pathos,” so “mono no aware” is most often rendered as “the pathos of things.” It is an aesthetic of wonder and pain, care and loss and terrible but subtle beauty, and yes it would not be meaningful without impermanence, but that does not make them the same thing. The closest translation to the English word “impermanence,” and the Buddhist concept which Myers - for some incomprehensible reason - quotes directly from the Heike is “mujou.”

I have to say, as a PhD student in Classical Japanese literature myself, this is the first time I have ever heard anyone evoke the Heike in a discussion of “mono no aware.” For the very simple reason that the two concepts are essentially chalk and cheese. It was painful to listen to Myers even mention the kokugaku movement - and Genji monogatari itself! - but not Moto’ori Norinaga’s obsession with the Genji, the work from which Norinaga himself coined “mono no aware” as an all-encompassing aesthetic and mood of the work, and of Heian literature more broadly. Norinaga was notably much less interested in literature created AFTER the Heian Period. Such as, for example, the notably un-aesthetically motivated war story, Heike monogatari.

As for why this topic was so particularly painful to me as a human being, I initially started writing my MA thesis on “mono no aware,” and read all three major translations, as well as the original Genji obsessively for the first two years of my degree. I later switched to reading gender politics in Heike, thus I consider myself relatively well-read in both these works. And what, I gather, Myers was attempting to seek out in bizarrely quoting Heike in discussing “aware” was the Buddhist overtones of the text, a later and likely politically-motivated addition to make the whole work - originally a disjointed collection of anecdotes from the Gempei War - more cohesive as a narrative. It is not an aesthetic. And fundamental misinterpretations like this, quite frankly, could only be made by someone with either a poor understanding of the Japanese language - like the high, obscure and lyrical language which Kawabata was known for - or lacking a soul entirely. I would sooner trust Myers’ political episodes, but the blatant ignorance toward not only literary value but the history of Japanese literary scholarship are contemptible enough not to give the show any of your valuable time or attention.

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