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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.

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The best episodes ranked using user listens.

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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?


30 Aug 2019

Rank #1

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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?


23 Apr 2016

Rank #2

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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.


27 Jun 2015

Rank #3

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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.


8 Sep 2013

Rank #4

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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?


29 Sep 2018

Rank #5

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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?


4 Mar 2017

Rank #6

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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!


30 May 2015

Rank #7

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Episode 194 - Fist of Legend, Part 1

This week: where do Japan's traditional martial arts come from? 


20 May 2017

Rank #8

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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. 


11 Mar 2017

Rank #9

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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?


5 Sep 2015

Rank #10

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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?


4 Jul 2015

Rank #11

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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.


2 May 2015

Rank #12

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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.


16 May 2015

Rank #13

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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.


18 Apr 2015

Rank #14

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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?


26 Jan 2019

Rank #15

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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.


25 Apr 2015

Rank #16

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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? 


25 Mar 2017

Rank #17

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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. 


6 May 2017

Rank #18

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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?


3 May 2019

Rank #19

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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/


15 Nov 2019

Rank #20