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.

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Meyer, Isaac. Soul of a Nation: Swordsmanship in Japan’s Modern Period. BA Thesis, Wesleyan University, 2010.

I have always wanted to do that.

Images

 

A contemporary depiction of Sengoku warfare. Note the wide variety of weaponry used. Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation.
A contemporary depiction of Sengoku warfare. Note the wide variety of weaponry used. Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation.
Japanese matchlocks from the Edo Period. Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation.
Japanese matchlocks from the Edo Period. Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation.
Late Edo samurai with naginata. Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation.
Late Edo samurai with naginata. Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation.
Practicing with bamboo swords (shinai) during the Edo Period. The protective gear used for kendo has changed little since this time. Courtesy of Kenshi 247.
Practicing with bamboo swords (shinai) during the Edo Period. The protective gear used for kendo has changed little since this time. Courtesy of Kenshi 247.
Sakakibara Kenkichi's public tournament, the first ever to have public demonstrations of swordsmanship. Courtesy of Kenshi 247.
Sakakibara Kenkichi’s public tournament, the first ever to have public demonstrations of swordsmanship. Courtesy of Kenshi 247.
Sparring in traditional protective gear during the 1890s. Courtesy of the International Kendo Federation.
Sparring in traditional protective gear during the 1890s. Courtesy of the International Kendo Federation.
Japanese cavalry troopers on forward reconnaissance during the Russo-Japanese War. Note their European-style cavalry swords. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Japanese cavalry troopers on forward reconnaissance during the Russo-Japanese War. Note their European-style cavalry swords. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
A shinai kyogi match. Courtesy of Kenshi247.
A shinai kyogi match. Courtesy of Kenshi247.

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!

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Sansom, George. A History of Japan to 1334. 

Friday, Karl F, Editor. Japan Emerging: Premodern History to 1850.

Images (Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation)

 

Minamoto no Yoshitomo, father to Yoritomo, who would die after a failed bid for power against the Taira.
Minamoto no Yoshitomo, father to Yoritomo, who would die after a failed bid for power against the Taira.
A contemporary rendering of Minamoto no Yoritomo. This image shows him as he looked in 1179, the year he married Masako and two years before the start of his rebellion.
A contemporary rendering of Minamoto no Yoritomo. This image shows him as he looked in 1179, the year he married Masako and two years before the start of his rebellion.
Yoshitsune (in red) with his friend and ally the warrior monk Benkei.
Yoshitsune (in red) with his friend and ally the warrior monk Benkei.
An Edo-period rendering of Hojo Masako late in life by Kikuchi Yosai.
An Edo-period rendering of Hojo Masako late in life by Kikuchi Yosai.
This image depicts a series of battles from the Genpei War (rather than one single scene). Moving from right to left, it chronicles a series of Minamoto triumphs which turned the war decisively in their favor.
This image depicts a series of battles from the Genpei War (rather than one single scene). Moving from right to left, it chronicles a series of Minamoto triumphs which turned the war decisively in their favor.
Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine, the family shrine of the Minamoto. It was here that the Minamoto line ended when Sanetomo was assassinated in 1219.
Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine, the family shrine of the Minamoto. It was here that the Minamoto line ended when Sanetomo was assassinated in 1219.
Minamoto no Sanetomo, the last of the Minamoto Shoguns. This illustration is from a copy of the Hyakunin Isshu, and the text above is a poem by Sanetomo.
Minamoto no Sanetomo, the last of the Minamoto Shoguns. This illustration is from a copy of the Hyakunin Isshu, and the text above is a poem by Sanetomo.

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!

Sources 

Milton, Giles. Samurai William: The Englishman Who Opened Japan.

Sansom, George. A History of Japan, Vol II: 1334-1615.

Images (Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation)

James Clavell, author of Shogun.
James Clavell, author of Shogun.
The first-edition cover of Shogun upon its release in 1975.
The first-edition cover of Shogun upon its release in 1975.
William Adams, the real-life navigator upon whom James Blackthorne is based, eventually became quite famous in England. Prints like this one helped disseminate his story in England.
William Adams, the real-life navigator upon whom James Blackthorne is based, eventually became quite famous in England. Prints like this one helped disseminate his story in England.
Detail from a map of Japan (used as the logo for this site on Facebook!) showing the real William Adams meeting Tokugawa Ieyasu for the first time.
Detail from a map of Japan (used as the logo for this site on Facebook!) showing the real William Adams meeting Tokugawa Ieyasu for the first time.
Richard Chamberlain as James Blackthorne and Shimada Yoko as Toda Mariko in the 1980 TV miniseries of Shogun.
Richard Chamberlain as James Blackthorne and Shimada Yoko as Toda Mariko in the 1980 TV miniseries of Shogun.
Mifune Toshiro as Lord Toranaga, the character based on Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Mifune Toshiro as Lord Toranaga, the character based on Tokugawa Ieyasu.

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!

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Ravina, Mark. The Last Samurai. 

Images (Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation)

Saigo Takamori and his officers in traditional dress, as depicted by the French Le Monde Illustre.
Saigo Takamori and his officers as depicted by the French Le Monde Illustre. Note that while some are wearing traditional garb, Saigo himself is wearing a Western officers uniform.
Saigo and his companions on the advance. Note the Western style military uniforms.
Saigo and his companions on the advance. Note the Western style military uniforms.
One of the bank notes issued by Saigo's government in Kagoshima during his rebellion.
One of the bank notes issued by Saigo’s government in Kagoshima during his rebellion.
Saigo's troops in an unidentified battle. Note both the banner (with the slogan of the rebellion, Shinsei Kotoku [A New Government of Great Virtue], emblazoned on it) and the Western-style weaponry being fired in the background.
Saigo’s troops in an unidentified battle. Note both the banner (with the slogan of the rebellion, Shinsei Kotoku [A New Government of Great Virtue], emblazoned on it) and the Western-style weaponry being fired in the background.
A contemporary Japanese illustrated newspaper depicting Imperial Japanese Army soldiers.
A contemporary Japanese illustrated newspaper depicting Imperial Japanese Army soldiers.
Soldiers  of the Imperial Japanese Army in the Kumamoto Garrison in 1877. The Kumamoto Garrison resisted Saigo's advance, buying time for the rest of the IJA to assemble and counterattack.
Soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army in the Kumamoto Garrison in 1877. The Kumamoto Garrison resisted Saigo’s advance, buying time for the rest of the IJA to assemble and counterattack.
The Battle of Tabaruzaka; Saigo's troops are on the right and those of the government are on the left.
The Battle of Tabaruzaka; Saigo’s troops are on the right and those of the government are on the left.
A contemporary photograph of the fortifications surrounding Shiroyama erected by the Imperial Japanese Army. The fortifications were designed to prevent Saigo from escaping, but he was able to do so anyway and flee south to Kagoshima for a final battle.
A contemporary photograph of the fortifications surrounding Shiroyama erected by the Imperial Japanese Army. The fortifications were designed to prevent Saigo from escaping, but he was able to do so anyway and flee south to Kagoshima for a final battle.
A decade after his death, the Meiji government rehabilitated Saigo and erected this statue in his honor at Ueno Park in Tokyo (site of one of his victories during the Boshin War).
A decade after his death, the Meiji government rehabilitated Saigo and erected this statue in his honor at Ueno Park in Tokyo (site of one of his victories during the Boshin War).