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Japan at Nature's Edge

The Environmental Context of a Global Power

Ian Jared Miller, Julia Adeney Thomas, and Brett L. Walker

Publication Year: 2013

Japan at Nature’s Edge is a timely collection of essays that explores the relationship between Japan’s history, culture, and physical environment. It greatly expands the focus of previous work on Japanese modernization by examining Japan’s role in global environmental transformation and how Japanese ideas have shaped bodies and landscapes over the centuries. Given the global and immediate nature of Earth’s environmental crisis, a predicament highlighted by Japan’s March 2011 disaster, it brings a sense of urgency to the study of Japan and its global connections.

The work is an environmental history in the broadest sense of the term because it contains writing by environmental anthropologists, a legendary Japanese economist, and scholars of Japanese literature and culture. The editors have brought together an unparalleled assemblage of some of the finest scholars in the field who, rather than treat Japan in isolation or as a unique cultural community, seek to connect Japan to global environmental currents such as whaling, world fisheries, mountaineering and science, mining and industrial pollution, and relations with nonhuman animals.

The contributors assert the importance of the environment in understanding Japan’s history and propose a new balance between nature and culture, one weighted much more heavily on the side of natural legacies. Ideas and culture do shape the natural world, because it, like the poetry of Heian aristocrats, has become a relic of history. This approach does not discount culture. Instead, it suggests that the Japanese experience of nature, like that of all human beings, is a complex and intimate negotiation between the physical and cultural worlds.

Contributors: Daniel P. Aldrich, Jakobina Arch, Andrew Bernstein, Philip C. Brown, Timothy S. George, Jeffrey E. Hanes, David L. Howell, Federico Marcon, Christine L. Marran, Ian Jared Miller, Micah Muscolino, Ken’ichi Miyamoto, Sara B. Pritchard, Julia Adeney Thomas, Karen Thornber, William M. Tsutsui, Brett L. Walker, Takehiro Watanabe.

Ian Jared Miller teaches modern Japanese history at Harvard University. Julia Adeney Thomas is associate professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. Brett L. Walker is Regents Professor at Montana State University, Bozeman.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

At 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake devastated northeastern Japan and caused Earth’s most threatening nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. The quake was 9.0 on the Richter scale, the most powerful to ever strike the often-hit country, and it unleashed a tsunami that swept away entire communities. ...

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Writing Japan at Nature’s Edge: The Promises and Perils of Environmental History

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pp. 1-18

Two episodes come to mind whenever I think about Japan at Nature’s Edge—the promises and perils of a book about Japan’s environmental history. Given the association between the Japanese and whaling in the international environmental imagination, it is perhaps appropriate that whales figure in each episode. ...

Part I: Oceans and Empires

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Chapter 1. The Pelagic Empire: Reconsidering Japanese Expansion

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pp. 21-38

This essay is based on the modest proposition that understanding imperialism requires us to consider oceans as well as land masses. Given the ongoing and global “fad in oceanic studies,” encompassing historians, literary scholars, and social scientists, such a contention is hardly revolutionary.1 ...

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Chapter 2. From Meat to Machine Oil: The Nineteenth-Century Development of Whaling in Wakayama

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pp. 39-55

On December 24, 1878, a massive right whale (Eubalaena japonica) swam with her calf toward the Kumano coast of Wakayama Prefecture (fig. 2.1). The weather that afternoon was cold and rainy, with a northeasterly wind kicking up a dangerous chop on the water. Despite the bad weather, lookouts were stationed on a mountain near Taiji Harbor, ...

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Chapter 3. Fisheries Build Up the Nation: Maritime Environmental Encounters between Japan and China

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pp. 56-70

Between 1898 and 1906, China’s political elites and thousands of Chinese students who spent time studying abroad enthusiastically appropriated intellectual currents originating from Japan. This chapter focuses on a lesser-known aspect of these international currents: the environmental dimensions of Japan’s role in the formation of Chinese modernity. ...

Part II: Changing Landscapes

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Chapter 4. Talking Sulfur Dioxide: Air Pollution and the Politics of Science in Late Meiji Japan

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pp. 73-89

“Is it not the case, gentlemen, that the copper poisoning crisis . . . was caused by scientific progress deviating from the principles of civilization?” alleged parliamentarian Mutō Kinkichi during a 1909 Diet session on an air pollution case in eastern Ehime Prefecture, on the Japanese island of Shikoku.1 ...

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Chapter 5. Constructing Nature

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pp. 90-114

The history of the Echigo Plain encapsulates the particularly intense dialog between Japanese society and natural erosional processes, a negotiation that continues today. Its story reminds us that natural processes radically transformed Japan’s geography even during historical times. ...

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Chapter 6. Toroku: Mountain Dreams, Chemical Nightmares

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pp. 115-134

When Americans imagine harm caused by environmental pollution, they may think of spotted owls or melting glaciers. The images that come to mind for Japanese are likely to be the ravaged bodies of human beings, particularly the victims of congenital mercury poisoning in Minamata.1 ...

Part III: Between Bodies

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Chapter 7. Fecal Matters: Prolegomenon to a History of Shit in Japan

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pp. 137-151

Poop is yucky. As a rule, yuckiness is socially constructed, but poop is different. Our dislike of the stuff is hardwired into us. Neuroscientists confirmed this in an experiment designed to locate regions of the brain involved in “the response to disgusting stimuli presented in the olfactory modality.”1 ...

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Chapter 8. Weathering Fuji: Marriage, Meteorology, and the Meiji Bodyscape

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pp. 152-174

On the first of October in the twenty-eighth year of the Meiji emperor’s reign (1895), Nonaka Itaru began recording meteorological phenomena on Mount Fuji’s summit with the ambitious goal of taking measurements every two hours, day and night, for an entire year. In an age when the Japanese press eagerly celebrated tales of scientific discovery in dangerous, exotic places,3 ...

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Chapter 9. Animal Histories: Stranger in a Tokyo Canal

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pp. 175-186

On August 7, 2002, a bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus/Agohige azarashi) was spotted in the Tama River, far beyond its usual Arctic Ocean habitat. Over the course of a few days, onlookers grew into the hundreds. Newspaper reporters and television crews flooded the area to document not just the seal but the astounding human interest in the slippery stranger. ...

Part IV: Vistas and Vantage Points

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Chapter 10. Inventorying Nature: Tokugawa Yoshimune and the Sponsorship of Honzōgaku in Eighteenth-Century Japan

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pp. 189-206

Ihara Saikaku (1642–1693), chronicler of merchant life in early modern Japan, seemed to share his contemporaries’ belief that chance was the most important source of business prosperity: “Fortune be to merchants, luck in buying and happiness in selling!” he recited at the beginning of his Seken munezan’yō (Worldly mental calculations, 1692).1 ...

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Chapter 11. Japanese Literature and Environmental Crises

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pp. 207-221

Ecosystems are always in motion. Some of their changes result directly from human actions and some occur independent of people, while the majority result from a more nebulous combination of human behaviors and nonhuman dynamics. For many millennia, anthropogenic transformations of environments were relatively separate local phenomena, ...

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Chapter 12. Japanese Environmental Policy: Lessons from Experience and Remaining Problems

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pp. 222-252

Following the Pacific War, Japan experienced Minamata disease and other terrible effects of pollution. Since the late 1960s, due largely to public criticism of pollution and the rise of an antipollution citizens’ movement, Japan has addressed the problems of air pollution (sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide) and water and soil pollution (mercury and cadmium). ...

Part V: The Triple Disaster of 3/11

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Chapter 13. An Envirotechnical Disaster: Negotiating Nature, Technology, and Politics at Fukushima

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pp. 255-279

The Tōhoku earthquake, now called the “Great East Japan Earthquake,” began rattling the island nation at 2:46 in the afternoon (JST) on that fateful spring day. The enormous magnitude 9.0 earthquake—the largest ever known to have hit Japan and also one of the five most powerful earthquakes in the entire world since modern record keeping began ...

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Chapter 14. Postcrisis Japanese Nuclear Policy: From Top-down Directives to Bottom-up Activism

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pp. 280-292

The earthquake, tsunami, and resulting nuclear power plant meltdown beginning on March 11, 2011, not only destroyed Fukushima’s coastline and more than twenty thousand human lives, it altered the course of Japan’s energy policy. Throughout the postwar period, there has been a complex interplay between two camps over atomic energy. ...

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Chapter 15. Using Japan to Think Globally: The Natural Subject of History and Its Hopes

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pp. 293-310

Today “the global” in its many manifestations is shouldering aside local and national histories, dismissing them as inadequate to understanding our planetary context. Nowhere is the necessity of a global grasp more keenly felt than in environmental history where scholarship on the earth as a whole abounds. ...

List of Contributors

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pp. 311-314


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pp. 315-322

E-ISBN-13: 9780824838775
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824836924

Publication Year: 2013