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45 2 T h e A g e n c y o f C h e m i c a l s I f Buddhist beliefs regarding the transmigration of the soul shaped outbreaks of Japanese B encephalitis, they also determined how Japanese countered the threat posed by insect-borne crop damage and famine. Insects not only harbor deadly disease but also eat many of the same crops that people do. But because insect bodies harbored the souls of historical figures, the explanation for what motivated insect damage to crops was not entomological but rather historical and theological. That is, the prominent personalities of Japan’s past—as understood through legends, histories, and hagiographies—determined the behavior of insects, not eons of evolution or their microscopic, though sophisticated, brains. Disgruntled generals who had been slain on the battlefield could return to the sites of their deaths to wantonly punish, for example. Consequently, how farmers and agronomists tackled the threat of insects was also determined by history and Buddhist attitudes—until, that is, the advent of scientific entomology, which ascribed insect behavior to different causes and thus radically reconfigured insect eradication campaigns. Starting in the Meiji years, Japanese began experimenting with chemical insecticides. In the second half of this chapter, we shall turn to the deployment of parathion in Japan to highlight how organophosphate chemicals operated within hybrid spaces to cause human pain on a national scale. My analysis will be as much ecological as 46 The Agency of Chemicals historical or theological, because we need to trace parathion as it meandered through eddies and pathways of modern food webs in industrial agricultural settings to finally reach industrialized human bodies. Ea r ly M o d e r n J a pa n e s e Fa m i n e s a n d I n s e c t i c i d e s The Kyōhō famine of 1732, one of Japan’s three great famines of the Tokugawa period (1600–1868), was partially caused by insects.1 The famine ravaged central and western Japan, including the islands of Kyushu and Shikoku. Unka, or plant hoppers, were the principal troublemakers. In the beginning of the sixth month of the lunar calendar, farmers reported massive emergences of one species of rice plant hoppers (Sogatella furcifera), and about two weeks later, a different species (Nilaparvata lugens) also emerged. To this day, these delphacid insects represent a serious threat to rice crops throughout much of Asia. They travel on seasonal winds from southeastern China, their arrival corresponding serendipitously to the transplanting of lush, green rice crops in spring and early summer. In temperate climates, such as those of Korea and Japan, the hoppers do not survive the winter.2 Hoppers are not that much different from other invader species such as Japanese beetles, though their agency, specifically their locomotion, differs. Japanese beetles resemble the fire ants of the American South: they relied on people, disruption, broken soil, nurseries, and the global economy to travel to the United States.3 Plant hoppers, by contrast, took matters into their own hands by taking wing on seasonal winds. We call this natural agency, though both forms of relocation, as we shall learn, were the product of hybrid causations, as were the environmental results of the hopper’s arrival in Japan. In 1732, hoppers, hitching their tiny wagons to atmospheric locomotion , coordinated their arrival perfectly, and farmers reported widespread crop damage as a result of these two waves of insect invaders. In Komatsu Domain, in Iyo Province on Shikoku Island, farmers reported insect damage in the form of mushigui, a reference to hoppers infesting rice stalks and sucking these plants dry of their life-giving juices until they withered, turned brown, and died. So many hoppers swam on the surface of the paddies that the water turned “the color of soy sauce.” During the day, the hoppers stayed on the rice stalks, contently sucking the juices; at night, however, when farmers inspected the crops with pine torches, they saw that The Agency of Chemicals 47 the insects had moved to the heads of the plants, where they ate the precious grain itself. Despite prayers offered at temples and shrines to disperse the insects, crops died; farmers watched helplessly as insects less than an inch long consumed bushel upon bushel of the gold standard of Japan’s eighteenth-century economy. Not only cultivators in Komatsu but those in Hiroshima Domain experienced hopper infestations in 1732...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780295803012
Related ISBN
9780295989549
MARC Record
OCLC
744362071
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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