- Wildlife Management and Upland Modernity in Japan
In the Japanese imagination, mountains have long been seen as dark, dangerous, forbidding places where strange creatures and spirits reside. In Yanagita Kunio's early work, mountains were the refuge of the last remnants of the aboriginal peoples of the archipelago. If Yanagita were alive today he might well have found his demons, witches, and goblins in Shibuya rather than northern Iwate, but Japan's mountains remain, if not truly wild, then certainly apart from the frenetic 7-Eleven culture that afflicts the urbanized areas of the nation.
Both of the books under review here deal with the mountainous regions of Japan and with the problems associated with what John Knight calls "upland modernity" (p. 246). Although both works have the word "wolves" in their titles, however, they are two rather different books. Knight's monograph derives from his Ph.D. dissertation, which was submitted to the London School of Economics in 1992. Knight's fieldwork was conducted in Hongū-chō on the Kii peninsula in Wakayama prefecture, where the last Japanese wolf was killed in 1905.1 As its title suggests, Knight's book is a social anthropological study of people-wildlife relations in this study area and in Japan more generally. Brett Walker's book is primarily a history of the extinction of the wolf in Japan, but it also ranges over a number of related topics. Controversially, Walker attempts to bring wolves and their emotions into the fabric of his historical narrative.
Knight's book deals broadly with the problem of wildlife pestilence in contemporary Japan. While for many urban residents, forest animals such as deer [End Page 243] and monkeys may be regarded as "cute" tourist attractions, for people who live and farm in mountain areas they are serious pests. Knight records examples of one family losing two-thirds of its rice harvest to wild boar damage (p. 54) and a man losing half his rice crop to monkeys (p. 89). Wildlife pestilence has always been a problem in Japan, but it has been worsened in recent years by the depopulation of upland areas. This depopulation means that younger people find jobs in towns and cities, leaving older relatives in the mountain villages. As upland populations get older, they find it harder to cut back vegetation around houses and fields, leading to gradual encroachment of forests into settled areas. In the past an intermediate zone of disturbed woodland known as satoyama separated upland settlements from the mountain forests, or okuyama, beyond. Recent changes in farming and grazing patterns, however, in addition to depopulation, have significantly reduced satoyama usage. As a result, "the graduated separation of village and forest has given way to a sharp interface. . . . It is as though the forest has crept down into, or to the very edge of, the village" (pp. 30-31). Needless to say, this has brought forest wildlife much closer to villages and fields.
Waiting for Wolves is an impressive and unique ethnography of Japan. Well-written and well-organized, it provides us with a highly detailed yet deeply sympathetic account of upland farmers and wildlife pestilence. In chapters 2 to 5, Knight devotes a chapter each to crop damage caused by wild boar, monkeys, deer and serows, and bears. Damage by other animals and birds (hares, crows, foxes, sparrows, pigeons, and cormorants) is mentioned but not discussed. This "other" category accounts for 15.25 percent of wildlife pestilence reports in Hongū between 1995 and 2000 as calculated from Knight's table 1.1. Chapter 6 then looks at wolves, their history in Japan, and the question of their possible reintroduction. A long concluding chapter ties together the main themes of the book. Knight's work contains many excellent photographs, but the map on page 21 gives us only minimal information about the study area.
In addition to his own ethnographic fieldwork, Knight has utilized a...