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Reviewed by:
  • The Lost Wolves of Japan
  • W. Wayne Farris (bio)
The Lost Wolves of Japan. By Brett L. Walker. University of Washington Press, Seattle, 2005. xix, 331 pages. $35.00.

Over the past two decades, ecological history has secured a more prominent place in studies of Japan. This trend has been beneficial as it has helped to illuminate the context within which the human community lived and developed. Brett L. Walker's The Lost Wolves of Japan is a welcome addition to the corpus on this subject. Walker provides a detailed history of the wolf in Japan, especially its eventual extinction, and situates that story within the evolution of global ideas about science, civilization, and modernity during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He draws on his personal experiences in Montana and Yellowstone National Park to discuss wolf ecology and often moves the reader with fascinating narratives of his fieldwork in [End Page 230] Japan. Well illustrated and stylishly written, The Lost Wolves of Japan is a wolf's-eye view of premodern Japanese culture and the modern state's drive for modernization, insofar as any book can pretend to be one.

The author poses the central question of the work in his introduction: "if this age-old stereotype about a Japanese 'oneness' with nature was even remotely true, then what happened to Japan's wolves?" (p. 6). After a brief but compelling discussion about whether animals such as wolves possess historical agency and have emotional lives of their own, Walker describes "the creation of the Japanese wolf." This act took place first in pre-Linnaean taxonomies during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries under the influence of the Neo-Confucian principle advocating "the investigation of things." During the early and mid-nineteenth century, Dutch scholars introduced Japanese intellectuals to the Linnaean taxonomy, arguing that the Japanese wolf was descended from the Siberian wolf that had migrated to the archipelago when it was connected to mainland Asia many thousands of years ago. Once settled in Japan, this ancestral wolf evolved into three species and mated with the dog to produce a "mountain dog" (yamainu).

Chapter 2 portrays the sacred awe with which Japanese prior to 1600 purportedly regarded the wolf. The wolf was revered at certain Shintō shrines, protected by Buddhist thought as a member of "all sentient beings" (p. 63), and proclaimed as the "Large-mouthed Pure God" (ooguchi no magami) in poetry. Although these sources provided a religious and literary foundation for wolf worship, Walker points out that farmers considered wolves to be ecological partners because they killed boars and deer that threatened their crops. In Hokkaido, the wolf was so central to Ainu culture that myth represented the Ainu as offspring of the mating of a white wolf with a goddess.

During the eighteenth century, attitudes toward the wolf began to change among many Japanese. A major reason for this slow transformation was undoubtedly to be found in the dramatic population increase and consequent settlement of lands that had been hitherto the preserve of wild predators. Additionally, wolves became afflicted with rabies and went mad, killing humans and leading to the creation of bounty systems for destroying these poor animals. The rabies virus seems to have come to Japan from China or Korea. Eventually, wolf hunts became regular, ceremonial events in which the whole community (and not just armed samurai) eagerly participated.

After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the new Japanese government adopted European and American ideas of "civilization and enlightenment" and a "strong military and rich economy." Especially in the United States, scientific agriculture and livestock raising were viewed as the essence of a new, modern society. Therefore, even though draft animals had almost never [End Page 231] served as meat before 1868, the Meiji government hired the American Edwin Dun to help eradicate Japan's wolves and preserve cattle herds. An Ohio rancher, Dun poisoned wolves and other predators with strychnine at mammoth new ranches such as the 35,000-acre Niikappu Ranch in Hokkaido. The massive kill-off of deer, utilized for venison, aided this quest to eliminate the wolf, as hungry wolves lost a major source of prey and turned...


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