With a population of 127 million (43% of the US population) settled in a mountainous
nation the size of the state of Montana (or slightly smaller than the nation of France), land is truly at a premium in Japan. Much of its people and economic resources are located near the shore or in natural floodplains, which requires intensive management of rivers, which have been extensively dammed for water control and hydro-power. Japan is in a highly seismically active zone, situated at the intersection of four tectonic plates, and contains approximately 100 volcanoes, seventy of which are active. The tallest and most celebrated of these is Mt. Fuji (12,388feet/ 3,707meters), about 60 miles southwest of Tokyo. This combination of sea and mountain is epitomized in The Great Wave off Kanagawa, the late Tokugawa-era print of Katsushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849), one the most iconic works of Japanese art. With population-dense coastal zones, tsunami have long plagued Japan and these are exacerbated by a newer urgent environmental challenge: climate change.
This program explores the inter-relationship between humans and the environment, examining notions of nature and how the human/environment inter-relationship changed from the Tokugawa period (1603-1868) through the industrializing Meiji era (1868 – 1912) and down to the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown (2011). We consider how the Japanese have interacted with land and sea and study cultural and religious conceptions of nature and how these perspectives become a source of contestation and controversy. The program considers cultural, political, and economic ramifications and projections on the future of this interaction. Japan is an ideal place for such an environmental and historical inquiry, from its Shinto and Buddhist traditions to the practical demands of expanding urbanization and industrialization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Japanese experience of nation building and its relationship with the natural world will be set in a comparative context as we contrast political and cultural responses to changes, uses, and degradation of the natural world. Among environmental issues under inquiry will be climate change, food and energy production, water management, deforestation, conservation and preservation, and industrial pollution.
ENVR142 Wilderness & Human Values Abroad (4 units): This course explores historical and cultural perspectives on the human relationship with the natural world. The class traces ideas of nature and wilderness and examines changing human/environment interaction. It also considers the social, political, and economic ramifications of this interaction as well as divergent views about the future.
MMW14 World History – Revolution, Empire, Industry (4 units): MMW14 offers a portrait of world history from the 18th to the 20th century, focusing particularly on Japan from the Tokugawa period through the Meiji era, and comparatively addressing such topics as industrialization and technological innovation; nation building, political restructuring, and revolution; imperial projects and their human and environmental toll; and modernity and its relationship with tradition.
The establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate in the early seventeenth century restored political stability to the Japanese archipelago and ushered in a period of prolonged growth and prosperity. In the first century of Tokugawa rule, cultivated land nearly doubled from 1.5 million to 2.7 million hectares, which correlated to the doubling of the population. This required reclamation of marshland and the incorporation of hillsides into agricultural use as well as forest clearing and extensive irrigation. This growth was also evident in great building projects and the expansion of cities, including the new capital at Edo, today’s Tokyo.
During this prosperous period, Japanese garden design shifted away from the simplicity, minimalism, and smaller scale gardens of the preceding age, which were often attached to Buddhist temples, offering meditative environments for contemplative practice. Many gardens from this previous period survive, as in Kyoto’s Ryoanaji, Tenryuji, Daitokuji, and Kinkaku-ji (all proposed program sites). Such gardens built on a long tradition, with roots in Shinto aesthetic and shaped by Buddhist influence. Aristocrats built large gardens in their palaces and villas, with carefully crafted landscaping, which were used for entertainment and recreation. With the spread of Pure Land Buddhism and its devotion to Amida Buddha, ‘paradise gardens’ were designed with ponds, lotus flowers, islands, and bridges to represent the longed-for Western Paradise, as seen at Kyoto’s Byodoin temple or at Hiraizumi’s Motsuji temple, which inspired the celebrated poet Basho (1644–1694) to write: “The glory of three generations in the blink of an eye, the great gate ruins a li from here. The ruins of Hidehira turned to fields, only Mt. Kinkei remains. Climbing Takadachi, the mighty Kitakami flowed south from the Nambu domain… I lay down my umbrella and cried, ‘Though the kingdom be defeated the mountains and rivers remain, and when spring comes to the ruined city the trees and plants bloom.
Ah! Summer grasses!
All that remains
Of the warriors’ dreams.’”
In the Tokugawa era gardens became larger “strolling gardens,” with hills, ponds, islands, and trails, found on aristocratic estates and in their villas in Edo, seen in Tokyo’s Rikugien and Koishikawa Korakuen as well as the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto.
Growing cities in the Tokugawa period required an increased supply of water (and the expansion of aqueduct networks) and made greater demands on forests. Exacerbating these demands was the peril of urban conflagrations, with large-scale fires scorching Edo approximately every three years. One of the most devastating was the Meireki fire of 1657, which burned for three days, destroying most of the shogun’s castle buildings, along with hundreds of daimyo mansions and residences of lessor officials, hundreds more temples and shrines, and as many as 500 blocks of commoner housing, with dozens of bridges and thousands of granaries lost. Most of Edo was turned to ash and 20% of the city’s inhabitants had been lost to the “flowers of Edo,” as such urban fires became known. The rebuilding began immediately, though hindered by an insufficient supply of wood, requiring further clearing of forests. Other cities followed a similar pattern.
Population and urban growth led to “an ecological ceiling beyond which [cultivators] could not reliably extend land reclamation.” In 1874, Meiji-era registers show little increase in land under cultivation since 1720, with just over 3 million hectares, but Japan managed to feed itself without importing food. Rather, pressure was on its agricultural sector to increase yield, but there were practical limitations and a dependence on rice production increased potential risk, with the Tenmei Famine of the 1780s as a devastating example. Two volcanic eruptions (Iwaki and Asama, northwest of Edo) killed thousands upon eruption, and the subsequent cooling temperature led to massive crop failures, with the death toll reaching nearly 1 million.
How did Tokugawa Japan respond to these varied ecological challenges? One response was the increased exploitation of the sea, expanding fishing operations, whaling, and the hunting of other sea animals (dolphins, otters, seals, sea lions, etc.) on a larger scale than previously done. A whaling industry emerged, producing meat for human consumption, oil for insecticide and other uses, whale bone for fertilizer, and teeth and baleen for decorative products. Four centuries later, Japan continues to host a commercial whaling industry, even rejecting a global ban imposed in 1986.
Recognizing the threat of deforestation to its military and urban needs as well as its role in soil erosion, the Tokugawa government instituted policies for woodland management, mandating forest surveys, issuing rules for forest use, and sumptuary regulations on building and other purposes. Most of Japan’s forest land was owned by the shogun and daimyo and remaining woodlands were held by village communities and regulated by headmen who sought to ensure continued utility for the community.
Collectively these efforts allowed Japan to reduce erosion and retain a supply of usable forest products. Japan transformed its logging industry from a forager enterprise to an agricultural one (plantation forestry), with humans, rather than nature, selecting and growing species of trees needed for use, and forestry manuals proliferated in the eighteenth century. Later, during the Meiji era, when Japan drew on western expertise to modernize its technology, transportation, industry, medicine, and many other technical fields, it recognized that its own practice of silviculture was already aligned with scientific understanding of European, particularly German, forestry. Advocating for the creation of a forest service in the United States, John Muir pointed to Japan as an example of how other nations surpassed his own in awareness and preservation.
Wood scarcity led to increased use of coal (discussed below). As a fuel source, coal was particularly used for evaporating seawater in salt-making, to fire pottery, and to process sugar cane. In addition, housing construction began to economize on the use of wood and adopted cheaper, renewable materials, which had an impact on home design. This was one of a myriad of cultural choices which favored: “simplicity and conservation of resources. By comparison with other contemporary societies, such as those of western Europe, the Japanese used less energy and fewer materials in their daily life without sacrificing essential aspects of comfort and pleasing design.” Thus, in the Tokugawa period, Japan managed its resources sufficiently to foster growth, while avoiding social upheaval or catastrophe, without needing to import food or other resources.
The Tokugawa Shogunate gave way to the Meiji Restoration (1868 – 1912), Japan’s era of industrialization and modernization, and the central focus for the world history course. In the aftermath of American Commodore Matthew Perry’s “opening of Japan” in the 1850s and the imposition of unequal treaties by Western nations, Japan pursued modernization with rapidity and zealous intentionality. Japan abolished hereditary status distinctions, like the samurai class, creating a conscript military, a standardized currency, a constitution and bicameral legislative body, and a new industrial infrastructure, including a railroad and telegraph network along with new modes of production and education. The changes were justified by success. By century’s end, Japan had overturned the unequal treaties imposed half a century earlier, defeated China in the Sino-Japanese War, and, at the start of the twentieth century, defeated a European power in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). Like other “modern” nations, Japan wielded its power over colonial territories: Korea, Taiwan, and Manchuria. A few decades later, much of coastal China and all of Southeast Asia were in Japanese hands. This imperial project ensured that the natural resources of East Asia could supply raw material for Japanese industrial needs.
Japanese economic and military power were ascendant and the popular rallying cry of “rich country, strong military” ignored the environmental impact of this growth. A vivid example is found at the Ashio copper mine, about 100 miles northwest of Tokyo. The mine is at the headwaters of the Watarase River, which flows through agricultural, fishing, sericulture, and indigo centers before reaching Tokyo. The mine began during the Tokugawa period and later, in the Meiji-era, Furukawa Ichibei, a member of the new industrial elite, employed cutting-edge American extraction technology and made this highly productive. The mine produced 42% of Japan’s copper and generated nearly 10% of Japan’s export earning in 1890. The mountain city of Ashio became a model of modernity, with Japan’s first electric railway, first hydroelectric plant, compressed-air drills, electric lighting, and centrifugal fans for ventilation. Modern techniques led to vast increases in mining yield across the nation:
|Year||Gold (troy oz).||Silver (troy oz.)||Copper (long tons)|
In contrast, the peak years between 1680 – 1700 yielded 5,200 tons of copper annually, declining to 2,500 by 1700, and 1,000 tons by mid-nineteenth century.
Yet, modern industrial mining techniques had catastrophic environmental impact: deforestation, pollution of the Watarase River, and poisoning of downstream areas. In 1890, pollutants (copper sulfate, chlorine, arsenic, sulfur, aluminum oxide, nitric and phosphoric acid) flowed into the watershed, killing fish and plant life, and damaging trees planted to bolster the river’s levee system. The loss of plant life increased erosion, which was already being accelerated since the mountains had been clear cut for fuel and shaft support, increasing the volume of water reaching the river, which rose several feet. The floods of 1890 and 1896 drove polluted water into rice paddies, killed mulberry trees (used for the sericulture industry), damaged the indigo industry because the pollutants reacted calamitously with the dyes, and sickened people. Traditional industry and livelihood became victims of modern mining.
This was Japan’s first major pollution crisis of the industrial era (see Robert Stolz, Bad Water: Nature, Pollution and Politics in Japan 1870-1950). Those affected sought relief and even marched on Tokyo, while journalists alerted the public to the problem, and advocates sought regulatory change, all of which stimulated a modern environmental movement. Among the voices were Matsumoto Eiko, whose Sufferings of a Mine-Poisoned Land (1901) documented the problem, and parliamentarian Tanaka Shozo, who, together with journalist Kotkou Shusi (1871 – 1911), submitted an environmental appeal directly to the Meiji Emperor. This breach of protocol mirrored the seventeenth-century action of Sakura Sogo, a village headman who appealed for tax relief over his daimyo’s head and directly to the shogun. For this breach, Sakura Sogo and his family were executed. Yet, the shogun still reviewed the case and determined that the daimyo had, in fact, acted unjustly and ordered him to make restitution. Despite this effort, the mine continued operations. The century from the Meiji restoration in 1868 to 1965 was truly a “polluter’s paradise.”
Coal was another major source of pollution. Even before the Meiji restoration coal use had been increasing and this had a noticeable impact on the Japanese sky. In the 1830s, protesting villagers explained that “the soot and smoke stick to the fruit and leaves of rice, wheat, soy beans, red beans, peas, buckwheat, tea, and everything else, smearing them with oily smoke, and causing them to wither or ripen poorly, much like a general crop failure.” Coal consumption grew because of wood shortage and Japan’s expertise with coal mining and use facilitated its industrial development in the Meiji era, which witnessed an enormous increase in coal production, which coupled with a parallel environmental impact.
|Year||Coal (long tons)|
Consider Japan’s Hanshin region (Osaka – Kobe area), an area of intense industrialization. The region was a textile center and then, after 1880 established iron, cement, and chemical plants. The region’s population doubled by the 1880s, doubled again by 1900, and again by the 1920s. The industrial center of Osaka had 600,000 inhabitants in 1880, 1.2 million in 1900, and two decades later, 2.4 million.
Japan’s economic and military success seemed to validate its industrial efforts and the environmental impact was ignored, even as industrial complexes spread into farming and residential districts and caused social stress. Smoke and sulfur dioxide from the region’s smokestacks poured down on millions of inhabitants. The limited efforts made to reduce the impact were sacrificed to the imperial need for economic, political, and military power. Because of its heavy industry, the region was targeted by American bombing raids in the Second World War and largely reduced to rubble.
As in the United States, industrialization and consumption of natural resources generated calls for preservation. Japan created its first public parks in 1873 and Tokyo’s Ueno Park can be contrasted to New York City’s Central Park, which was founded a few decades earlier. The nation established regulations for hunting by 1892, launched a National Parks Association in 1913, and enacted the Historical Spot, Scenic Beauty, and Natural Monument Preservation Law in 1918, just two years after the United States created its National Park Service. Following the American example, Japan passed its National Parks Law in 1931 and established twelve national parks between 1934 and 1938. The post-War period witnessed the expansion of Japan’s national park system and the advocacy of the Nature Conservation Society of Japan, which was created in 1951.
Japan’s post-war economic revival began in the 1950s. Escalating Cold War tensions and the tumultuous Korean War propelled the US to support a productive Japan, whose prosperity increased decade by decade as did the environmental consequences. The extent of Tokyo’s pollution was pointed to as a warning to rally support for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States in 1970. Japan’s industry continued to leak chemicals into air and water, resulting in horrific disease outbreaks, most notoriously with methyl-mercury poisoning at Niigata and Minamata, cadmium poisoning in Toyama, and asthma outbreaks at Yokkaichi. Japan’s economic success, however, was on the march, exporting automobiles and electronics as well as cultural phenomena, such as Godzilla, which in 1954 offered a cinematic protest against nuclear testing and warfare. Director Honda Ishiro (1911-1993) noted: “We had no plans for a sequel and naively hoped the end of Godzilla was going to coincide with the end of nuclear testing.” Yet, the Godzilla phenomenon and the anxiety that gave rise to it have continued down to the present.
Japanese state and society began to address these unavoidable environmental problems with legislative action, including the Regulation of Factory Effluents and the Water Quality Conservation Act (1958) and the Water Pollution Control Act (1970). The process of cleaning the environment began and a dramatic turn was underway. By 1975, Japan’s air pollution was under control and by 1985 the nation enjoyed purer air than almost any other industrial populace. This effort can be paired with Japan’s commitment to forest land protection, which increased from 2.4 million hectares in 1951 to 7.3 million in 1980, and 11.8 million in 2006, or half the archipelago’s total woodland.
Japan’s energy production shifted from coal to oil in the twentieth century and then progressively to nuclear energy, which also reduced polluted skies. By the 21st century, nuclear power plants generated 30% of Japanese energy with a targeted goal of 40%
ahead, when a triple disaster struck at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011. There, the archipelago’s recurring challenge of earthquake and tsunami, which killed or injured more than 20,000, combined with the technological complications and dangers of nuclear power, which led to the evacuation of more than 100,000 people, with radiation damage threatening public health. The triple disaster led to a manifold reflection on nature and society, from calling for a need to “wash away the greed” of contemporary Japanese society to viewing this as the “beginning of a new chapter” to “change our thinking, our civilization,” or, on the other hand, to “return to a simpler manner of living…to a coexistence with nature…rooted in Buddhist altruism.” On a more quantitative level, the nation now seeks to increase its carbon-free renewable energy sources to provide approximately one quarter of its total, reducing nuclear to ~20% of power generation by 2030.
The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant forced a nation-wide conversation on human/environmental relationship, but this subject had already become a topic of concern as seen in the work of acclaimed anime artist Hayao Miyazaki in My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and Princess Mononoke (1997), which will be included in this program, along with Brett L. Walker’s environmental, cultural, and sociological study, The Lost Wolves of Japan (2005).
A Course Reader.
Christopher Goto-Jones. Modern Japan: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford UP, 2009.
Donald Hughes. An Environmental History of the World. Humankind’s Changing Role in the Community of Life. 2nd Ed. New York: Routledge, 2009.
Robert B. Marks. The Origins of the Modern World. A Global & Environmental Narrative from the 15th to the 21st Century. 3rd Ed. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.
Conrad Totman. Japan: An Environmental History. New York: I.B Tauris, 2014.
Ruth Ozeki. A Tale for the Time Being. New York: Penguin, 2013.
- Tokyo and vicinity
- Ueno Park, Tokyo National Museum, and Tenno-ji in Yanaka Cemetery
- Imperial Palace & East Garden; Kitanomaru Park; Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens
- Hamarikyu-Gardens and Tsukiji Fish Market
- Senso-ji Temple in Asakura
- Asakura Museum of Sculpture (and garden)
- Garden Experiences. Dry-Landscape Gardens: Ryoan-ji; Kinkaku-ji; Daisen-in Stroll Garden: Murin-an garden. Paradise Garden: Byodo-in
- Nature and the Sacred: Daigoji Temple
- Fushimi Inari Shrine
- Philosopher’s Walk
- Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and Tenryu-ji Temple
- Kyoto National Museum
- Peace Memorial Park
- Miyajima Island – Itsukushima Shrine
Naoke Abe. The Sakura Obsession: The Incredible Story of the Plant Hunter Who Saved Japan’s Cherry Blossoms. New York: Knopf, 2019.
Jakobina Arch. Bringing Whales Ashore: Oceans and the Environment of Early Modern Japan. Seattle: U of Washington P, 2018.
Pamela J. Asquith and Arne Kalland. Japanese Images of Nature. London: Curzon Press, 1997.
Bruce L. Batten and Philip C. Brown. Environment and Society in the Japanese Islands: From Prehistory to the Present. Corvallis: Oregon State UP, 2015.
W.G. Beasley. The Japanese Experience. A Short History of Japan. Los Angeles: U of California P, 1999.
Harumi Befu. “Watsuji Tetsuro’s Ecological Approach: Its Philosophical Foundation.” In Pamela J. Asquith and Arne Kalland, eds., Japanese Images of Nature: Cultural Perspectives. Surrey, England: Curzon Press, 1997, 106–120.
Jared Diamond. Upheaval. Turning Points for Nations in Crisis. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2019.
H. Byron Earhart. Mount Fuji: Icon of Japan. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2011.
Christopher Goto-Jones. Modern Japan: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford UP, 2009.
James L. Huffman. Japan in World History. New York: Oxford UP, 2010.
Donald Hughes. An Environmental History of the World. Humankind’s Changing Role in the Community of Life. 2nded. New York: Routledge, 2009.
David Igler. The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold Rush. Oxford UP, 2013.
Catherine Knight. “The nature conservation movement in post-war Japan.”Environment and History 16/3 (2010): 349-370.
Catherine Knight, “Conservation movement in post-war Japan,” in John R. McNeill and Alan Roe, eds. Global Environmental History, pp. 399 – 419. New York: Routledge, 2013.
Catherine Knight. “The Concept of Satoyama and its Role in the Contemporary Discourse on Nature Conservation in Japan.” Asian Studies Review 34/4 (Dec., 2010): 421.
William R. LaFleur. “Saigyo and the Buddhist Value of Nature,” in J. Baird Callicott andRoger T. Ames. Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought. Essays in Environmental Philosophy, pp. 183-212. Albany: SUNY Press, 1989.
Elmer Luke and David Karashima, eds. March Was Made of Yarn. Reflections on the Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Meltdown. New York: Vintage Books, 2012.
Robert B. Marks. The Origins of the Modern World. A Global and Environmental Narrative from the 15th to the 21st Century. 3rd Ed. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.
Matt Mattsuda. Pacific Worlds: A History of Seas, Peoples, and Cultures. New York: Cambridge UP, 2012.
R. McNeil. Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World. New York: Norton, 2001.
Ian Jared Miller, Julia Adeney Thomas, Brett L. Walker, eds. Japan at Nature’s Edge: The Environmental Context of a Global Power. Honolulu: U of Hawaii P, 2013.
John Richards. “Ecological Strategies in Tokugawa Japan,” in his The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World. Ch. 5, pp. 148 – 192. Los Angeles: U of California P, 2003.
David Edward Shaner. “The Japanese Experience of Nature,” in J. Baird Callicott and Roger Ames. Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought. Essays in Environmental Philosophy, pp. 163-182. Albany: SUNY Press, 1989.
Robert T. Singer and Kawai Masatomo. The Life of Animals in Japanese Art. Princeton UP, 2019.
Robert Stolz. Bad Water: Nature, Pollution and Politics in Japan 1870-1950. Durham: Duke UP, 2014.
K. Takeuchi, R.D. Brown, I. Washitani, A. Tsunekawa, M. Yokohari, eds., Satoyama: The Traditional Rural Landscape of Japan. Tokyo: Springer Japan, 2003.
Hubertus Tellenback and Bin Kimura. “The Japanese Concept of ‘Nature,’” in J.Baird Callicott and Roger T. Ames. Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought. Essays in Environmental Philosophy, pp. 153-162. Albany: SUNY Press, 1989.
Julia Adeney Thomas. Reconfiguring Modernity: Concepts of Nature in Japanese Political Ideology. Los Angeles: U of California P, 2001.
Sarah E. Thompson. Hokusai’s Landscapes. The Complete Series. Boston: MFA Publications, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 2019.
Conrad Totman. Japan: An Environmental History. New York: I.B Tauris, 2014.
Brett Walker, “Meiji Modernization, Scientific Agriculture, and the Destruction of Japan’s Hokkaido Wolf.” Environmental History 9/2 (April 2004): 248-274.
Brett L. Walker. The Lost Wolves of Japan. Seattle: U of Washington P, 2005.
Brett L. Walker. Toxic Archipelago: A History of Industrial Disease in Japan. Seattle: U of Washington P, 2010.
Brett L. Walker. A Concise History of Japan. NY: Cambridge UP, 2015.
Tetsuro Watsuji. Climate and Culture: A Philosophical Study. Geoffrey Bownas, tr. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.
 http://www.motsuji.or.jp/gikeido/en/basho/index.html; haiku translation from R.H. Blyth, 1952.
 John Richards. “Ecological Strategies in Tokugawa Japan,” in his The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World, 174.
 Richards, 177.
 Such as reducing the use of timber and incorporating lighter boards elsewhere, as well as the use of straw, rush, reed for tatami and cushions, clay and plaster for walls. This impacts home design.
 John Richards. “Ecological Strategies in Tokugawa Japan,” in his The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World, 179.
 J. R. McNeil. Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World,93.
 Conrad Totman. Japan: An Environmental History, 174.
 Brett Walker. A Concise History of Japan, 278.
 Brett Walker. A Concise History of Japan, 298-299.
 “Japan pushes renewables, keeps nuclear in energy plan through 2050,” Japan Times. April 10, 2018: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/04/10/national/japan-pushes-renewables-keeps-nuclear-energy-plan-2050/#.XIUThi3Mxo4