Toxic Archipelago: A History of Industrial Disease in Japan

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Every person on the planet is entangled in a web of ecological relationships that link farms and factories with human consumers. Our lives depend on these relationships — and are imperiled by them as well. Nowhere is this truer than on the Japanese archipelago.

During the nineteenth century, Japan saw the rise of Homo sapiens industrialis, a new breed of human transformed by an engineered, industrialized, and poisonous environment. Toxins moved freely from mines, factory sites, and rice paddies into human bodies.

Toxic Archipelago explores how toxic pollution works its way into porous human bodies and brings unimaginable pain to some of them. Brett Walker examines startling case studies of industrial toxins that know no boundaries: deaths from insecticide contaminations; poisonings from copper, zinc, and lead mining; congenital deformities from methylmercury factory effluents; and lung diseases from sulfur dioxide and asbestos.

This powerful, probing book demonstrates how the Japanese archipelago has become industrialized over the last two hundred years — and how people and the environment have suffered as a consequence.

University of Washington Press

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Toxic Archipelago would make an excellent addition to any course on environmental issues in Asia. . . . carefully researched, thoughtfully rendered accounts of industrial disease in Japan make clear that . . . modern technology has . . . tightened the binds between us and the world we inhabit." -Darrin Magee, Journal of Environmental Studies and Science, Vol. 1 (2011)
Journal of Environmental Studies and Science - Darrin Magee
Toxic Archipelago would make an excellent addition to any course on environmental issues in Asia.... carefully researched, thoughtfully rendered accounts of industrial disease in Japan make clear that... modern technology has... tightened the binds between us and the world we inhabit.
Journal of Japanese Studies - Miranda A. Schreurs
Walker's is an unorthodox approach to academic scholarship. It mixes academic rigor with personal anecdotes and experiences. It is historically grounded, soundly documented scholarship. It is fascinating, but at times sickly so.
Social History of Medicine - Catherine Mills
An uncomfortable, but nonetheless compelling, read. Although the author tells it as he sees it, the book is well-written and offers a reasoned and persuasive argument... that certainly delivers strong messages.... the originality and depth of the research clearly merit a cover-to-cover exploration.
Journal of Environmental Studies - D. Magee
Toxic Archipelago would make an excellent addition to any course on environmental issues in Asia. Walker's carefully researched, thoughtfully rendered accounts of industrial disease in Japan make clear that, far from liberating us from nature, modern technology has instead tightened the binds between us and the world we inhabit.
ASEH - George Perkins Marsh Prize Committee
In Toxic Archipelago, Brett Walker breaks new ground with his environmental history of an industrializing Japan over the last two centuries. Building on the literatures of disease and the body, he examines the co-evolution of the institutions of Japanese culture and the biology of the Japanese environment. The link between culture and environment is not simply the body, but the human body in physical and social pain. Walker forces the reader to engage with large-scale transformations of landscape and toxic pollution over time through the prism of suffering and grief with a number of finely drawn personal stories. This nuanced and beautifully written exploration of the meaning of nature and culture in Japan displays the ramifications of the hybrid environments that have evolved and poses powerful questions for people of all cultures and nations.
Historian Walker effectively links, perhaps for the first time anywhere, the historical processes of the economic, social, and land-use policies involved in modernizing and globalizing Japan with the pain and suffering of its environment and people…. Never has a book so clearly illustrated the aphorisms 'all politics are local,' 'the personal is the political,' and 'we are what we eat.' This discussion of the evolution of environmentalism in Japan will reflect new light on the understanding of environmental history. Essential.
Walker is a superb historian and analyst, as his body of work, considerable for a relatively young scholar, manifests…. Unlike his editor, William Cronon, Brett Walker has immersed himself in a culture whose epistemology features no conceptual space for wilderness as a place where humans are not. His convincing, compelling 'from the genes up' portrait is of a living environment akin to being in Tokyo rush hour, 24/7.
American Historical Review
Walker focuses on the complex causations of environmental crises, documenting how cultural practices, social institutions, and biochemical pathways have intertwined with the toxic byproducts of modern industry to produce devastating pollution incidents.... This is a thoroughly compelling and important volume that will have a substantial impact on the study of modern Japan and our understanding of the environmental history of the modern world.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780295991382
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press
  • Publication date: 5/6/2011
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 727,663
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Brett L. Walker is Regents' Professor and department chair of history and philosophy at Montana State University, Bozeman. He is author of The Conquest of Ainu Lands: Ecology and Culture in Japanese Expansion, 1590-1800 and The Lost Wolves of Japan.

University of Washington Press

Brett Walker is Regents' Professor and department chairperson of history and philosophy at the University of Montana, Bozeman. He is the author of The Lost Wolves of Japan.Winner of the George Perkins Marsh Prize for Best Book in Environmental History

University of Washington Press

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Table of Contents

Foreword: The Pain of a Poisoned World William Cronon ix

Preface xiii

Prologue xvii

Introduction: Knowing Nature 3

1 The Agency of Insects 22

2 The Agency of Chemicals 45

3 Copper Mining and Ecological Collapse 71

4 Engineering Pain in the Jinzu River Basin 108

5 Mercury's Offspring 137

6 Hell at the Hojo Colliery 176

Conclusion 211

Notes 225

Works Cited 251

Index 271

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