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The Lost Wolves of Japan (Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books) Hardcover – August 30, 2005
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"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. . . . an excellent book easily worth the time to read it. Well written and imaginatively illustrated, this monograph is as fascinating as it is timely."―Journal of Japanese Studies
"The Lost Wolves of Japan by the American historian Brett Walker features everything one should expect of a book on such a topic: high scholarship yet a good read; an intelligent selection of useful and―- in the West at least―- presumably seldom-seen illustrations; an author with a[n]. . . infectious enthusiasm for the subject."―International Zoo News
"The Lost Wolves of Japan is not just a history of the wolf in Japan, but is also about Montana (the author's home) and North America, about nature and wilderness, and about what it is to be human and animal."―Monumenta Nipponica
"Walker has written a well-researched book with a message to all who are interested not only in our representations of wolves but in human-nature relations in general."―American Historical Review
"This exquisite book provides an excellent introduction to the history of taxonomy and the development of ecological science throughout the world; it is also a wonderful examination of the human dimensions of wildlife in Japan . . . Highly recommended."―Choice
"Brett Walker may be the only true environmental historian among Japanologists publishing in English. Unlike other scholars who have written on environmental themes in Japanese history (this one included), Walker's work places him squarely in the company of the leading environmental historians and ecologists.. (He) has given us a fascinating study of wolves and humans in early modern and modern Japan. In doing so he has raised important questions about links between changes in national identity and views of nature. He has also challenged scholars of Japanese environmental history to go beyond Japanology to situate themselves in the company of scholars of environmental history in other regions of the globe."―Journal of East Asian Studies
"This book's particular brilliance lies in its ability to trace the contours of this absent presence, telling us the history of wolf annihilation while revealing the impossibility of fully recovering that history.. This book's immense achievement is its elucidation of the problem of writing history where all elements―- human and nonhuman, climatic and cultural―- are continually reconfigured. . . . The Lost Wolves of Japan is not only compelling environmental history but a deeply intelligent meditation on the historicity of our environment."―Isis
"Few books offer as intricate a view into another culture's attitudes toward an animal's extinction and disappearing wilderness as The Lost Wolves of Japan. Eloquently written and rich with notes that make this book highly appropriate for undergraduate and graduate course..Lost Wolves shows not only the global influences on species extinction but also how the loss of wilderness and signature species such as the wolf are deeply situated within rich, human worlds of rituals, stories, and legends that are themselves disappearing."―Journal of the History of Biology
"Inventive and heartfelt, The Lost Wolves of Japan is the kind of book many historians declare they will write when they earn tenure. But it is easy to say that you will be bold in the future. Walker actually keeps the promise."―The Journal of Asian Studies
"[An] excellent book. . . . Walker provides a wide-ranging perspective on the interactions between human and wolf culture, drawing on historical, religious, ecological, political, ethnological, and anthropological data― mostly from original Japanese sources. He adds a personal narrative engagement with his topic which enlivens the text and tale. Moreover, he dares to consider the fate of Japan's wolves from not only a human historian's perspective, but from what he calls a 'wolf's-eye view' of history."―ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment
"A stunningly original book about the Japanese veneration and then extermination of wolves."―Alex Lichtenstein, Houston Chronicle
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Walker takes a different tack. Reading like a 1993 term paper for an environmental studies class, blame for the demise of Japanese wolves is laid almost entirely on the West. This relies on the easy answer that modern humans – and especially modern humans viewed as “technological” – are solely responsible for extinctions and other environmental catastrophes. And yet we know that pre-industrial societies, especially on islands, destroyed countless species. Island-like Australia began loosing its large animals as soon as humans arrived 50,000 years ago; animals on Hawaii, New Zealand, and other Pacific Islands were driven to extinction by Polynesians, Melanesians, and other peoples; most large British animals were wiped out during the Neolithic Era, and nearly all of the rest before the Middle Ages had passed.
Comparing Britain and Japan would be interesting – the British, living on an archipelago slightly smaller than Japan, and with less rugged terrain, were able to wipe out their wolves more than a century before the Japanese managed to kill off theirs. But Walker makes no mention of any other extinctions, and again takes the easy route of complaining about the “progress” that took Japan’s top predators. In fact, wolves weren’t Japan’s top predators – tigers and leopards were. And today, well into the 21st Century, tigers and leopards persist almost with sight of Hokkaido, just across the Sea of Japan in Russia. Why don’t they live in Japan? They don’t live in Japan because the early Japanese, or more likely the ancestors of the Ainu, either directly or indirectly killed every last one. That was long before the utilization of anti-predator strychnine and industrial cattle ranching.
Walker almost addresses the dearth of wildness in pre-industrial Japan. He speculates that Japan’s crows – the large-billed crow and the carrion crow – might have followed wolf packs, or led them to their prey. Bernd Heinrich has shown how ravens might do that, and how there might be something to the traditional association between ravens and wolves. But that association has never been attributed to smaller crows, and Walker’s speculation seems wishful thinking. Regardless, his musings acknowledge that ravens are rare in Japan, even though they are plentiful just to the north, and in relative wilderness of Asia, Africa, and North America that lie in latitudes far south of Japan’s. As with the tiger and leopard there seems to be no reason for ravens not to live in Japan, other than a lack of wild spaces and uninviting humans.
Another suggestion of a denuded, pre-industrial Japan is Walker’s search for the true identity of the Japanese wolf – was it a feral dog? But here again the analysis is irksome and does nothing to convince the reader. The best example in history of a dog that took on a truly wild state is the Australian dingo. But the dingo is mentioned only once, in passing.
Much of the book is devoted to the Japanese reverence for the wolf, which also paints a strange picture. The famously insular Japanese abandoned a sacred animal simply because the West didn’t care for wolves? Why didn’t they also adopt Christianity, if they were so bent on imitating the West? Yes, the Japanese adopted Western ways and technology during the Meiji era, but there is no doubt that they picked and chose what they thought appropriate.
And here again we can compare environmental ideals in Japan and the West. While the simplistic take is that the West is single-handedly destroying the planet, in the case of preserving mega fauna – and in particular predators – the West actually seems ahead. Wolves are returning to parts of Europe where they’d been extinct for centuries. Wolves have been reintroduced to the American West and even into North Carolina. Yes, these reintroductions are opposed by many, but significant enthusiasm for wolves among the entire population has made the reintroductions possible. And the century-long rural depopulation that came with industrial agriculture and industrial ranching provided enough open space.
Japan is also experiencing rural depopulation. The Japanese could reintroduce wolves any time they want, and yet they haven’t bothered. If their reverence for nature is so great, why not take it a step further, and reintroduce globally threatened tigers and leopards? Again, it seems the Japanese are essentially shrugging at the loss of large animals, and it’s hard to imagine that only a few generations ago they thought any differently.
This is not to single out the Japanese as any more anti-environment than most societies throughout history, but it shows that the simplistic tale of the West as the sole enemy of the planet is not backed up by facts. Unfortunately, it seems that “The Lost Wolves of Japan” relies on this discredited idea.
The book is more about Japanese ideas about wolves that about the wolves themselves. These views of wolves changed from seeing them as semi-sacred to threats to prosperity. This is connected to the development of the northern island of Hokkaido, still something of a frontier in the 1800s, and wolves would be a threat to farmers' livestock (Hokkaido was less densely settled and cattle could be profitably raised). Wolves in Hokkaido were not extirpated until the 1920s. The taxonomy appears to be somewhat ragged, in that it is not clear if these were really wolves, or wolf-dog hybrids.