Robert Stolz
Assistant Professor
Dept. of History
University of Tennessee-Knoxville



Bad Water: A Cultural History of Industrial Pollution in Japan
This project connects the social to the environmental through an investigation of Japan’s experience with industrial pollution in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Using scientific, philosophical, literary, and historical texts, I examine what I call Japan’s “environmental turn” in thought and politics after 1900. The pollution of the late nineteenth century threatened the newly-won political freedoms during the Popular Rights and Liberty Movement of the 1870-80s. The realization that the environment was a necessary category of social thought undermined the self-contained, autonomous individual of classic and Meiji Utilitarianism. After 1900, for many thinkers, the search for new forms of social organization started with an investigation of nature. I argue that it was the emergence of industrial pollution that led to the reconceptualizing of nature as an alienated material environment that, for the first time, could then become the basis of a politics. Differing conceptions of this alienated nature underwrote the intense political, social, and cultural struggles of modern Japanese history, from flood-control politics, eminent domain, political ecology, literary expression, to Taisho-era (1912-26) “vitalism” (seimeishughi), a way of thought close to Deep Ecology. By paying attention to this history, this project recaptures and links it to conceptualizations of post-war pollution and high-growth economics as a way to reorganize modern Japanese history.

Japan Focus, January 23. 2007
Remake Politics, Not Nature: Tanaka Shozo’s Philosophies
of “ Poison” and “Flow” and Japan’s Environment


Images: Ashio and Tanaka Shozo