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The Green Archipelago

The Green Archipelago: Forestry in Pre-Industrial Japan

Copyright Date: 1989
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Green Archipelago
    Book Description:

    Every foreign traveler in Japan is delighted by the verdant forest-shrouded mountains that thrust skyward from one end of the island chain to the other. The Japanese themselves are conscious of the lush green of their homeland, which they sometimes refer to as "the green archipelago." Yet, based on its fragile geography and centuries of extremely dense human occupation, Japan today should be an impoverished, slum-ridden, peasant society subsisting on a barren, eroded moonscape characterized by bald mountains and debris-strewn lowlands. In fact, as Conrad Totman argues in this pathbreaking work based on prodigious research, this lush verdue is not a monument to nature's benevolence and Japanese aesthetic sensibilities, but the hard-earned result of generations of human toil that have converted the archipelago into one great forest preserve. Indeed, the author shows that until the late 1600s Japan was well on her way to ecological disaster due to exploitative forestry. During the Tokugawa period, however, an extraordinary change took place resulting in a system of "regenerative forestry" that averted the devastation of Japan's forests.The Green Archipelagois the only major Western-language work on this subject and a landmark not only in Japanese history, but in the history of the environment.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-90876-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. A Brief Chronology
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  6. Maps
    (pp. xv-xxii)
  7. Introduction: An Overview of Preindustrial Japanese Forest History
    (pp. 1-6)

    Every foreign traveler in Japan is delighted by the verdant forest-shrouded mountains that thrust skyward from one end of the island chain to the other.¹ The Japanese themselves are conscious of the lush green of their homeland, which they sometimes refer to asmidori no rettō,“the green archipelago.” At first glance Japan seems to be a world of primeval forests, a gorgeous natural creation reflecting that frequently mentioned Japanese love of nature. In fact, the abundant verdure is not a monument to nature’s benevolence and Japanese aesthetic sensibilities but the hard-earned result of generations of human toil that have...

  8. Part One: A Millennium of Exploitation Forestry

    • Chapter One The Ancient Predation, 600-850
      (pp. 9-33)

      The ancient predation was the first of three periods of severe deforestation in Japan’s history. The other two were the early modern, which occurred from 1570 to 1670, and the modern, of the first half of the twentieth century. The first predation was the least severe of the three, with damaging deforestation largely confined to woodlands of the Kinai basin.¹

      Prior to the ancient predation, millennia of Stone Age forest utilization had made little lasting impact on the archipelago’s woodland. Eventually, however, field crops, including most notably rice, were introduced to Japan, and by about 300 B.C. rice culture was...

    • Chapter Two Forests and Forestry in Medieval Japan, 1050—1550
      (pp. 34-49)

      During the ancient predation Japan’s rulers consumed woodland in central Honshu at an exorbitant rate. Subsequently, forest exploitation stabilized in less intense harvesting that continued until the late sixteenth century, when a second, far more rapacious, phase of overconsumption swept the islands. Construction projects of the social elite provided dramatic highlights in the “medieval” period’s forest history. Technical and social changes in rural society, however, which sharply altered the human-forest relationship, bore greater significance for woodland and its users during both medieval and subsequent centuries.

      Several developments combined to intensify agricultural pressure on the woodland. After about A.D. 1200 the...

    • Chapter Three Timber Depletion during the Early Modern Predation, 1570-1670
      (pp. 50-80)

      The early modern predation was essentially the ancient predation writ large. Once again a ruling elite launched a vast construction boom that produced great monuments and cities. This time, however, the elite spanned the realm and in pursuit of its objectives had power enough to exploit human and natural resources throughout Japan. Within a century its enthusiasm for building had stripped the archipelago of nearly all its high forest.

      The documentation on this surge of forest exploitation, while superior to that of earlier centuries, is still spotty and yields no satisfying series of general statistics. Cumulatively, however, the scattered records...

  9. Part Two: The Emergence of Regenerative Forestry in Early Modern Japan

    • Chapter Four The Negative Regimen: Forest Regulation
      (pp. 83-115)

      The earliest historical evidence of woodland management in Japan dates from the ancient predation. After a couple of centuries such management appears to have fallen into desuetude, however, not reviving until the 14005 and 15005, when villagers and subsequently daimyo initiated a new era of forest regulation.

      During the seventeenth century, forest management acquired urgency as widespread land clearance and overcutting precipitated both erosion with its downstream ramifications and wood scarcity with its socioeconomic consequences. As decades passed, governments and villages all over the realm adopted and elaborated measures to counter the malign effects of excess, attempting most immediately to...

    • Chapter Five Silviculture: Its Principles and Practice
      (pp. 116-129)

      The timber scarcity that emerged in seventeenth-century Japan gave rise to a negative regimen whose primary function was to keep forests producing wood for the ruling elite’s cities, monuments, and treasuries. Difficulties in provisioning persisted, however, which fostered silviculture: the purposeful growing of trees through application of arboreal knowledge and insight.

      Most early modern silvicultural writing was imbedded in a broader agronomic literature because the shortfall in woodland output was only one aspect of a more basic problem. Tokugawa society was encountering irregular but intensifying scarcity in most types of biosystem yield, including food. Consequently, the search for ways to...

    • Chapter Six Plantation Forestry: Economic Aspects of Its Emergence
      (pp. 130-148)

      Plantation silviculture became widespread in Japan during the latter half of the eighteenth century.¹ Following the early modern predation, demand for forest yield continued to exceed supply, and afforestation and eventually plantation silviculture developed to meet that demand by increasing the desired forest output. A sharp rise in the quality and quantity of available silvicultural knowledge showed woodland holders how to pursue plantation culture successfully, and changes in economic relationships enabled rural producers to penetrate and profit from urban markets.² These developments made entrepreneurial forestry a comparatively attractive investment for the woodland operator.

      Plantation culture thus became possible in eighteenth-century...

    • Chapter Seven Land-Use Patterns and Afforestation
      (pp. 149-170)

      During the seventeenth century, overconsumption of forest products, timber in particular, generated problems that led to the creation of the negative regimen, whose central element was an elaborate countrywide system of forest management. That system may have prevented the worst of woodland abuses, and it may have hepled maintain social order in the face of difficulties arising from scarcity, but it did not end the scarcity itself. Natural restocking failed to keep pace with society’s consumption of lumber and other forest goods, so afforestation—or else exploitation of overseas areas—became essential if a brutal process of social contraction was...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 171-190)

    This study opened with the suggestion that Japan today should be an impoverished, slum-ridden, peasant society subsisting on an eroded moonscape, rather than a wealthy, dynamic, highly industrialized society living on a luxuriant, green archipelago. We would predict the former situation because this fragile chain of islands long ago should have been devastated by the demands of its extraordinarily dense human population.¹

    To develop that proposition a bit further, Japan is a “fragile chain of islands” in this sense. It is not a migrant piece of archaic continent in the manner of the British Isles, where bedrock plains merge imperceptibly...

  11. Bibliographical Essay: Scholarship on Preindustrial Japanese Forestry, 1880—1980
    (pp. 191-214)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 215-252)
  13. Glossaries
    (pp. 253-262)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 263-290)
  15. Index
    (pp. 291-297)