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The Nature of the Beasts

The Nature of the Beasts: Empire and Exhibition at the Tokyo Imperial Zoo

Ian Jared Miller
Foreword by Harriet Ritvo
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    The Nature of the Beasts
    Book Description:

    It is widely known that such Western institutions as the museum, the university, and the penitentiary shaped Japan’s emergence as a modern nation-state. Less commonly recognized is the role played by the distinctly hybrid institution—at once museum, laboratory, and prison—of the zoological garden. In this eye-opening study of Japan’s first modern zoo, Tokyo’s Ueno Imperial Zoological Gardens, opened in 1882, Ian Jared Miller offers a refreshingly unconventional narrative of Japan’s rapid modernization and changing relationship with the natural world. As the first zoological garden in the world not built under the sway of a Western imperial regime, the Ueno Zoo served not only as a staple attraction in the nation’s capital—an institutional marker of national accomplishment—but also as a site for the propagation of a new “natural” order that was scientifically verifiable and evolutionarily foreordained. As the Japanese empire grew, Ueno became one of the primary sites of imperialist spectacle, a microcosm of the empire that could be traveled in the course of a single day. The meaning of the zoo would change over the course of Imperial Japan’s unraveling and subsequent Allied occupation. Today it remains one of Japan’s most frequently visited places. But instead of empire in its classic political sense, it now bespeaks the ambivalent dominion of the human species over the natural environment, harkening back to its imperial roots even as it asks us to question our exploitation of the planet’s resources.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95210-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. Figures
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xv-xx)

    In a way, there is nothing new about animals as the focus of learned investigation. The ancient genre of the bestiary, a massive compendium of known and unknown animals, continued to flourish in Europe through the medieval period. Since at least the late seventeenth century, which is when the Oxford English Dictionary identifies the first occurrence of the word “zoology,” animals have occupied their own scientific discipline. (Animals continue to occupy the attention of these scientists, of course, even though recent developments have made them increasingly uneasy with that characterization of their research; thus in 1996, after a century as...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxvi)
  6. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xxvii-xxviii)
  7. Introduction: Japan’s Ecological Modernity
    (pp. 1-22)

    Over the course of the nineteenth century, Japanese redefined and reshaped their place in the natural world. A new understanding of the animal—and thus the human—was central to that transformation. When United States Commodore Matthew C. Perry steamed into the bay of Edo (present-day Tokyo Bay) at the head of a naval squadron that included four coal-burning “black ships”—intimidating machines that belched black smoke into the skies above the vulnerable capital city—his arrival announced more than a change in Japan’s international position. It foreshadowed the onset of Japan’s industrial age and the reconfiguration of dealings with...


    • CHAPTER 1 Japan’s Animal Kingdom: The Origins of Ecological Modernity and the Birth of the Zoo
      (pp. 25-59)

      Ecological modernity began to quicken in Japan when Udagawa Yōan completed his Botany Sutra (Botanika kyō) in 1822, an act of translation that claimed revolutionary social and scientific consequences. It was in that short essay that Udagawa (1798–1846), already a noted translator of Western medical and scientific texts at the age of twenty-four, proposed the Japanese word for “animal” that is still used today. The characters that he chose for the word—dōbutsu—signify a moving or animated thing, a description that he linked with breath, air, and life force: ideas that share important elements with both the Latin...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Dreamlife of Imperialism: Commerce, Conquest, and the Naturalization of Ecological Modernity
      (pp. 61-92)

      By the close of the nineteenth century, as the Japanese archipelago entered a period of sustained industrialization, the taxonomic separation of people from animals instigated by Udagawa Yōan in 1822 had become a source of mass-culture longing and lament. When the Imperial Household Ministry approved the construction of a popular exhibit for living “animal war trophies” (senrihin dōbutsu) in 1897—the garden’s first major expansion since its opening in 1882—the exhibitionary culture of the zoo was already beginning to invert. By the end of the Meiji era in 1912 the steel bars of the Ueno Imperial Zoological Garden no...


    • CHAPTER 3 Military Animals: The Zoological Gardens and the Culture of Total War
      (pp. 95-119)

      Nature and the natural world—as a concept and a physical resource—played crucial roles in the articulation of Japanese wartime culture in the years between 1937 and 1945. Japanese military and political leaders used the country’s limited natural resources as a primary justification for their aggressive actions overseas. Japan, the story went, was a “small island nation” beset by a group of more powerful aggressor states bent on restricting the country’s prospects by limiting trade and monopolizing access to the natural bounty of the Asian continent and Southeast Asia in particular. Without access to the petroleum, timber, and ore...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Great Zoo Massacre
      (pp. 120-162)

      The most disturbing thing that ever happened at the Ueno Zoo was the systematic slaughter of the garden’s most famous and valuable animals in the summer of 1943. At the height of the Second World War, as the Japanese empire teetered on the brink of collapse, the zoo was transformed from a wonderland of imperial amusement and exotic curiosity into a carefully ritualized abattoir, a public altar for the sanctification of creatures sacrificed in the service of total war and of ultimate surrender to emperor and nation. The cult of military martyrdom is often recognized as a central component of...


    • CHAPTER 5 The Children’s Zoo: Elephant Ambassadors and Other Creatures of the Allied Occupation
      (pp. 165-192)

      “Bambi,” a diminutive white-tailed fawn, arrived at the Tokyo’s Ueno Imperial Zoo on May 19, 1951, with great fanfare. The first of his species (Odocoileus virginianus) exhibited at the Ueno Zoo, the fawn was a gift from Walter Disney himself to the children of Japan in celebration of the end of the war and the Japanese premiere of the animated film. Old warhorses—the stallions ridden into battle by Japanese officers at the height of the nation’s imperial glory—were pushed aside to make way for the cute, wide-eyed mascot of American corporate interests and sentimental environmentalism.¹ In the early...

    • CHAPTER 6 Pandas in the Anthropocene: Japan’s “Panda Boom” and the Limits of Ecological Modernity
      (pp. 193-230)

      When two giant pandas arrived at Tokyo’s Ueno Imperial Zoo from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on October 28, 1972, it signaled diplomatic normalization between former foes in a brutal colonial war. It also marked the apex of human fascination with the world of the zoo in Japan. Few animals so clearly encapsulated the workings—and limits—of ecological modernity as these bears. At once objects of intense global cultural, scientific, and political attention and subject to relentless ecological marginalization in the wild, the giant pandas illustrated the conflicted status of wildlife in the modern world. Tensions between conservationism...

  11. Epilogue: The Sorrows of Ecological Modernity
    (pp. 231-238)

    When an unnamed 144-gram giant panda cub died at the Ueno Zoo on July 11, 2012, it gave form to the enduring paradoxes of ecological modernity.¹ The story of this tiny furless animal illustrates at one and the same time the mass appeal of animals and nature within Japanese society and an unfulfilled longing for those same things. It shows how politics have penetrated nearly every aspect of life at an institution that has, since the end of the Allied occupation in 1952, sought to define its mission in terms of apolitical recreation and education. And it demonstrates the tensions...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 239-284)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 285-314)
  14. Index
    (pp. 315-322)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 323-324)