Walker, Brett. 2010. Toxic Archipelago: A History of Industrial Disease in Japan. University of Washington Press.
This is an innovative and accessible narrative of multi-faceted relationships between a nation, pain, and industrial pollution. Walker offers fresh analyses of well-known cases in Japanese history, such as the Meiji period’s Ashio copper mine and the more recent Minamata and Itai-itai (“it hurts, it hurts”) diseases in the postwar period. His key concept, hybrid causation, undercuts the distinction between “natural” and “social” or “human” causative processes in order to complicate “the role that human politics, economics, technology, and culture played in environmental pollution and industrial disease” (p. xiv). This deliberate combination of issues that scholars otherwise tend to study in isolation makes his narrative surprisingly broad-ranging. Unprepared readers may find this bewildering at first, but Walker’s approach involving case studies yields pedagogical value in helping students learn about different angles of analysis that one may use to gain more nuanced historical understandings of industrial pollution.
Interesting is Walker’s observation of differences between American and Japanese traditions of environmental thinking, which, according to him, influenced the wording of the Basic Law for Pollution Control, passed in 1967. He notes that the Japanese law targeted “the living environment” (seikatsu kankyō) instead of “wilderness.” The former “comprises those landscapes and organisms most closely associated with human habitation,” while the latter “represents a place where we humans are not” (p. 217). Though he does not quite make explicit the connection to “hybrid causation,” he argues that the Japanese concept represents a partial learning of the lessons of the historical cases outlined in the book. Perhaps most controversial — and therefore useful for stimulating students’ discussion — is Walker’s rather grim view of future environmental problems. “I do not think that we, as a species, can remedy these problems immediately, perhaps not at all,” he writes (p. 223).
Though this book, published in 2010, obviously does not mention the 2011 triple disaster, the implications of “hybrid causation” clearly extend beyond these cases of industrial pollution to the realms of nuclear accidents and so-called “natural” disasters. Highly recommended, especially as reading material for undergraduate courses.
– Yoshiyuki Kikuchi