P11. Environmental History and Power Politics in Modern Japan

Session: Session 2, 1:45 – 3:15 pm, Friday 9/29

Category: Organized Panel

Location: Honors

Chair: William Tsutsui (Ottawa University)

Paper Presenters: Roderick Wilson (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Hiromi Mizuno (University of Minnesota)

Discussant: William Tsutsui (Ottawa University)

Abstract: This panel examines power politics – both the politics of power over resources and politics of power production – in the environmental history of twentieth century Japan. All three papers address politics related to water. Roderick Wilson’s paper, “The Building of the Ōi Dam and Restructuring of Power in Central Japan, 1910s-1930s,” examines the shifting environmental relations and struggles of upstream and downstream interests surrounding the building of the Ōi Dam on the Kiso River. When completed in 1924, the Ōi Dam was seen as a symbol of modernity and antithesis of nature. This paper, however, emphasizes how the planning, building, and operating of this massive hydroelectric facility actually entangled it within a complex set of preexisting environmental and power relations centered on the Kiso River. Hiromi Mizuno’s paper “Political Ecology of Hydropower and Chemical Fertilizer” examines why coal nitrogen (chemical fertilizer) factories concentrated in the hydropower regions of Hokuriku and Shinetsu, by focusing on Toyama and Niigata Prefectures from the 1920s to 1940s. Initially established as a way to use overproduced electricity, these and other chemical factories soon demanded more dams, changing rivers, farming, and labor patterns of nearby villages. Emer O’Dwyer’s paper, “Local Politics, Postwar Reconstruction, and Seaweed around Ise Bay” focuses on Occupation-era rivalries between Aichi fishing cooperatives along the Ise Bay littoral. The 1949 Fisheries Law and the removal of postwar controls on the harvesting of fish and other marine products led to a clash between local political “bosses” and fisherfolk on the Atsumi Peninsula regarding seaweed harvesting rights. The fragile ecosystem of the bay, still devastated by wartime overfishing and two large earthquakes in 1944 and 1945, formed the backdrop for a bitter contest between entrenched elites intent on continued profit from behind-the-scenes deals between brokers, and small fisherfolk emboldened to reject the egregious corruption characteristic of the years on either side of the 1945 divide. The papers together examine how the use and control of aquatic environments was deeply interwoven into local, regional, and national political relations. William Tsutsui will serve as chair and discussant.

The Building of the Ōi Dam and Restructuring of Power in Central Japan, 1910s-1930s

Speaker: Roderick Wilson
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract: N/A

Political Ecology of Hydropower and Chemical Fertilizer

Speaker: Hiromi Mizuno
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Minnesota
Abstract: N/A