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The Lost Wolves of Japan.


Brett L. Walker, Foreword by William Cronon. P.O. Box 50096, Seattle, Washington 98135-5096: University of Washington Press, 2005. (206) 543-4050. 303 pp. $35.00 Softbound.

Many Japanese once revered the wolf as Oguchi no Magami, or Large-Mouthed Pure God, but as Japan began its modern transformation wolves lost their otherworldly status and became noxious animals that needed to be killed. By 1905 they had disappeared from the country. In this spirited and absorbing narrative, Brett Walker takes a deep look at the scientific, cultural, and environmental dimensions of wolf extinction in Japan and tracks changing attitudes toward nature through Japan's long history. He discusses prominent Japanese naturalists, their theories of wolf extinction, and the development of Japan's scientific discipline of ecology, looking at how nation-building and industrialization in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries reconfigured relationships with the natural world in ways that led to the extinction of wolves.

The story of wolf extinction exposes the underside of Japan's modernization. Certain wolf scientists still camp out in Japan to listen for any trace of the elusive canines. The quiet they experience reminds us of the profound silence that awaits all humanity when, as the Japanese priest Kenko taught almost seven centuries ago, we "look on fellow sentient creatures without feeling compassion."

Brett L. Walker is Associate Professor of History at Montana State University and the author of The Conquest of Ainu Lands: Ecology and Culture in Japanese Expansion, 1590-1800.
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Publication:Environmental Law
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2005
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