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.
Grain farmers once worshiped wolves at shrines and left food offerings near their dens, beseeching the elusive canine to protect their crops from the sharp hooves and voracious appetites of wild boars and deer. Talismans and charms adorned with images of wolves protected against fire, disease, and other calamities and brought fertility to agrarian communities and to couples hoping to have children. The Ainu people believed that they were born from the union of a wolflike creature and a goddess.
In the eighteenth century, wolves were seen as rabid man-killers in many parts of Japan. Highly ritualized wolf hunts were instigated to cleanse the landscape of what many considered as demons. By the nineteenth century, however, the destruction of wolves had become decidedly unceremonious, as seen on the island of Hokkaido. Through poisoning, hired hunters, and a bounty system, one of the archipelago's largest carnivores was systematically erased.
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."
"A stunningly original book about the Japanese veneration and then extermination of wolves."
– Alex Lichtenstein, Houston Chronicle
"Well illustrated and stylishly written, The Lost Wolves of Japan is a wolf's-eye view of premodern Japanese culture and the modern state's drive for modernization [...] an excellent book easily worth the time to read it. Well written and imaginatively illustrated, this monograph is as fascinating as it is timely."
– Journal of Japanese Studies
"The Lost Wolves of Japan by the American historian Brett Walker features everything one should expect of a book on such a topic: high scholarship yet a good read; an intelligent selection of useful and – in the West at least – presumably seldom-seen illustrations; an author with a[n] [...] infectious enthusiasm for the subject."
– International Zoo News
"The Lost Wolves of Japan is not just a history of the wolf in Japan, but is also about Montana (the author's home) and North America, about nature and wilderness, and about what it is to be human and animal."
– Monumenta Nipponica
"Walker has written a well-researched book with a message to all who are interested not only in our representations of wolves but in human-nature relations in general."
– American Historical Review
"This exquisite book provides an excellent introduction to the history of taxonomy and the development of ecological science throughout the world; it is also a wonderful examination of the human dimensions of wildlife in Japan [...] Highly recommended."
"Brett Walker may be the only true environmental historian among Japanologists publishing in English. Unlike other scholars who have written on environmental themes in Japanese history (this one included), Walker's work places him squarely in the company of the leading environmental historians and ecologists.. (He) has given us a fascinating study of wolves and humans in early modern and modern Japan. In doing so he has raised important questions about links between changes in national identity and views of nature. He has also challenged scholars of Japanese environmental history to go beyond Japanology to situate themselves in the company of scholars of environmental history in other regions of the globe."
– Journal of East Asian Studies
"This book's particular brilliance lies in its ability to trace the contours of this absent presence, telling us the history of wolf annihilation while revealing the impossibility of fully recovering that history.. This book's immense achievement is its elucidation of the problem of writing history where all elements – human and nonhuman, climatic and cultural – are continually reconfigured [...] The Lost Wolves of Japan is not only compelling environmental history but a deeply intelligent meditation on the historicity of our environment."
"Few books offer as intricate a view into another culture's attitudes toward an animal's extinction and disappearing wilderness as The Lost Wolves of Japan. Eloquently written and rich with notes that make this book highly appropriate for undergraduate and graduate course. The Lost Wolves of Japan shows not only the global influences on species extinction but also how the loss of wilderness and signature species such as the wolf are deeply situated within rich, human worlds of rituals, stories, and legends that are themselves disappearing."
– Journal of the History of Biology
"Inventive and heartfelt, The Lost Wolves of Japan is the kind of book many historians declare they will write when they earn tenure. But it is easy to say that you will be bold in the future. Walker actually keeps the promise."
– The Journal of Asian Studies
"[An] excellent book [...] Walker provides a wide-ranging perspective on the interactions between human and wolf culture, drawing on historical, religious, ecological, political, ethnological, and anthropological data- mostly from original Japanese sources. He adds a personal narrative engagement with his topic which enlivens the text and tale. Moreover, he dares to consider the fate of Japan's wolves from not only a human historian's perspective, but from what he calls a 'wolf's-eye view' of history."
– ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment
Foreword: A Strange Violent Intimacy / William Cronon
A Note to the Reader
Science and the Creation of the Japanese Wolf
Culture and the Creation of Japan's Sacred Wolves
The Conflicts between Wolf Hunters and Rabid Man-Killers in Early Modern Japan
Meiji Modernization, Scientific Agriculture, and Destroying the Hokkaido Wolf
Wolf Bounties and the Ecologies of Progress
Wolf Extinction Theories and the Birth of Japan's Discipline of Ecology
Appendix: Wolves and Bears Killed and Bounties Paid by Administrative Region, 1877-1881
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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.