Tokyo: Infrastructure and Environment

AHA Session 125
Friday, January 3, 2014: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Thurgood Marshall Ballroom West (Marriott Wardman Park)
David L. Howell, Harvard University
Jeffrey Hanes, University of Oregon

Session Abstract

Tokyo: Infrastructure and Environment 

This panel examines the infrastructure and environment of the Tokyo metropolis. Tokyo has been one of the largest cities in the world since at least the beginning of the eighteenth century. Although there is a wealth of scholarship on its social and economic history, the physical space of the city—its infrastructure, environment, and the legal institutions that regulated them—has been overlooked to a surprising degree.

The four presenters in this panel will examine some basic structures of the urban environment in Tokyo in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: land, water, waste, and energy. Together they will reveal a city that expanded rapidly with little or no systematic planning, while at the same time its already highly engineered rivers, canals, and bay front were remade in the face of industrialization and in the wake of the destruction of the Kanto earthquake and fire of 1923. Longstanding, highly efficient mechanisms to remove excrement and organic waste for use as fertilizer came under intense pressure as the population grew beyond the hinterland’s capacity to absorb waste. All the while, a legal and scientific (even philosophical) battle raged over a hallmark of the modern city, its electric power system.

 Jordan Sand (Georgetown University) will present on “An Alternative History of Housing in the World's First Megacity,” which examines the legal and social history of Tokyo’s urban sprawl in comparative perspective. Roderick Wilson (University of Illinois) follows with “Murky Waters: An Environmental History of Tokyo’s Waterways and Bay, 1888-1964,” which looks at pollution of the city’s canals, rivers, and bay as rapid growth and industrialization—punctuated with occasional widespread destruction—transformed Tokyo’s waterscape into a toxic environment. David Howell (Harvard University) will present on “Excrement in the City,” which analyzes the impact of rapid growth and changing notions of public health on the removal and processing of human waste in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Finally, Ian Miller (Harvard University) will present “The Case of the Missing Watt:  Measurement, Commodification, and the Nature of Energy in Meiji Tokyo,” which examines an early-twentieth-century legal battle over the nature of electricity. The debate over whether electricity was matter or ether determined its capacity for commodification by Japan’s first utility companies.  Commenting on the papers will be Jeffrey Hanes (University of Oregon), a historian of urbanism in modern Japan.

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