“Living Military Hardware”: Horses, Warfare, and Betting

Last week I talked with my students about the histories of animals in Imperial Japan.  One of the animals that I wasn’t intending to talk about was the history of horses.  That was until I saw the following commercial by the Japanese Racing Association (JRA) commemorating the 150th anniversary of horse racing in Japan.

The JRA has put together a website which outlines the history of racing in Japan since the first “western” track was constructed in 1866.  The site includes videos, pictures, and timeline.  HERE is a link to the site, but it is only in Japanese.

The first steps toward establishing race tracks in Japan were taken when the head of the British Legation informed the Tokguawa government of their intention to build a race track. The beginning of the construction of the 1,764 meter long and 18 meter wide track began in March 1866.  It was finished in the summer of that year.

What is left out — or muted — of the chronicle of information in the JRA site is that they were not responsible for the management of regulation of Japanese built race tracks until 1954.  The first Japanese-built tracks, which were completed in the fall of 1877, were administered by three stakeholders: the Imperial Army, Imperial Household Ministry, and Ministry of the Interior (Naimusho).

Each of those stakeholders had different desires for what the tracks and the racing system should be used for. Each of these stakeholders saw the track as an apparatus of civilization and enlightenment, an method by which they could improve the quality of national horses so that they would be equal or better than horses held by their international competitors — especially those which were hostile towards Japan.

For the Imperial Household, the racing tracks were going to be used for preparing horses for ceremonial purposes.  For the Home Ministry, they wished for the tracks to be used for the rearing of good agricultural horses.  For the army, the track was going to used to train war horses of “good quality.”

No animal was utilized more than horses in warfare.  None.  For the Imperial Amry, horses lived their lives a what the historian  Sugimoto Ryû has called, “living military hardware” (gun no katsu heiki).   The Ministry of the Army saw the network of race horses in Japan as place less for entertainment than as places where they could refine war horses.

The Ministry of the Army took an particular interest in the tracks after the conclusion of the first Sino-Japanese War.  They reported after its conclusion that they were unsatisfied with the performance of the horses in the front, and they sent directives to the government that there was a need to produce horses of better quality.

Race tracks were the answer.  But the problem was rearing good horses costs money.  Lost of money.  Along with the construction of tracks, you needed money for maintaining the facilities, paying the trainers, feed, veterinarians, and breeders.  Things were cheep, so one of the solutions that they came up with was betting.  Allowing betting was a means by which the government could encourage a connection to these animals but also a way of funding them.

Sources Consulted (Other than the JRA website):

Sugimoto, Ryû. “Gunba to Keiba (War Horses and Race Horses).” In Hito to Dôbutsu No Nihonshi, Vol. 3, Dôbutsu to Gendai Shakai (People and Animals in Japanese History, Vol. 3, Animals and Contemporary Society), edited by Yutaka Suga, 16-43. Tokyo: Yoshikawakô Bunkan, 2009.

Posted in animal studies, Animals, Dissertation research, environmental history, Japan, Japanese history, modern Japanese history | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Talking about Disease – Past and Present

I wanted to write the post earlier, but my body wasn’t cooperating. For the past couple of weeks, I have suffered through a high fever, a cough, the aches caused by respiratory syncytical virus (RS-virus).

The only reason that I knew what virus caused my misery was that my doctor tested me for it. This is probably because RS-virus is in the top ten list of  contagious illnesses in Japan. (Really.)  Every winter, RSV makes people sick in Japan and hospitalizes thousands of infants in Japan.  Most adults can shake the fever and cough off with the help of medication.  But the virus for babies under a year old causes enough irritability that they will stop feeding and have to be admitted to hospital for intravenous feeding.

The reason that I know all of this is because of the availability of information on RSV online.  There are hundreds of medical studies published in Japanese and English about the costs of RS-virus in Japan.  When I first looked up the what RS-virus was — because the explanation that I received from the doctor  was pretty vague — the first phrase in the search engine to come up was “RS-virus Japan.”  There is a lot of information on RS-virus in Japan because of the rates of infection are high.  It also, it seems, costs the government a ton of money because 0-6 month old infants are usually hospitalized if they contract the virus.

How much energy do states have to put into preventing and controlling the spread of communicable diseases? When communicable illnesses like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and “Swine Flu” breakout in Japan, public health officials in Japan don’t fool around.   Japanese health officials, following advice from health officers from the Infectious Disease Surveillance Center and the American Center for Disease Control, go to incredible lengths to prevent contaminative people and things from entering the country.  I can get tons of information on the ways in which current governments maintain their biosecurity.

Getting historical information on what made people sick is a little more difficult.  Where’s the stuff on the management of disease during the early years of the Meiji period (1868-1912)? Anyone?

I can’t find it in English, despite the central place that modern hygienic control had in regulating East Asian ports in the late-nineteenth century.   In the early years of the modern shipping and border control, some of the most difficult places that Japanese government officials had to regulate and control were transnational spaces of ports.  Sometimes when read secondary sources on the history of the treaty port system in Japan, I wish that there was more information on disease.  (I know that I wish for the strangest things.)

This isn’t just because of my interest in environmental history.  (Though that is a big part of it.)  It’s bigger than that.  In fact, disease was big news in the early years of the Meiji period (1868-1912).  Look at most Japanese newspaper index from the 1870s and 1880s, and there are two types of stories that appear a lot.   The first are about fires, which sometimes raised tens of thousands of houses and businesses at a time.  The second type news was about cholera outbreaks, which killed tens of thousands of people at a time.  Both are pretty important pieces of news that don’t work their way into you standard — even innovative — modern Japanese history textbooks.

Fighting Cholera in 1877

But I am pretty persistent.  Here is what I managed to cull from some of the newspaper indexes that I looked at a couple of weeks ago.  In Japan, the first major outbreak of cholera began in Osaka in August 1876. One year later, the an outbreak of cholera killed 8,027 people and infected 13,816 others in Nagasaki in the summer.    In July 1878, another outbreak in Nagasaki killed 511 people.

By the end of the decade, outbreaks were front page news in most papers. It’s hard to miss the headlines.  By the middle of 1879, a nationwide epidemic of cholera, even with strict entry conditions of ships coming into Japanese ports, killed 105,758 and infected 162,647 people.  By July 1880, the Bureau of Hygiene began to survey the spreads of disease more systematically, and brought in legislation to prevent the spread of tuberculous, typhus, cholera, dysentery, and diphtheria.  It may have worked for a time, but in 1882 there was another outbreak which killed 33,784 people.

You would think that people would write histories of these outbreaks.  But nope.   There aren’t many.

I am not concerned that outbreaks of cholera, tuberculous, and typhus haven’t been covered  much in a large monograph on the treaty port system in Japan.  It would be nice to have something that I could reference when I teach or write about biosecurity in the mid- to late-nineteenth century.  But I get it.  People are busy, and there is always another intellectual or cultural history of the meaning of modernity that needs to be written.  (I’m serious.  There is no shortage of good stuff that could be written on modernity.)

That’s not what bothers me.  What bothers me is that I that I can’t remember reading anything on these incredible outbreaks in standard modern Japanese history textbooks.  Why not? Is it because outbreaks killing thousands of people wasn’t important?  It certainly seems like it was important — and sensational — to the press and governments at the time.  Or is it because things like disease do not fit neatly within historical geography of the field?

Posted in environmental history, Japan, Japanese history, modern Japanese history, world history | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Talking Shit with my Students

Apologies for not posting anything for the past couple of months. Along with dissertation writing, I have had trouble managing my teaching load. I have a new class in modern Japanese history and am reworking an older class on the history of Edo-Tokyo.

For the “History of Tokyo” class, I have been — with varying degrees of success — trying to bring in more environmental history into the lectures. I failed in illustrating how changes in land taxes changed land use in prefectures like Kanagawa and Saitama. I thought that it was fascinating. My students weren’t that impressed. On the other hand, I succeeded in talking shit with my students. My students seem to love talking shit with me.

In a lecture on construction of road and water systems in the Tokugawa period (1603-1867), I talked with my students about use and market values of human excreta. The use value of human waste, particularly faeces, was as a source of nitrogen for farming. Getting access to green fertilizers (plants) in the early seventeenth century was difficult, as the forests were often off-limits to farmers. (See Conrad Totman’s Green Archipelago for this.) Night soil (human excreta) was less regulated and much more available to farmers, particularly for those who lived near large urban centres like Osaka.

The practice of using night soil (human excreta) for fertilizer was big business in Osaka. There farmers had dependency on urban centres for the supply of human excreta for the fertilizing of fields in villages surrounding Osaka and Kyoto. Nitrogen rich fecal matter was much easier to obtain, as long as you had the rights to collect it. As fertilizers rose in value, so did the value of night soil. The value of certain types of excreta was so high that the rights of collection areas were assigned and regulated by local governments. Susan Hanley wrote in her article on preindustrial sanitation in Japan that competition for rights to collect night soil was so intense that there were turf wars (riots) over the rights to scoop from certain neighbourhoods in 1724. The reason was that 10 households of night soil could bring in ½ ryô of gold per year. (1 ryô of gold could buy a family a year’s supply of grain.)

One of the reasons for the increase in demand for night soil in Osaka, especially fecal matter, was because of the growth of the city of Edo and its dearth of night soil. In the city’s first century of growth, farmers had a need of Osaka’s supply of night soil to fertilize their crops. The night soil, which was mostly faeces because it was easier to transport than urine, was brought from Osaka to Edo by water.

As the population grew, market places and farmers on the edge of the city became increasingly dependent on Edo for night soil. Agreements of exchange between daimyo (domainal lords) manors — which were often the size of small towns — and villages outside of the city assured farmers that they would have a steady supply of nitrogen for their crops. For daimyo, the agreements brought in money to help fund their biannual stays in the city of Edo.

Works Cited:

Hanley, Susan. “Urban Sanitation in Preindustrial Japan.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 18, no. 1 (1987): 1-26.

Totman, Conrad D. The Green Archipelago: Forestry in Preindustrial Japan. Berkeley: University of California, 1989.

Posted in environmental history, Japan, Japanese history | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments