“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

The Early Barnyard Hierarchy on the Ogasawara Islands

Image from Ogasawarajima Yôran

Working my latest chapter into shape has frustrated me.  This chapter looks at the disappearance of two animals on the islands: goats and pigs.

The discursive trail written by humans with an interest in maintaining the forest and agrarian landscape becomes is thin in the twentieth century, which is when the two of the largest islands were transformed by industrial agriculture.   In some cases, animals seem to disappear all together from the landscape.

I used to think that the reasons for their disappearance were the same.  I assumed that they were “removed” by eradication. I now know that I was pretty wrong about this.

Goats, which were introduced to the island groups of Chichijima and Hahajima in the 1820s and 1830, seemed to have been marginalized in the agrarian landscape.  The main reason for their being shunted to the edge is because of their close associations silvopastoralism and hunting, social practices that were either difficult to manage or marked as unlawful.  When the Tokugawa bakufu began to manage the islands in the early 1850s , it listed up a series of prohibitions that discouraged  the practice of hunting.   In the late nineteenth century, the goats’ persistent, land-transforming eating habits were marked has harmful to the establishment of an agricultural economy.  So I understand why the goats disappeared from government records.  Their presence could be construed as a marker of resistance, something that was threatening to the naturalization (kika) of the human and nonhuman landscape of the islands.

Secondary reason for their marginalization was because of their position in the barnyard hierarchy.  In contrast to pigs, which were industrialized and valued, goats which were seen as only suitable for “… villages in cold, isolated regions where goats milk could be drunk as a substitute for cow milk.” Pigs, on the other hand, were often imagined as being the most important species of livestock for developing a modern agricultural industry.

So I was kind of surprised at the pigs’  disappearance from the islands.  I first assumed that their absence  from forestry and agricultural records was because they were reduced by human predation.  I thought that the they were culled to oblivion (eradicated).  I now think that their disappearance is not because of their physical absence.  There were plenty of pigs on the islands, but they were no longer marked as a problem.

By the early twentieth century, it seems as if they were successfully incorporated into the agrarian landscape of the islands.  They became a normative, productive part of the landscape. I found a hint of this incorporation int the landscape in military comprehensive surveys of the islands.  Reading these records, it seems that there were more pigs on the islands than any other species of livestock.  In 1923, there were just under 300 pigs on the islands.  In comparison, there were around 120 heads of cattle and only 9 goats.

Now I am trying to do some reading in the valuations of livestock in the Meiji period.  It  turns out to be pretty interesting reading.  Unlike goats, which were associated with underdevelopment, pigs were modern animals were were raised as key pieces to the development of a modern agrarian industry.  In 1900, Morita Ryunosuke, a former military officer and official at the Imperial Experimental Farm in Chiba, argued that pigs were the foundation of livestock which was the foundation of agriculture.  He wrote that,

Everyone knows that agriculture is the foundation of the nation, but I believe that livestock is the foundation of agriculture. Why do I think this?  Well, if you cannot raise livestock, then you cannot eat meat and cannot produce much fertilizer.  Without eating meat, people working in agriculture will not have enough energy to do their work.  Without enough fertilizer, farmers won’t be able to increase their yields.  In short, without a solid agricultural base for the country, there is no hope for the advancement of the people (kokumin).

As long as the pigs were integrated and improved within the context of industrial agriculture they could be put to good use.  Morita made it clear that pig farming could only be of national use if it was modern.

The example he gave what he saw as the mismanagement of the pig industry .  He argued that even though the raising and consumption of pigs had been going on for thousands of years in China, the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) demonstrated that the eating pork means nothing without modernization.  The industrialization of pig farming allowed the Japanese farmers to produce and ship enough quality pork for the soldiers, which were “elite and formidable” because of the meat.  The Qing government, Morita argued, was unable to get the pork to its soldiers because it pig farming industry was not as developed as Japan’s.

The big question now is:  How do I work this into my dissertation?

Book Consulted: 

 Meiji Nôsho Senshû, V. 1-8,  Tokyo: Nôsanryôson Bunka Kyôkai, 1985.
Posted in animal studies, Animals, bonin islands, Dissertation research, environmental history, Japanese history, modern Japanese history, Ogasawara Islands | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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