The Nature of the Beasts: Empire and Exhibition at the Tokyo Imperial Zoo

The Nature of the Beasts: Empire and Exhibition at the Tokyo Imperial Zoo

The Nature of the Beasts: Empire and Exhibition at the Tokyo Imperial Zoo

The Nature of the Beasts: Empire and Exhibition at the Tokyo Imperial Zoo

Synopsis

It is widely known that such Western institutions as the museum, the university, and the penitentiary shaped Japan's emergence as a modern nation-state. Less commonly recognized is the role played by the distinctly hybrid institution--at once museum, laboratory, and prison--of the zoological garden. In this eye-opening study of Japan's first modern zoo, Tokyo's Ueno Imperial Zoological Gardens, opened in 1882, Ian Jared Miller offers a refreshingly unconventional narrative of Japan's rapid modernization and changing relationship with the natural world. As the first zoological garden in the world not built under the sway of a Western imperial regime, the Ueno Zoo served not only as a staple attraction in the nation's capital--an institutional marker of national accomplishment--but also as a site for the propagation of a new "natural" order that was scientifically verifiable and evolutionarily foreordained. As the Japanese empire grew, Ueno became one of the primary sites of imperialist spectacle, a microcosm of the empire that could be traveled in the course of a single day. The meaning of the zoo would change over the course of Imperial Japan's unraveling and subsequent Allied occupation. Today it remains one of Japan's most frequently visited places. But instead of empire in its classic political sense, it now bespeaks the ambivalent dominion of the human species over the natural environment, harkening back to its imperial roots even as it asks us to question our exploitation of the planet's resources.

Excerpt

Harriet Ritvo

In a way, there is nothing new about animals as the focus of learned investigation. the ancient genre of the bestiary, a massive compendium of known and unknown animals, continued to flourish in Europe through the medieval period. Since at least the late seventeenth century, which is when the Oxford English Dictionary identifies the first occurrence of the word “zoology,” animals have occupied their own scientific discipline. (Animals continue to occupy the attention of these scientists, of course, even though recent developments have made them increasingly uneasy with that characterization of their research; thus in 1996, after a century as the American Society of Zoologists, their disciplinary organization rechristened itself as the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.) Animals have traditionally figured in analyses of literary and religious symbolism. Their physical remains have provided important evidence for paleontologists and paleoanthropologists. and accounts of them, both numerical and verbal, have provided fodder for historians of science and of agriculture and economics.

But in another way, there is something very new. Scholarly attention to animals has expanded exponentially over the last few decades, spreading to nearly every discipline and subdiscipline within the humanities and social sciences. During the same period, “animal studies” has emerged as a multidisciplinary research area, now institutionalized in scholarly societies, conferences, and journals. As is often the case with such enterprises, the extent of this success has tended to undermine . . .

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