The Green Archipelago: Forestry in Pre-Industrial Japan

The Green Archipelago: Forestry in Pre-Industrial Japan

The Green Archipelago: Forestry in Pre-Industrial Japan

The Green Archipelago: Forestry in Pre-Industrial Japan


Every foreign traveler in Japan is delighted by the verdant forest-shrouded mountains that thrust skyward from one end of the island chain to the other. The Japanese themselves are conscious of the lush green of their homeland, which they sometimes refer to as "the green archipelago." Yet, based on its fragile geography and centuries of extremely dense human occupation, Japan today should be an impoverished, slum-ridden, peasant society subsisting on a barren, eroded moonscape characterized by bald mountains and debris-strewn lowlands.

In fact, as Conrad Totman argues in this pathbreaking work based on prodigious research, this lush verdue is not a monument to nature's benevolence and Japanese aesthetic sensibilities, but the hard-earned result of generations of human toil that have converted the archipelago into one great forest preserve. Indeed, the author shows that until the late 1600s Japan was well on her way to ecological disaster due to exploitative forestry. During the Tokugawa period, however, an extraordinary change took place resulting in a system of "regenerative forestry" that averted the devastation of Japan's forests. The Green Archipelago is the only major Western-language work on this subject and a landmark not only in Japanese history, but in the history of the environment.


More and more our choices on this planet appear to be fire or ice: the fire of nuclear holocaust or the ice of environmental catastrophe. in both choices the heart of the problem is our continued domination by anachronistic attitudes that blind us to an essential truth: the multibillion-year history of life on earth reached a watershed in the twentieth century. the old history of our ecosystem has ended; a new history has begun. Whether it will be the history of a planet whose living face is much like that of former eons, or the history of a planet with a dramatically new face, is yet to be decided.

In either case it will be a new history. For billions of years the earth’s ecosystem was immune to the depredations of any of its own. External forces could visit disaster upon it. Particular species could grievously wound one another, but none could threaten life as a whole. Because this condition provided each species or symbiotic group with a secure field of action, each could pursue its own immediate interests, utterly indifferent to the general well-being, confident that the system was self-correcting, self-perpetuating, safe from abuse by any of its members.

Today that is all changed. Now one species—our own—can ravage the whole extraordinary structure of life on earth. and we seem determined to do it. We direct our highest skills and our most elaborately organized powers to the pursuit of enterprises that will most assuredly accomplish that pathetic end: we devise ever more destructive explosives and equip them with increasingly intricate and unmanageable triggering devices; we create ever more deadly chemicals and spew out more and more poisonous wastes; and we exploit . . .

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