Environment and Society book cover
Environment and Society in the Japanese Islands

Batten, Bruce L., and Philip C. Brown, eds. Environment and Society in the Japanese Islands: From Prehistory to the Present. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2015. (order from press)

Book Description from Back Cover

Over the long course of Japan’s history, its rich natural environment simultaneously supported its human inhabitants and created significant hazards and challenges. The Japanese have also influenced nature in numerous ways, from landscape modification to industrial pollution. How has the human-nature relationship changed over time in Japan? How does Japan’s environmental history compare with that of other countries, or that of the world as a whole?

Environment and Society in the Japanese Islands attempts to answer these questions through a series of case studies by leading Japanese and Western historians, geographers, archaeologists, and climatologists. These essays, on diverse topics from all periods of Japanese history and prehistory, are unified by their focus on the key concepts of “resilience” and “risk mitigation.” Taken as a whole, they place Japan’s experience in global context and call into question the commonly presumed division between premodern and modern environmental history.

Primarily intended for scholars and students in fields related to Japan or environmental history, these accessibly written essays will be valuable to anyone wishing to learn about the historical roots of today’s environmental issues or the complex relationship between human society and the natural environment.


Gina Barnes
Bruce L. Batten
Philip C. Brown
Eric Dinmore
Toshihiro Higuchi
Junpei Hirano
Kuang-chi Hung
Tatsunori Kawasumi
Takehiko Mikami
Scott O’Bryan
Osamu Saito
Shizuyo Sano
Gregory Smits
Colin Tyner
Masumi Zaiki


“[Environment and Society in the Japanese Islands] is a stimulating, well-researched, and well-edited volume that makes a significant contribution to the growing literature on Japanese environmental history. The individual chapters . . . offer a multifaceted and stimulating view of Japanese environmental history. In all respects, the book clearly lives up to the editors' first guiding principle: to bring together a diversity of authors and topics that throw new light on the long and varied environmental history of Japan. Environment and Society in the Japanese Islands has taken an important step by drawing on ecological theories such as the adaptive cycle to understand environmental history in Japan. This book deserves close attention by specialists and upper-level students interested in Japan and in global environmental history.” —Monumenta Nipponica 70:2 (2015)

“What sets this book apart from other works is the rapidly growing field of Japanese environmental history is the volume's disciplinary diversity, its broad historical range, and its engagement with ecological resilience theory. This volume not only adds a much needed premodern perspective to studies of the human-nature relationship in Japan, but through its accessible presentation and critical engagement with current debates, it also announces for Japan a more prevalent place in global environmental history.”
—Environmental History 21 (2016)

“This book contains a brief but excellent introduction to Japanese history and topography, and the editors’ apt organization of the contents—‘Lay of the Land,’ ‘Water,’ ‘Life,’ and ‘Climate’—provides readers an understanding of Japan’s complex environmental and social history. Covering a variety of places and time periods, the authors do an excellent job of demonstrating the dynamic relationship between nature and humanity in the Japanese islands. . . . In sum, the authors and editors have produced a fine collection of interdisciplinary essays and have bridged difficult linguistic barriers with their scholarship.”
—Agricultural History 90:2 (2016)

“This rich volume presents recent research on Japanese environmental history from the perspectives of archaeology, biogeography, climatology, ecology, geographic information systems, history, and international relations in order to illuminate ‘the processes of historical, socionatural change’ . . . in Japan and in environmental history generally. . . Each chapter brims with fresh data and sophisticated insights that will edify Japan specialists and global environmental historians alike. . . This is a book of great interest and importance.”
—American Historical Review 121:4 (2016)

“This volume . . . deserves credit for helping name some of the challenges that are likely to shape Japanese environmental history going forward.” —The Journal of Japanese Studies 43:1 (2017)

“Batten and Brown provide an overview of Japanese environmental history, the best historiographical introduction of the field to date . . . [T]his volume highlights how environmental history can shed new light on the relationship between society and the natural environment, which are thoroughly interconnected.” —The Journal of Asian Studies 76:2 (2017)