The rivers of Japan are both hydrologically and historically dynamic. Overshadowed in the popular imagination and academic studies by the seismic activity of earthquakes and volcanos, the country’s rivers exhibit a deep fluvial history of people’s interactions with these waters for fishing, irrigating rice paddies, providing drinking water as well as efforts to prevent flooding from ruining their livelihood. In this talk, I examine these fluvial processes over the long nineteenth century to argue that, while those rivers continue to flow to this day, the environmental relations that helped constitute them were fundamentally reengineered at the beginning of the twentieth century when a new and centralizing government along with wealthy rural landowners and flooding rivers produced the administrative and technological framework that is Japan’s modern river regime.
Roderick Wilson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History and the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He earned his PhD in East Asian history from Stanford University. Earlier this year, he published his first book, Turbulent Stream: An Environmental History of Japan’s Rivers, 1600–1930 (Brill, 2021), and is now working on his second book about the urban and environmental history of Tokyo. At the University of Illinois, he teaches a variety of courses on the history of Japan, East Asia, and global environmental history.