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From the outset, society in Japan has been shaped by its environmental context. The lush green mountainous archipelago of today, with its highly productive lowlands, supports a population of more than 127 million people and one of the most advanced economies in the world. How has this come about and at what environmental cost? Conrad Totman, one of the world's foremost scholars on Japanese, here provides a comprehensive and detailed account of the country's environmental history, from its beginnings to the present day. Professor Totman traces the country's development through successive historical phases, as early agricultural society based on non-intensive forms of cultivation gave way to more intensified forms. With each stage came greater utilisation of natural resources but a steady reduction in the richness of the indigenous biosystem. By the late seventeenth century the country was well on the way to ecological disaster.
Yet Japan's isolation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries led to an unusually enlightened set of environmental policies, and the system of regenerative forestry brought in during the Tokugawa period prevented certain devastation of the country's forests. At the end of the nineteenth century, however, the country began to go to the opposite extreme, as industrialisation brought with it a period of unprecedented change. Growth and diversification led to a surge in environmental pollution as it became necessary to look beyond the country's domestic natural resources to meet the demand for foodstuffs, fossil fuels and the raw materials necessary to an advanced industrial economy. The population was particularly badly affected, and some of the problems that emerged, especially from the 1960s onwards, provided important test cases not just for Japan but worldwide.