Many Japanese once revered the wolf as Oguchi no Magami, or Large-Mouthed Pure God, but as Japan began its modern transformation wolves lost their otherworldly status and became noxious animals that needed to be killed. By 1905 they had disappeared from the country. In this spirited and absorbing narrative, Brett Walker takes a deep look at the scientific, cultural, and environmental dimensions of wolf extinction in Japan and tracks changing attitudes toward nature through Japan's long history. He discusses prominent Japanese naturalists, their theories of wolf extinction, and the development of Japan's scientific discipline of ecology, looking at how nation-building and industrialization in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries reconfigured relationships with the natural world in ways that led to the extinction of wolves.Grain farmers once worshipped wolves at shrines and left food offerings near their dens, beseeching the elusive canine to protect their crops from the sharp hooves and voracious appetites of wild boars and deer. Talismans and charms adorned with images of wolves protected against fire, disease, and other calamities and brought fertility to agrarian communities and to couples hoping to have children. The Ainu people believed that they were born from the union of a wolflike creature and a goddess. In the eighteenth century, wolves were seen as rabid man-killers in many parts of Japan. Highly ritualized wolf hunts were instigated to cleanse the landscape of what many considered as demons. By the nineteenth century, however, the destruction of wolves had become decidedly unceremonious.To contrast wolf killings in the decades before and after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Walker looks at killings on the island of Hokkaido. The systematic erasure of one of the archipelago's largest carnivores - through poisoning, hired hunters, and a bounty system - elevated humans to spiritual and actual mastery over a part of the natural world. The story of wolf extinction exposes the underside of Japan's modernization. Certain wolf scientists still camp out in Japan to listen for any trace of the elusive canines. The quiet they experience reminds us of the profound silence that awaits all humanity when, as the Japanese priest Kenko taught almost seven centuries ago, we 'look on fellow sentient creatures without feeling compassion'.
"The Lost Wolves of Japan draws not just on Japanese history, literature, folklore, taxonomy, and ecology, but on the author's personal experience and on relevant science and historiography in other parts of the world as well." William Cronon, University of Wisconsin, Madison "Walker has taken the seemingly obscure topic of Japanese wolves and their extinction and used it to illuminate Japanese history more broadly... he has addressed an issue directly related to the central human agenda of the 21st century, that of survival in a severely overburdened and rapidly deteriorating global biosystem." Conrad Totman, author of Preindustrial Korea and Japan in Environmental Perspective