Japan and the Environment in 1983

Japan’s problems with population control, pollution-related public health problems, and resource usage position it in a warning role for other developed nations.

| September/October 1983

  • tea-field-and-mount-fuji
    Japan's historically excellent, productive, and sustainable agricultural system is being destroyed by deforestation, development, contamination, and mismanagement.

  • tea-field-and-mount-fuji

Paul Ehrlich (Bing Professoof Population Studies and Professor of Biological Sciences, Stanford University) and Anne Ehrlich (Senior Research Associate, Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford) are familiar names to ecologists and environmentalists everywhere. But while most folks are aware of the Ehrlichs' popular writing in the areas of ecology and overpopulation (most of us, for instance, have read Paul's book The Population Bomb), few people have any idea of how deeply the Ehrlichs are involved in ecological research (the type that tends to be published only in technical journals and college texts). That's why we're pleased to present "Ecoscience," a regular semi-technical column by these well-known authors/ecologists/educators. 

The population, resource, and environmental situations in Japan provides a stunning contrast to that in China. (See China's Population Crisis and China’s Ecological Outlook in 1983.) After all, the latter nation has a population about nine times greater than that of Japan, but has 22 times the arable land, or, roughly two and a half times as much cropland per person. China is also resource-rich, while Japan is resource-poor, yet China's per capita income is around $250 per year, while Japan's is about $9,000.

A Bit of Japanese History

In the middle of the last century, at the point at which Japan restored the Emperor and began its rapid Westernization and industrialization, it had a population of 25 to 30 million. Then infanticide and abortion were forbidden, hygiene was improved, andas a resultthe population grew to 44 million by the turn of the century.

Japan was militaristic from the beginning of that "Meiji" restoration. At first, not wishing to suffer Western invasions as China had, military buildup was primarily defensive in character. However, by the 1890's, Japan turned expansionist, fighting and defeating China and then winning the Russo-Japanese War.

The start of the Great Depression delivered a stunning blow to the Japanese. The overseas markets that the country depended upon were no longer buying, and, since Japan's economy was based on imported raw materials and markets outside of its own borders, there was a new surge of military expansionism, and the armed forces' resulting "need" for manpower led to strong pro-natalist policies. By 1935, Japan's small birth control movement was forced to disband.

The nation's first move, once again, was against China. Then, with the defeat of France by the Germans in 1940, Japan moved into French Indochina. The goal was to gain secure status as a world power by creating what was termed the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere." The theory was that, by conquering much of China and Southeast Asia, Japan would gain both raw materials and protected markets.


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