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A 200-Year View of Japanese Industrialization

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This talk considers Japan’s industrialization in its material dimensions, inspired by recent work in ecological economics. The story that emerges is one of life at an intensification frontier. On the eve of modern industrialization, Japanese agriculture was already the world’s most intensive, producing the highest caloric yields and supporting the greatest number of people per unit of farmland. By the 1910s Japan was Asia’s first industrial country and its industrialization also showed an extreme spatial intensity combined with a distant extension of resource frontiers. This new model of industrial imperialism ended in war and the fire and atomic bombing of Japanese cities. Fifteen years later, megacity Tokyo had been rebuilt into the largest city in human history and national industrial production was accelerating at a pace never yet experienced in any country. This type of high-speed growth has since been repeated across East Asia, adapting basic material elements developed in Japan. In Japan itself, material use per capita has actually declined since 1973 and the absolute volume of material use has declined since 1991, a first for any industrialized country. In thinking about the world’s present and future industrial trajectories, there are many reasons to consider Japan.

Please RSVP here. This is a hybrid event with in-person attendance at the East Asia Library Room 224. Non-Stanford affiliates who wish to join in-person, please review the library visitor access page.

About the speaker:

Mark Metzler (BA, Stanford; PhD, UC Berkeley) is Professor of History and International Studies at the University of Washington and Visiting Professor at Waseda University. He is the author of Lever of Empire (UC Press, 2006), Capital as Will and Imagination (Cornell UP, 2013), and, with Simon Bytheway, Central Banks and Gold (Cornell UP, 2016). His current work (forthcoming in 2023) includes “Japan: The Arc of Industrialization” (in Laura Hein, ed., The New Cambridge History of Japan); “The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the Birth of the Business Cycle” (in Robert Ingram and James Vaughn, eds., The Emergence of Capitalism); and “The 1970s Macrocycle: Eurodollars, Petrodollars, Credit Booms, and Debt Busts, 1973–1982” (in Shigeru Akita, ed., The Oil Crises and the Transformation of the International Economic Order in the 1970s.

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