A new understanding of animals was central to how Japanese people redefined their place in the natural world in the nineteenth century. In The Nature of the Beasts: Empire and Exhibition at the Tokyo Imperial Zoo
(University of California Press, 2013), Ian Jared Miller
explores this transformation and its reverberations in a fascinating study of the emergence of an "ecological modernity" at the Ueno Zoo in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Miller considers how imperialist expansion reshaped what the "natural world" was and how it was represented in the context of the zoo. He also looks carefully at the transformations of the zoological garden in wartime, when the core mission of the Ueno Zoo shifted from public education and imperial entertainment to mobilization for total war, including a "Great Zoo Massacre" in which the zoo's most famous and valuable animals were systematically slaughtered in the summer of 1943. The zoo was reimagined in the postwar period, including the establishment of a new children's zoo and a repopulation with gift animals from China, the US, and beyond.
In addition to its compelling arguments and affecting narratives of Japan's modern animal ecologies in the context of empire and beyond, The Nature of the Beasts
also offers a paper bestiary of dancing bears, Bactrian camels proudly displayed as war trophies, horses that served as "animal soldiers" in wartime, a chimpanzee named Suzie who met the emperor, pandas who functioned as "living stuffed animals" and biotechnologies, and two beloved elephants that were deliberately starved to death as part of a series of wartime animal sacrifices. It is a wonderful book and it was a pleasure to talk with Ian about it. Enjoy!