Satō Nobuhiro and the Political Economy of Natural History in Nineteenth-Century Japan

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After the economic crises of the 1790s and 1830s, various domains of Tokugawa Japan initiated a series of reforms of their administrative and productive systems. Among these, the reform plan carried on by the Shimazu lords of the Satsuma domain, in the southern island of Kyushu, is particularly revealing. Under the lead of Zusho Hirosato and inspired by the writings of scholar Satō Nobuhiro, Satsuma became one of the wealthiest regions of nineteenth-century Japan. The plan consisted of assuring direct samurai control over productive and marketing activities, the development of monoculture in cash-crops like sugarcane in the southern islands of Amami and Okinawa (under the proto-colonial administration of Satsuma) and food self-sufficiency on the mainland. The philosophical foundations of this reform plan rested on a conceptualization of a systematic human domination over nature that coincided with similar notions developed in Europe and that unfolded in an analogous framework of exploitation of natural resources, labor reorganization, complete monetization of economic life, and market-oriented productive activities. Nobuhiro invented a Japanese form of ‘political economy’ (keizai) which exercised, directly and indirectly, a considerable influence among Meiji political oligarchs, economists, and intellectuals throughout the nation’s modernizing years. It also contributed to redefining both the human relationship with the material environment and knowledge as an instrument in economic growth.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)265-287
Number of pages23
JournalJapanese Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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