Historian Provides Explanation for Japanese

September 21, 2007

Brett L. Walker of the department of history at Montana State University spoke to approximately 30 students and faculty members on September 18, 2007 on "Japan's Kamioka Mine: Engineering Human Pain in the Hybrid Environments of the Jinzu River Basin." The talk, based on a chapter of a forthcoming book, focused on the "hybrid causation" of thousands of cases of cadmium poisoning in Japan's mountainous Toyama Prefecture, following the pollution of the river basin from the effluent of a zinc mine. The causes of the health crisis were political and environmental, but also cultural. Professor Walker argued, among other things, that women in the district were more vulnerable to cadmium poisoning because of a vitamin D deficiency acquired because they sheltered themselves from the sun in a culturally ingrained habit to preserve their white complexion. His larger argument connected the Kamioka mine incident to other environmental catastrophes in which Japanese citizens were implicitly asked to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of the state.

The talk was the inaugural lecture in the Japan Studies Colloquium Series, led by Professor Ellen Schattschneider (ANTH). The event was co-sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences and by the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life.