Organized Panel Session
This paper focuses on the role of wetlands in people’s everyday lives in the Kanto region during the Tokugawa period. Centered on the city of Edo (Tokyo), the Kanto was the country’s largest alluvial plain and, by the nineteenth century, became the country’s most agriculturally productive region. This increased productivity owed to the combined work of the region’s rivers, which annually recharged wetlands with fresh sediment and water, and the people who channeled and maintained those rivers and canals. The resulting waterscape, co-produced by humans and rivers, consisted of an array of lakes, ponds, marshes, and rice paddies that were interconnected by waterways upon which people and goods flowed throughout the region. However, just as this fluvial work sustained people’s livelihoods, occasional drought and flooding also threatened the slim surplus upon which farmers and others in the region survived.
Despite the importance of the Kanto’s wetlands to the lives and livelihoods of people throughout the region during this period, historians have largely overlooked their significance. Rather than simply add wetlands to the dominant tropes of Japanese history, this paper examines everyday interactions between humans and wetlands in their specific historical contexts. In doing so, it proposes a reconsideration of how we account for nonhuman entities like canals and paddies, rivers and marshes, fish and waterfowl in our historical narratives. Specifically, this paper focuses on the role of work in embedding farmers, fishers, and riverboat pilots within complex environmental relations and illuminates the environmental knowledge they gained through such workaday interactions.