Monthly Archives: October 2016

Friday, 7 October 2016 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

Mark Metzler, UT

“Systems Visions of Japan’s Postwar Social Metabolic Crisis”

In the autumn of 1945, the people of Japan faced a multilevel caloric crisis. Under wartime restrictions, supplies of food, energy, and basic materials for civilian use contracted for five years or longer. With the war’s end in August 1945, supplies were further curtailed—energy supplies especially—, reducing production of basic goods to half or less of prewar levels. Japan’s extractive empire was returned to its pre-1895 island boundaries, and resource exchanges with other countries were for several years largely cut off. This great contraction took place in one of the most surveilled and enumerated societies in the world, and the abundant statistics tell a story that is both detailed and stark. It was a kind of ‘experiment on a living body’, in the words of economic planner Ōkita Saburō, which happened at some of the frontiers of human historical experience. This moment is doubly significant because it was followed, within a decade, by a tremendous ramping up of national material and energy usage that would continue until about 1973, at a pace that had never yet been seen in human industrial history.

This paper outlines some aspects of postwar Japan’s ‘primitive state’, as it was called by Ōkita Saburō, who charted out a caloric crisis happening at the level of individual human bodies, households, and entire industrial systems. Ōkita was a power-systems engineer by training, and his energy-centered vision of economic functioning brings these different levels into a single focus. The energy- and flow-based conceptions of national economy developed by Ōkita and his colleagues are also remarkably parallel to conceptions in recent work, not yet utilized by historians, concerning industrial metabolism and material and energy flow analysis (MEFA). They also share some common intellectual lineages.

Mark Metzler graduated from Stanford University, worked for several less and more successful Silicon Valley companies, and then received his PhD in Japanese History from UC Berkeley. He is currently Professor of History and Asian Studies at UT Austin. His book Capital as Will and Imagination (Cornell, 2013) explores the early postwar environment of Japan’s era of high-speed growth (1955–73) and is a sequel to his book Lever of Empire (California, 2006), which investigates the origins of Japan’s Shōwa Depression of 1929–32. That study is taken further in Central Banks and Gold: How Tokyo, London, and New York Shaped the Modern World (Cornell, 2016), co-authored with Simon Bytheway. He is now working on a history of Japanese industrialization in long-term material and ecological perspective.